NASCAR: Dark horse team could shake up the playoff picture

Erik Jones, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Erik Jones, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

After a disappointing NASCAR Cup Series season in 2023, Legacy Motor Club are looking to make a big splash in 2024 with a switch to Toyota.

Entering the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, Legacy Motor Club looked like they could be a dark horse team to make an impact on the playoff picture.

Erik Jones didn’t get into the playoffs in 2022, but if the postseason field were determined on points alone, his 16th place finish in the regular season would have gotten him there, and his second career Southern 500 win to open up the playoffs would have gotten him into the second round.

Additionally, replacing the struggling Ty Dillon with Noah Gragson, one of the Xfinity Series’ brightest stars, looked it was going to be one of the most productive driver changes in the garage.

Bringing in Jimmie Johnson as a co-owner and rebranding the team from Petty GMS Motorsports to Legacy Motor Club only solidified the commitment to success.

Unfortunately, success was not to be had by Legacy Motor Club in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Jones led the team with a career-low 27th place finish in the point standings and just seven top 10 finishes, while Gragson was suspended and ultimately released after “liking” an inappropriate meme on social media, at which point he had posted just two top 20 finishes in 21 starts.

Between them and Stewart-Haas Racing, you’d have a tough time deciding who to “award” the title of most disappointing team in 2023.

But in 2024, things are truly looking up.

John Hunter Nemechek, who has spent the last three years out of the Cup Series after leaving Front Row Motorsports and opting to re-align with Toyota, is set to join Jones in Legacy Motor Club’s 2024 roster after three successful seasons in the Truck Series and Xfinity Series.

With the team set to switch to Toyota, Nemechek was eyed as a target for the No. 42 car even before Gragson was released, given that he was clearly the top prospect in the deep Toyota Racing Development young talent pipeline.

A manufacturer switch certainly doesn’t guarantee success. But you’d certainly have to think that the move to Toyota should benefit Legacy Motor Club. Instead of being one of eight Chevrolet teams, they are one of three Toyota teams.

23XI Racing won a race in their first season in the Cup Series, and that was as a one-car team. They have won races in all three of their seasons.

There is no word on whether or not Legacy Motor Club will in any way have a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing like 23XI Racing do, and that has certainly helped 23XI Racing during their first three years in the sport.

But Legacy Motor Club have an advantage in that they are already an established Cup Series team, whereas 23XI Racing literally started from scratch because of an online rumor.

Legacy Motor Club have seen a significant increase in investment in recent years, including the merger of Richard Petty Motorsports and GMS Racing before the 2022 season and the addition of Johnson as a co-owner before 2023. The closure of GMS Racing’s Truck Series team should also add to their focus on Cup success.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

The 2023 season certainly failed to live up to expectations, and those expectations will only be loftier in 2024. But they are much more well-equipped to live up to them.