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Who Could Replace Harrison Burton in the Wood Brothers No. 21?

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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With the Silly Season news that Harrison Burton’s future at Wood Brothers Racing isn’t sketched into stone, who could possibly replace him in the No. 21 if the two parties fail to ink out deals? Well, we here at the Daily Downforce have a few suggestions as to who can take over the ride. Check it out.

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Zane Smith

Zane Smith is a driver who has been a key player during this year’s Silly Season. Initially, after stepping in as a relief driver for Chris Buescher’s No. 17 RFK ride in 2022 and finishing a respectable 17th at Gateway, it was announced that he would split time in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports in 2023, splitting the ride with Todd Gilliland, who had run the car on a full-time basis in ’22.

With that news and FRM occasionally fielding Smith a third entry in the No. 36 to run, it looked as though he might sooner rather than later be in that No. 38 car full-time, booting Gilliland out. However, it was announced in the summer of the 2023 season that Front Row had signed both Gilliand and their star pupil, Michael McDowell to full-time contracts, leaving Smith on the out.

It isn’t currently known where he will land, in spite of his confidence, but it cannot be denied that the 2022 Truck Series champion is one of Ford’s highest prospects. Could he get the famous No. 21 ride heading into the 2024 season?

Matt DiBenedetto

With Matt DiBenedetto’s shocking announcement that he will not be returning to Rackley WAR in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2024, is it possible that the Wood Brothers scorned racing driver returns to the team that turned their backs on him in 2021? DiBenedetto did say that he was open to racing in any of the three series. Could he be looking to move up once again? Would he be a good choice for a short-term solution until Ford works someone else up through the Penske pipeline?

Think about it: Ford has limited options in the lower ranks right now with their only competitive entry in the Xfinity Series being SHR…and that’s only if you use the word competitive very loosely. DiBenedetto could potentially buy the Wood Brothers and Team Penske some time until they can develop someone else to eventually take his replacement when he retires in the near future.

Cole Custer

Cole Custer is an interesting cat. During one of SHR’s most dominating seasons, 2020, he won his first Cup Series race at Kentucky. During his rookie season, he qualified for the Playoffs, being eliminated in the first round, and coming home 16th in the overall standings. It has been nothing but downhill since then. In his sophomore slump season, he finished 26th in points and 25th the following year as SHR as a whole took a steep nosedive in performance. This led to Custer being demoted back down to the Xfinity Series, driving the No. 00 for SHR where he has won 2 races this year, including the Chicago Street Course.

At Rick Ware Racing, Custer was tasked to drive the No. 51 car in select races when Ryan Newman couldn’t. And he and Newman ran about the same in the equipment. Considering his replacement in the No. 41, Ryan Preece, has also struggled big time, sitting in the point standings about the same place Custer ended up in his 2nd and 3rd years with the team, it begs the question as to was it really Custer’s fault or was it the team as a whole? With that question possibly being answered, maybe a Cup team is ready to take yet another chance on the youngster.

With Ford’s backing, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be at least considered to drive the No. 21 car. Hey, what could go wrong?

Riley Herbst

Regardless of what you think about him being a “paid driver”, you can’t deny that his sponsor, Monster Energy, loves him. And sponsorship is what drives the world of NASCAR these days, talent be damned. Herbst has done a…serviceable job for SHR in the Xfinity Series and has even made a couple of Cup starts this year in the No. 15 for Rick Ware Racing (where he finished 10th in the 2023 Daytona 500) and, most recently, for Front Row Motorsports in their No. 36 car at the regular season finale race in Daytona. He didn’t finish that race due to being involved in an early incident.

The Wood Brothers, recently, have never made it a secret that sponsorship drives them. When Ryan Blaney came aboard, Menards was a key partner in helping him get the ride. The same could be said with Paul Menard. Dex Imaging is largely responsible for Harrison Burton getting the ride in the first place. If that company leaves, they won’t have much of a reason to keep Burton beyond this year. This is where Riley, with Monster’s backing, for whatever reason, could potentially step in. Hey, I’m not saying it’s right, but, the way things are today in NASCAR, it’s not nearly as unlikely as you’d like to believe.

Hailie Deegan

Ever since being dumped by Toyota, Hailie Deegan has been one of Ford’s go-to up-and-comers. I mean, they even got Thor Sport, a Toyota team at the time, to switch back to Ford just so she’d have a place to go after her previous team, DGR, became Tricon to replace Kyle Busch Motorsports for the 2023 season. If that doesn’t say that they’re putting quite a few eggs in her basket, I don’t know what does.

She’s got clout, she’s got some talent, and she, like Herbst, has the backing of Monster Energy…among other sponsors. If the sponsorship stars align just right, anything is possible. Besides, she’s admittedly not learning much running in the middle of the pack of the Truck Series and she was pretty impressive in her Xfinity debut in Vegas last year. Hey, stranger things have happened.

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What do you think, DDF subscribers? Who do you think will replace Harrison Burton if he leaves Wood Brothers after this year? Let us know!

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Picture of Cody Williams

Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
All Posts