There have been quite a few talking points related to NASCAR Cup Series silly season early in 2022, but only two drivers have signed new deals thus far.
Aric Almirola, who has driven the #10 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing since replacing Danica Patrick ahead of the 2018 season, announced that the 2022 season would be his fifth and final season with the team, ensuring at least one driver change at the organization for next year.
Additional developments have taken place within the garage since then, including speculation about Kyle Busch’s future — or lack thereof — with Joe Gibbs Racing, given his expiring contract and the fact that M&M’s will not be returning as the primary sponsor of the #18 Toyota in 2023.
In addition to the speculation regarding who will take Almirola’s seat and whether Busch will return to the team, and if not, where he might go, there have also been talks about where Erik Jones, who has quietly become one of the top pending free agents in the series, will end up in 2023, as well as whether Martin Truex Jr. may call it quits after 2022.
Rumors about JTG Daugherty Racing potentially folding and selling their charter also began to heat up earlier in the season, though a recent string of solid results by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. seems to have quieted those talks down.
But despite all of the commotion, there have only been two new deals signed for 2023, and both were expected.
And neither deal involves a driver change. Just before the 2022 season began, Hendrick Motorsports signed Chase Elliott to a contract extension that runs through the 2027 campaign. Elliott had most recently signed an extension with Rick Hendrick’s team in June 2017, and that deal was due to expire at the end of the 2022 season.
However, it would have been a major surprise had the 2020 series champion ended up leaving the team after 2022. It was always seen as only a matter of time before he signed a new deal to continue driving the #9 Chevrolet for the foreseeable future.
And you don’t have to look far for driver deal number two.
William Byron also entered the 2022 season with a Hendrick Motorsports contract due to expire at the end of the year, though there was somewhat of an element of uncertainty here. He was in more of a “prove it” year with just two wins in his first four years in the series.
Suffice it to say he has proven it.
Byron became the first driver to win two races in 2022, taking the checkered flag in the first race at the revamped Atlanta Motor Speedway back in March, and he added a dominant win at Martinsville Speedway in April.
Following the latter, a contract extension to keep Byron behind the wheel of the #24 Chevrolet was seen as inevitable, even by those who entered the season doubting his ability. The question wasn’t really about “when” or “if”; it was more about “how long” the new deal would be for.
That question was answered with Hendrick signed him to an extension that runs through the 2025 season.
All in all, things have been rather calm on the driver market so far in 2022, despite the abundance of rumors surrounding multiple high-profile competitors and teams. But as the season progresses, look for more deals to be confirmed, perhaps even with a few surprises.