Friday, January 14, 2022

SPADE RACING’s 2022 REGULAR SEASON PREVIEWS: CUP SERIES



Its allll about previews this month at Spade Racing—check back every week for a different national touring series preview (Cup, Xfinity, Trucks) with a “Four Corners” flair.  Why Four Corners?  Well, most oval tracks have four corners, and Spade Racing does four pieces a week during race season (10th Anniversary Season this year!).


Here’s a look at how the full-season teams will finish the 26-race regular season, conveniently split into four easy-to-digest categories. Note: (R) denotes a rookie


# Driver (Primary Sponsors): Superlative.  PREVIEW


Black: Chevy   Blue: Ford   Red: Toyota


1st Corner: MORTAL LOCKS—unless their teams completely whiff on the new car, expect to see them in the Playoff field

5 Kyle Larson (Hendrick Cars): Most Likely to Repeat.  There’s no reason at all to expect Kyle’s momentum to slow in 2022, even with a brand-new car design.  However, Kyles have been notoriously unreliable in Nascar, from Larson’s unfortunate comments to Busch’s volatile temper to Petty’s, well, everything outside of his charity work.


11 Denny Hamlin (FedEx, SportClips): Luckiest Unlucky Driver.  Denny always seems to attract drama to his seasons, doesn’t he?  But you’ll be hearing about JGR pit crew drama, and letting a race or two slip away, and how he might leave for 23XI—and then you’ll realize he has multiple wins and is in the top three in points.

Chase Elliott
(courtesy WattPad)


9 Chase Elliott (NAPA, Hooters): Best Road Course Ace.  Yeah, the whole “a guy from Dawsonville being a road course ringer!?!” story is pretty stale, but its true.  I mean, I would’ve given him “Most Overexposed Driver”, but a certain Toyota driver holds THAT mantle.


18 Kyle Busch (M&M’s, Interstate Batteries): Angriest Winner.  Remember when Kyle won the first COT race and complained about it?  I’d be expecting more of that this year.  Gee—I can’t figure out why a fun-loving candy company doesn’t want him anymore.


22 Joey Logano (Pennzoil, AAA): Youngest Old-Timer.  JoLo is now in the lead-driver position at Team Penske, which makes most of us feel pretty old.  But don’t get too hopeful, Joey-haters—he’s only 31 years old.


Kevin Harvick
(courtesy Snakkle)

4 Kevin Harvick (Busch Light, GearWrench): Comeback “Kid”.
  Expect the SHR team to make a major leap forward in 2022 after a disappointing 2021.  Well, “disappointing” doesn’t really cover it—Stewart-Haas was almost at the level of Haas-F1 for crying out loud.


19 Martin Truex Jr. (Bass Pro, Auto Owners): Steadiest Driver.  With a brand-new car (and all the changes that brings), sometimes it benefits a team to have a driver who can win a race or two and just knock-off top-tens the rest of the year.  This year, its Martin’s turn.  And hey—most of those top-tens will be at home tracks for him.


12 Ryan Blaney (Menards, Body Armour): Dullest Contender.  Is it just me or does Ryan Blaney tend to have the same season EVERY season?  He’ll win one of the first few races, go into a bit of a slump, then have a bit of a comeback in the early rounds of the Playoffs.



2nd Corner: PLAYOFF CONTENDERS—the top few SHOULD make the Playoffs, but those further down the list could be in trouble.

3 Austin Dillon (Dow, American Ethanol): Biggest Gambler.  Unless they’ve had a “Eureka” moment with the new car, RCR is still a mid-level team.  So why does Austin top this list?  Because he knows how to win at Daytona and Talladega.  And if he wins either of those spring races, expect to see them take some wild swings at strategy and the car’s setup in the summer (I’m hoping for the rarely-seen “Rear Two Tires” pit stop!).


6 Brad Keselowski (Fastenal, Violet Defense): Most Variable Driver.  Honestly, Brad could go almost any direction.  I mean, I *think* he’ll make progress in returning the newly-named RFK Racing to prominence, but for all I know he could be mired back in 20th place most races.  But no matter WHAT happens, Brad will be doing it his way—with a really, really, ugly car number.


