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NASCAR DFS: 2022 Silly Season Fantasy NASCAR Preview

Phillip Bennetzen

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Breaking down the top NASCAR best bets, outright favorites, & positional selections for the Ruoff Mortgage 500, at Phoenix Raceway, on BetMGM

The free agency period in NASCAR, known as “Silly Season,” has come to a close for 2022. As the seventh-generation car awaits its grand unveiling at the Busch Clash in Los Angeles, every chartered ride has a driver assigned to that seat for this upcoming season. Let’s wrap up each of these new drivers and/or team alignments. We’ll be going over our NASCAR DFS preview for the 2022 Silly Season and go over the landscape for the upcoming NASCAR fantasy season.

2022 NASCAR DFS Silly Season & Fantasy Preview

Ross Chastain, Team Trackhouse Racing (1)

More semantics than anything, Chastain is technically staying put as Team Trackhouse Racing (Justin Marks) bought Chip Ganassi Racing. The acquisition gave Trackhouse a much-needed charter for Daniel Suarez, as they had been renting one from Spire Motorsports, not to mention a second charter that is being utilized for Chastain. The move sees Chastain slide out of the No. 42, now being used by the newly formed Petty GMS Racing venture and into the No. 1. Finishing 20th in points, Chastain had an uneventful season that saw him finish higher than his new teammate Suarez. However, in 2022, as Trackhouse ventures to tackle a new car, while running two teams, NASCAR fans should not be surprised to see both Chastain and Suarez sputter as Trackhouse endeavors to get off the ground. While this is essentially Chip Ganassi’s team with new firesuits, it cannot be understated how tough it should be for Trackhouse to hit the ground running with their focus now on two cars.

Austin Cindric, Team Penske (2)

2022 was slated to be the year that the former Xfinity champion made the jump into the Cup Series. However, after initially being announced as the driver of the Wood Brothers 21 replacing Matt DiBenedetto, Team Penske reshuffled seats following the announced departure of Brad Keselowski. Now, instead of driving the Penske-affiliated vehicle for the Wood Brothers, Cindric assumes the throne of the premier car in the Penske Cup squadron.

After racing in seven starts for Penske in 2021, expectations need to be hampered for Cindric. Rookie seasons are often forgettable as drivers wrangle with a change in vehicle as well as a dramatic uptick in the talent they are competing against. A victory is not out of the question for Cindric in his true rookie campaign, but at the very least, Cindric should be competitive at both superspeedways and road courses — track types he shined in during his Xfinity Series campaigns. Currently tied for 15th at +7000 in outright betting odds at DraftKings Sportsbook, for the 2022 Cup Championship, a fair expectation for Cindric should be making his way into the playoffs via points.

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Brad Keselowski, Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing (6)

Following 12 years of full-time service for Roger Penske, which included 34 Cup victories, 32 Xfinity Series wins and championships in both series, Keselowski found himself on the move. After signing a single-season contract extension during 2020, it was apparent that Penske did not have long-term plans for Keselowski. Those thoughts came to fruition during the summer of 2021 when it was announced that Brad Keselowski would be leaving Penske to join veteran owner Jack Roush over at Roush Fenway Racing. What was not known was Keselowski’s intrigue in becoming more than a driver but an owner as well. Roger Penske had no plans in yielding ownership stake to Keselowski in order to retain his services. Jack Roush, however, was willing to make that bet as Keselowski fills the seat in the No. 6 — the flagship car of Roush’s two-car team.

As Keselowski arrives, he takes over for veteran Ryan Newman who still has no announced plans, but signs appear grim for his 2022 prospects after announcing he was taking down his online store. Newman’s three-year tenure at Roush was forgettable at best with zero victories and finishes of 15th, 25th and 28th in the end-of-season point standings. While expecting upside out of a 43-year-old driver whose lone victory since 2014 came on the heels of playing fuel strategy at Phoenix in 2017, Newman’s subpar numbers are just a part of a downward trend at Roush for the past few seasons. The past decade has seen Roush fold from a four-car operation down to just two as well as the Xfinity program shuttering. Roush has not seen Victory Lane since 2017 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. managed to win two superspeedway races. Before those wins, Roush’s previous victories came in 2014 — the final season of Carl Edwards at Roush Fenway.

For fans new to NASCAR, it is hard to understate just how hard Roush Fenway has fallen — especially compared to the heights of the mid-2000s. Now, this once-proud team has been as competitive as JTG-Daugherty in recent years, a trend that Keselowski will be looking to reverse. Keselowski’s contribution as a partial owner is to be determined. However, his contribution as a driver should be felt immediately. This will be the first time since 2013 that Roush has employed a former Cup champion — a marked change versus the years of Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. being his flagship drivers. The question looming over Keselowski will be performance as both Chris Buescher and Newman ranked 18th or worse, on average, in terms of green-flag speed rankings for the 2022 season.

