Today’s preview of non-chartered ‘open’ teams, part-time teams plus those that finished outside the top 30 in 2020 continues NASCAR.com’s countdown of team previews for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Engine: ECR Engines
Driver-crew chief pairings: Quin Houff-George Church (No. 00)
2020 final Fantasy Live rankings: 34th
2021 championship odds: 1,000-1
What’s new: No significant changes will alter the core of the StarCom Racing group as Quin Houff returns for the second season of his two-year contract with the No. 00 team, paired again with George Church as crew chief. One twist: StarCom team manager Derrike Cope is set to make his first Cup Series start since 2018, making a final run at notching his second Daytona 500 crown in a Rick Ware Racing one-off.
Team/driver outlook: Houff’s 2020 season was marked by a bright career high (a rugged 13th place at Talladega Superspeedway in October) and a nonsensical low (a lapse in judgment that triggered a crash at Texas Motor Speedway in July and a subsequent questioning of his racing cred by his rivals). The 23-year-old Virginian has plenty of room to grow, and some planned upgrades in the team’s equipment may help achieve some of those modest goals, but cleaning up the unforced errors will be a must.
GAUNT BROTHERS RACING
Engine: Toyota Racing Development
Driver-crew chief pairings: Ty Dillon-Dave Winston (No. 96)
2020 final Fantasy Live rankings: 26th
2021 championship odds: 500-1
What’s new: The driver, for one. Ty Dillon landed a spot with the Marty Gaunt-owned team for the Daytona 500. The organization shifts from last year’s full-time campaign to a partial schedule this season, with a primary focus on superspeedways and road courses.
Team/driver outlook: Plenty is riding on The Great American Race as an open team hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s wrenching failure to qualify. The potential driver roster and part-time slate for the No. 96 entry isn’t set beyond the season opener. A Daytona 500 starting berth and an underdog finish would go a long way toward keeping Dillon in consideration for future races.
RICK WARE RACING
Engine: ECR Engines/Roush Yates Engines
Driver-crew chief pairings: Derrike Cope/Joey Gase/Garrett Smithley/JJ Yeley-Pat Tryson (No. 15); Cody Ware-Mike Hillman Sr. (No. 51); Josh Bilicki-Peter Sospenzo (No. 52), Gase/Davison/Smithley/Yeley-Billy Plourde (No. 53).
2020 final Fantasy Live rankings: Yeley (33rd), Gase (36th), Smithley (39th), Bilicki (40th), Davison (45th), Ware (49h)
2021 championship odds: Gase, Davison, Bilicki, Yeley (1,000-1)
What’s new: Cody Ware and Josh Bilicki move to full-time roles this season after competing in partial schedules on the Cup Series side in recent seasons. Most of last year’s rotating cast of drivers will return, cycling through in the Nos. 15 and 53 entries. The team will continue to use both Chevrolets and Fords in its four-car stable.
Team/driver outlook: The billing as “the biggest little team in motorsports” seems to fit, as Rick Ware Racing has expanded its partnerships into sports-car racing and IndyCar ventures. With its NASCAR operations at the four-team max, there’s some strength in the numbers, but RWR’s best hopes remain at the superspeedways, which yielded the organization its first-ever pair of top-10 finishes in 2020.
Engine: ECR Engines
Driver-crew chief pairings: Kaz Grala/AJ Allmendinger/TBA-Matt Swiderski (No. 16)
2020 final Fantasy Live rankings: Grala (48th)
2021 championship odds: none
What’s new: Most everything. Matt Kaulig’s creation has grown to three full-time Xfinity Series teams for 2021, and the expansion vibe also stretches to the Cup Series side of things. Kaulig Racing has just one premier-series appearance — Justin Haley’s 13th-place effort in last year’s Daytona 500 — but that number is expected to increase this year as the team zeroes in on a full-time Cup effort in the future.
Team/driver outlook: Start-up Cup Series teams often struggle to find footing, but Kaulig’s calculated approach of establishing its Xfinity Series performance before setting sail for NASCAR’s major leagues has merit. Still plenty of puzzle pieces remain to place (including drivers and dates for the rest of its 2021 schedule), but its lineup for the opening two weeks in Daytona has the potential to surprise with Kaz Grala (Daytona 500) and AJ Allmendinger (road course) well-positioned in their sweet spots.
Engine: Roush Yates Engines/MBM Motorsports
Drivers: Timmy Hill-Clinton Cram (No. 66); Chad Finchum-Mark Hillman (No. 13).
2020 final Fantasy Live rankings: Hill (35th), Finchum (51st)
2021 championship odds: Hill (1,000-1)
What’s new: Little fundamental change is afoot for the Carl Long-owned team, save for the addition of Mark Hillman as crew chief for its part-time No. 13 entry, which shifts car numbers from the No. 49 used last year. The team will field Fords in the Daytona 500, then run a blend of Toyotas and Fords the rest of the way. Timmy Hill will again be the team’s workhorse in its flagship No. 66, intended for a full Cup Series effort, though he’s set to earn championship points in the Xfinity Series.
Team/driver outlook: Hill has demonstrated a knack for getting the most out of his equipment, especially on the equalizing superspeedways. Last year, he enjoyed a bit of a star turn with the advent of the iRacing Pro Invitational Series, earning plenty of air time by taking on all challengers with his simulator-racing skills. A victory at virtual Texas Motor Speedway was later rewarded with real-life Lone Star State trimmings. The iRacing circuit’s return this season could attract more attention and sponsors for Hill and MBM’s real-world racing efforts.
Engine: ECR Engines
Driver-crew chief pairings: Noah Gragson-Darren Shaw (No. 62)
2020 final Fantasy Live rankings: none
2021 championship odds: none
What’s new: The driver, but not the hometown. Noah Gragson steps in as the part-time team’s driver in its attempt for a Daytona 500 berth, which would mean a Cup Series debut for the Xfinity regular. The 22-year-old driver replaces fellow Las Vegas native Brendan Gaughan, who retired after the 2020 season and helped to select his successor in the No. 62 Chevy.
Team/driver outlook: Mark Beard’s operation has primarily focused on a schedule limited to races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, a strategy that has suited the team well in recent years. Gaughan relished his recurring role as a superspeedway spoiler, occasionally snatching away top-10 finishes from his better-funded competitors. Expect that to continue with Gragson, who has rounded into a proficient racer at that track type.
NASCAR.com 2021 team previews schedule
Jan. 18: 23XI Racing
Jan. 19: Trackhouse Racing Team
Jan. 20: Live Fast Motorsports
Jan. 21: Spire Motorsports
Jan. 22: JTG Daugherty Racing
Jan. 25: Front Row Motorsports
Jan. 26: Richard Petty Motorsports
Jan. 27: Roush Fenway Racing
Jan. 28: Wood Brothers Racing
Jan. 29: Richard Childress Racing
Jan. 30: Non-chartered and teams outside the top 30
Feb. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing
Feb. 2: Stewart-Haas Racing
Feb. 3: Joe Gibbs Racing
Feb. 4: Team Penske
Feb. 5: Hendrick Motorsports