New HMS 2nd-in-command
Jeff Gordon (courtesy WISH-TV)
48 Alex Bowman (Ally): Least Likely to Change Paint Scheme.  As long as Bubba Wallace isn’t involved, Alex Bowman has proven himself to be a steady, reliable driver.  And with full-season sponsorship from Ally, don’t expect many changes on this team…for two years.  That’s when Sam Meyer gets the ride.


24 William Byron (Axalta, LibertyU): Oldest Young-Timer.  In essence William’s the opposite of Joey Logano—he’s been with HMS for quite a while, but still feels like he’s a rookie.  Oh well—as long as he winds up in a better spot in the world than Brian Vickers…


14 Chase Briscoe (Mahindra, Haas): Most Improved Driver.  Expect Chase to take a MAJOR step forward in 2022, as even if he doesn’t find victory lane, I expect him to be the last “pretty much locked-in” Playoff driver going into the finale.  Hopefully this helps him step out of the shadow of Kevin Harvick (teammate), Chase Elliott) first name) and a bunch of Midwesterners (car number).


20 Christopher Bell (Stanley, Craftsman): Latest Leaper.  Last year I expected C.Bell to take “the leap” from contending for top-tens to contending for race-wins.  This year I…don’t really see it happening, and I think he’ll probably be around 10th place most races this year, with a win likely thrown in.  Then again, I’ve been wrong before.  A LOT.  I mean REALLY a lot.


23 Bubba Wallace (Door Dash, McDonalds): Most Over-everything.  Bubba’s the most over-exposed.  He’s the most over-criticized.  He’s the most over-analyzed.  He’s the most over-interviewed.  He’s the most over-theorized.  Here’s hoping we just get a year where he over-performs what the haters think he can do.


Kurt Busch
(courtesy Snakkle)
2 Austin Cindric (R) (Discount Tire, Menards): Rookie of the Year.  Its an odd intra-team ROTY battle this year, between Austin at Team Penske and Harrison Burton of Penske-affiliate Wood Brothers.  I give the edge to Austin mostly due to the team he’s inheriting—you gotta figure plenty of crew members are glad they don’t have to humor Brad’s pontificating anymore.


45 Kurt Busch (Monster Energy, McDonalds): Most Travelled.  Kurt’s raced for: Roush Racing, Penske Racing, Phoenix Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, and now 23XI Racing.  Other than a major aversion to racing for teams with “Motorsports” in their names, the guy likes to get around.



3rd Corner: DARK HORSES—these mid-level teams will definitely need some luck in order to make the Playoffs.

1 Ross Chastain (AdventHealth, unconfirmed): Most Incremental Growth.  Its a bit of a rough go for Ross, who is essentially switching teams (and engine manufacturers) due to Chip Ganassi’s Nascar operations being bought out by Trackhouse.  But expect to see him continue to inch his way up the Nascar Cup pecking order.  By the way, most of Ross’s primary sponsors haven’t been confirmed yet—he doesn’t have some hip random app called “unconfirmed” as a sponsor…yet.


17 James Buescher (Fastenal, Fifth Third Bank): Most Forgotten Driver.  Nothing against him, but with Brad Keselowski joining as both a teammate and co-owner, Buescher seems to have been forgotten about going into the 2022 season.  Heck—I bet you didn’t even realize that I called him “James” there, did you?

SHR co-owner
Tony Stewart


10 Aric Almirola (Smithfield): Most Disappointing Driver.  Aric pulled out a small miracle to make the Playoffs in 2021, but I don’t see that happening in 2022.  Honestly, I’d be mildly-surprised if he wins in his final season—and expect his replacement to be both Terrible AND terrible.


