NASCAR: Ryan Blaney’s extension is the tip of a massive iceberg

Ryan Blaney may very well have been the top pending free agent on the NASCAR Cup Series market before signing his contract extension with Team Penske. But his extension was still only the tip of the massive iceberg that is the looming 2021 Silly Season.

Silly Season seems to start earlier and earlier each NASCAR Cup Series season, and that appears to be the case yet again in 2020 for the 2021 season.

Ryan Blaney, who signed with Team Penske for the 2018 season while he was still at the Team Penske-affiliated Wood Brothers Racing back in July of 2017, entered the 2020 season without a contract for 2021.

The 26-year-old was widely considered to be arguably the top pending free agent, having won at least one race in each of the last three seasons with two appearances in the round of 8 during that span. No other pending free agent put up those numbers.

But he re-upped with Roger Penske’s organization on another multi-year deal, presumably another three-year contract, although there was no official confirmation of the length of the deal.

While this was huge news given that he is a top-tier driver re-signing with a top-tier team for the foreseeable future after there were rumors that he may sign elsewhere, it is only the tip of the massive iceberg that is the 2021 Silly Season, which seems to have come extra early this year.

There are still a ton of pending free agents and potentially open seats on the market, and with all things considered, despite the rumors that Blaney may sign with Hendrick Motorsports to replace retiring seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson after the 2020 season, Blaney’s deal with Team Penske was actually one of the more expected confirmations.

Starting with the top-tier teams, there have been tons of names tossed around to potentially replace Johnson behind the wheel of the #48 Chevrolet. Among them are Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, Go Fas Racing’s Corey LaJoie and even Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski.

Additionally, two of the four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola, signed one-year extensions last season. Stewart-Haas Racing haven’t maintained the same four-driver lineup since between the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

With Chase Briscoe looming at the organization’s Xfinity Series team, could they turn to his services in 2021 like they did in 2020 by hiring rookie Cole Custer instead of sticking with Daniel Suarez?

Additionally, Go Fas Racing have a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing, so could LaJoie be in the mix? What about Larson, who team co-owner Tony Stewart actually wanted as his replacement after he retired in 2016?

If Larson leaves Chip Ganassi Racing, who would replace him? The team still have a relationship with Ross Chastain even after his deal with their Xfinity Series team for the 2019 season fell through when they were forced to shut down due to sponsorship legal issues.

If Keselowski leaves Team Penske, who would replace him? Austin Cindric is looming at the organization’s Xfinity Series team, and Team Penske still have a technical alliance with Wood Brothers Racing. Matt DiBenedetto is currently in his first season driving the iconic #21 Ford for the team.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman is also slated to be a free agent after the 2020 season. It appears as though he will return to the #88 Chevrolet in 2021, but nothing has been signed.

Could Rick Hendrick end up needing to replace two drivers instead of just Johnson, and if so, would he look to the Xfinity Series? Could JR Motorsports drivers Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson or Daniel Hemric be in the mix?

Joe Gibbs Racing’s four-driver lineup appears to be pretty well set for the foreseeable future, but there are questions about the future of the #20 Toyota. Erik Jones is in his third year driving for the team, and he is driving on a one-year deal.

Meanwhile, Christopher Bell, who was promoted from the organization’s Xfinity Series team ahead of the 2020 season, looms at the Joe Gibbs Racing-affiliated Leavine Family Racing, ready to capitalize on the opportunity to drive the #20 Toyota should Jones not do enough to warrant another contract extension.

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It is undeniable that Ryan Blaney is a big-name driver who re-signed with a big-name team, and that qualifies as huge news. But as far as his contract extension being the key to the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season is concerned, it simply doesn’t fit that bill. All it did was get things started early. It is the tip of a massive iceberg that has hardly even begun to melt.

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