NASCAR: Possible Justin Haley replacement emerging?

Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Justin Haley made the surprising decision to leave Kaulig Racing after the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season to join Rick Ware Racing. Who will replace him?

Generally speaking, a driver announcement made by Rick Ware Racing wouldn’t generally be seen as a blockbuster announcement, given how many drivers compete for the team and the team’s status as a backmarker team in the NASCAR Cup Series.

But their most recent confirmation certainly raised some eyebrows; not many saw it coming. Justin Haley confirmed that he will be leaving Kaulig Racing, where he has competed full-time in the Cup Series since last year, at the end of the 2023 season to join Rick Ware Racing on a multi-year deal.

The move is especially surprising since Haley had been with Matt Kaulig’s team going back to his Xfinity Series days. He ran three full seasons with the team before landing a full-time Cup Series promotion.

Many believe that Haley is setting himself up for an eventual move to RFK Racing, given his switch from Chevrolet to Ford with this surprising move. But let’s focus for a second on the more immediate future.

Who will replace Justin Haley behind the wheel of the No. 31 Chevrolet in the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season?

The obvious answer has to be Daniel Hemric, given that he is the veteran of the team’s Xfinity Series team and already has Cup Series experience. Yes, they also have Chandler Smith in the Xfinity Series, but there is no reason to rush him to the Cup level yet, especially with A.J. Allmendinger likely nearing retirement within the next few years anyway.

Smith is still a developing rookie whose promotion should come further down the road when Allmendinger steps away.

Shane van Gisbergen, a three-time Australian Supercars champion, made his Cup Series debut in the series’ first ever street race at the new Chicago Street Course, had been linked to the team as a potential candidate, but he signed with Trackhouse Racing Team, the team with which he piloted the PROJECT91 entry to victory.

With van Gisbergen signed and the No. 31 Chevrolet confirmed to be vacant, it has emerged as an ideal landing spot for the 32-year-old Kannapolis, North Carolina native and is certainly his best bet to make it back to the Cup Series, a scenario he had once envisioned might even be possible for 2023.

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Hemric competed full-time in the Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing in 2019 and made select starts for Kaulig Racing in 2022.