8 Tyler Reddick (Caterpillar, 3CHI): Biggest Teammate Drop-off.  I give Austin Dillon a lot of guff, but he’s proven that he can win.  Tyler Reddick, on the other hand, not so much.  With two talented young drivers running for RCR’s Xfinity program, Tyler might need to pick up the pace, lest he gets Hemric’d.


21 Harrison Burton (R) (Menards, Motorcraft): Best Learner.  I know, I know—these are 2022 previews.  But I’ll call it right here—expect Burton and the Wood Bros. to use this year as a giant testing session before turning up the wick in 2023.  After all, I don’t see Menards or Ford Motorcraft going anywhere, and Harrison is much, much, MUCH less-whiny than he guy he replaced.


31 Justin Haley (unconfirmed): Biggest Upgrade.  Justin Haley goes from driving the Spire Motorsports backmarkers to a new team with, at the very least, decent equipment.  That’s quite an upgrade.  Meanwhile, the 31 team goes from not existing to existing—that’s REALLY an upgrade.


41 Cole Custer (Haas): Least Improved.  I have nothing against Cole Custer, but he showed nothing last year that would suggest a big step forward in 2022.  Then again, if I’m wrong, I’ll eat a big hoagie and drink lots of beer.  Sure, its not a punishment, but maybe it’ll be encouraging enough for Cole.


99 Daniel Suarez (Tootsie’s): Strangest Roster.  So we have a team owned by an ex-racer and “Mr. Worldwide”, driven by a Mexican driver, sponsored by a Nashville bar.  Pretty cool.  Weird, but cool.


16 Noah Hemricdinger (unknown): Best Trio.  OK, its not saying much, but expect the combo of Noah Gragson, Daniel Hemric, and a returning AJ Allmendinger to greatly outperform whoever it is Live Fast and RWR put in their cars.


43 Erik Jones (Focus Factor, USAF): Biggest Unknown.  Remember when Erik was signed to a long-term deal with RPM?  Then it turned out they had to re-sign him for another season?  Then the team got bought out to be come Petty-GMS?  Yep, things are far from fun at the back of the pack.



4th Corner: BACKMARKERS—unfortunately, expect these cars to mostly just take up space.

47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Kroger, stuff you can buy at Kroger): Best Spinner.  JTG-D downsized to one team over the offseason, so that will give them even more time to fix the cars Stenhouse wrecks while competing for 25th place.


34 Michael McDowell (unconfirmed): Good Guy Award.  McDowell continues to be a popular guy in the garage (with the possible exception of Bubba Wallace), but while I’m sure he’d like to prove that he’s no fluke, I just don’t see that happening.


38 Todd Gilliland (R) (unconfirmed): Easiest to Ignore.  With Michael McDowell probably getting the lion’s share of the sponsorship AND attention, and the Rookie of the Year competition being between Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton. it seems like Todd Gilliland is just kinda…there.


42 Ty Dillon (unconfirmed): Luckiest Driver.  So despite doing little-to-nothing in his Cup career so far, and losing his ride at Germain due to the team losing sponsorship, he somehow finds his way to an RCR-affiliated team.  Who’s surprised?


7 Corey Lajoie (Built Bar, unconfirmed): Latest Kenny Wallace.  With a backmarker team, little funding, and no real prospect of moving forward, at least Corey seems to have a jovial personality.  Hopefully there’s enough rain delays for him to entertain bored viewers at home.


77 Josh Bilicki et al (Ziegler Auto): Biggest Hometown Boy.  There likely won’t be much to talk about with this team this year, UNLESS Josh runs at Road America, in which prepare yourself for the cheesy pre-race stories!


78 BJ & The Bunch (unconfirmed): Most Different Sponsors.  BJ McLeod will likely take the lion’s share of the races this year, joined by anybody who can bring sponsorship.  And now that Keen Parts is gone, let’s see if they can have a different sponsor for every single race!


15 RWR TBA & 51 RWR TBA (unconfirmed): Class Clowns.  Unsurprisingly its Rick Ware Racing without drivers, sponsors, or even vague plans announced for 2022.  Oh well—SOMEbody’s gotta bring out those late cautions.