Silly season makes way for start of Cup Series racing

Sunday’s Daytona 500 starts the 2021 schedule, and there are plenty of new teams and drivers in new rides

Michael Jordan, pictured waving the green flag before the 2010 NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, will debut his new No. 23 Cup Series team with co-owner Denny Hamlin — driven by Bubba Wallace — at Sunday's Daytona 500. (Chuck Burton / AP Photo)

The green flag flies on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season with Sunday’s Daytona 500, opening a schedule that features the most changes in recent memory. This year’s slate includes seven road races, five new tracks and even a dirt-filled Bristol Motor Speedway.

There are also plenty of faces in new places, from changes at the wheel to Michael Jordan joining the series as an owner. Here are the new full-time teams and driver changes that will debut at The Great American Race.

5 • Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports

Larson’s exit from Chip Ganassi Racing during the Cup Series’ pause last year is well-documented. He was reinstated by NASCAR after taking steps to make amends for using a racial slur during an iRacing event and promptly landed a top ride with the Hendrick No. 5.

7 • Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports

The Concord native left the Go Fas Racing No. 32 and landed a ride with Spire’s new second team, which was acquired from Leavine Family Racing. LaJoie had top-10s at Daytona the last two seasons, finishing eighth at last year’s Daytona 500.

14 • Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing

Briscoe fills the seat vacated by Clint Bowyer, who will join NASCAR on Fox as a commentator and had taken over the No. 14 in 2017 after Tony Stewart’s retirement. The 27-year-old Briscoe won an Xfinity Series-high nine times last year.

20 • Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing

Bell rejoins the JGR stable and takes over for Erik Jones in another former Stewart car, the No. 20. Bell drove for Leavine Family Racing in its final season last year, scoring seven top-10 finishes.

23 • Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing

Michael Jordan’s entry into auto racing with co-owner Denny Hamlin will be piloted in its first season by the Cup Series lone black driver, Bubba Wallace. Wallace leaves one famed number — Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43, where he totaled nine top-10s the past two seasons — to drive Jordan’s preferred No. 23.

38 • Anthony Alfredo, Front Row Racing

The 21-year-old Alfredo — nicknamed “Fast Pasta” — jumps to Cup racing after just 19 career races in the Xfinity Series. He replaces Mooresville’s John Hunter Nemechek, who had three top-10s in the No. 38 last season.

43 • Erik Jones, Richard Petty Motorsports

Jones was ousted at JGR but found a landing spot in the No. 43 vacated by Wallace. A two-time winner in the Cup Series (2018 at Daytona, 2019 at Darlington), the 24-year-old had been racing for Gibbs since 2012, but he missed the playoffs last year.

48 • Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports

It’s a lateral move for Bowman, who goes from Hendrick’s No. 88 — which will be out of circulation — into the No. 48 that was available after teammate Jimmie Johnson retired. Crew chief Greg Ives remains on the pit box for Bowman, who finished sixth in the 2020 standings.

51 • Cody Ware, Rick Ware Racing

Greensboro’s Ware family will have two teams, with Rick’s son Cody planned to run a full schedule in the No. 51 after driving in 23 Cup races over the last four years. The younger Ware had a 19th-place finish at Talladega last year in his only start of the season.

52 • Josh Bilicki, Rick Ware Racing

Bilicki will pilot the other RWR full-time entry. The Wisconsin native ran 22 races last season with three different teams. He had two 25th-place finishes in 2020 —one at Indianapolis driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing and the other at Kansas with RWR.

78 • B.J. McLeod, Live Fast Motorsports

The 47-year-old McLeod is the owner/driver of the No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports team. This year will be his first competing full-time in the Cup Series, and his career-best finish in 57 Cup races is a 19th at the 2019 Daytona 500 driving for Rick Ware Racing.

99 • Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing Team

It’s the fourth team in four years for the Mexican-born Suarez. He drove the No. 96 for Gaunt Brothers Racing last year, finishing with two top-20s, but will drive for the new Trackhouse team run by former driver Justin Marks and Ty Norris, a longtime racing executive who worked at Dale Earnhardt Inc. and track management company Speedway Motorsports.

Other drivers of note

Lewisville’s Ty Dillon has found an opportunity after Germain Racing closed up shop, landing a shot with the Gaunt Brothers that may hinge on if Dillon can qualify for the Daytona 500. He’s had most of his success on superspeedways — five of his six career top-10s have been at Daytona or Talladega.