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Kaulig Racing (16)

Although a full-time chartered ride for 2022, the No. 16 car will be manned by three different full-time Xfinity drivers: A.J. Allmendinger, Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson. Allmendinger should be a threat in his starts — projected to be the six road courses. However, his history at superspeedways suggests he should be in the seat at Daytona and Talladega. How Hemric and Gragson split the rest of the season is to be determined, but do not be surprised to see one driver take the shorter venues while the other races at tracks measuring 1.5 miles or longer.

Harrison Burton, Wood Brothers (21)

The future of Toyota Racing Development continues to shine brighter and brighter on a singular driver (Ty Gibbs) as the ranks of TRD has lost another driver. This time, it is the son of former NASCAR veteran and NBC broadcaster, Jeff Burton who makes the jump from Joe Gibbs to the Wood Brothers in 2022. Burton replaces Matt DiBenedetto for this upcoming season, a move that Roger Penske telegraphed back in 2020 when it was becoming increasingly clear that Penske expected better results from what he considered the fourth Penske car.

While DiBenedetto increased the souring process with his own late-season antics and still remains without a ride for 2022 as of this article being published, Burton has a tall task on his hands to outperform DiBenedetto. At what point will Burton, a rookie, start yielding results that will match or exceed that of DiBenedetto’s through the past three seasons at Wood Brothers? Rookies notoriously have subpar seasons as they adjust to new equipment and better competition. While everyone will be adjusting to the new generation vehicle, the gap in talent Burton will be matching wits against on Sundays should be a gigantic leap forward. For nearly the past half-decade he has had the benefit of having the best Trucks (Kyle Busch Motorsports) and Xfinity equipment (Joe Gibbs) netting him just four victories in 108 combined starts. In Woods’ mid-tier car, it should be no shock to see Burton struggle to compete with the likes of Petty GMS and JTG Daugherty.

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Team Hezeberg, (27)

A peculiar venture between Tobine Hezemans, Ernst Berg and the Reaume Brothers of the Trucks Series, Tobine’s son Loris will reportedly run the six road course races in 2021. As a charterless team, all races that Team Hezeberg qualifies for will have to be done on the merits of speed in qualifying or in a field with 40 or fewer vehicles.

Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing (31)

After balancing a full-time schedule for Kaulig in the Xfinity Series, alongside a nearly full-time Cup schedule for Spire Motorsports in 2021, Haley takes the step up to pilot the No. 31 for Kaulig Motorsports. Whereas the 16 will see a rotating cast of Xfinity drivers for Kaulig, the No. 31 will be their true full-time entry for 2022 in their maiden voyage into the Cup Series.

It is hard to really gauge what Haley’s potential is in this vehicle. In one of the better Xfinity rides the past few seasons, he managed to make the final four at Phoenix in 2020 — finishing third while his other two seasons saw him finish 12th and sixth in the final points standings. All four of his career Xfinity wins came at superspeedways, a highly volatile path to take into the Cup Series. He has, however, become a respectable road racer with several top-five finishes at places like the Indianapolis Grand Prix and the Daytona and Charlotte Rovals, but those may be more of an indication of just how great a teacher Allmendinger is. Furthermore, results from driving the second Spire Motorsports vehicle can be pulled in a lot of ways and would be about as fruitful as judging a driver by their time at Rick Ware Racing.

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Haley’s initial mark will have to be felt at superspeedways, a viable path for him to sneak into the playoffs with three superspeedway races occurring during the Cup regular season window.

Todd Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports (38)

The son of former Cup Series driver David Gilliland gets his big break, making the unconventional jump straight from Trucks to Cup, as he will pilot the No. 38 in 2022. The back-to-back K&N Pro Series West champion (2016, 2017) spent the past few seasons in the Trucks Series racing for Kyle Busch Motorsports before settling down and actually being competitive, in Front Row Motorsports’ 38 truck — a venture between FRM and Todd’s father David. Gilliland’s leapfrog over the Xfinity Series should make his learning curve that much steeper, however, it is just another case that not everyone’s journey to the Cup Series has to be a conventional jump from ARCA to Trucks to Xfinity before finally landing in the Cup Series.

Early forecasting for Gilliland should see him somewhere in the neighborhood of former FRM driver Anthony Alfredo. Speaking of Alfredo, it is worth mentioning that this will be the fourth straight season this car has had a different driver behind the wheel. The 2021 focus of this team was Michael McDowell, especially after winning the Daytona 500. With the near sale of this second charter, not to mention rumors that Front Row was on the verge of folding up entirely for this upcoming season, it has to be questioned just how focused FRM will be with Todd Gilliland, besides what their monetary investment will be in a driver they are probably expecting to struggle in his rookie season.

Ty Dillon, Petty GMS Motorsports (42)

After losing his ride in 2020, following the folding of Germain Motorsports, Ty Dillon finds himself back in the Cup Series as the driver of the No. 42 for the newly formed Petty GMS Motorsports. In what will be his age-30 season, NASCAR fans and DFS players alike know exactly what Dillon is… an underperforming backmarker driver who failed to do what his older brother Austin could do — win races and titles in grandpa’s (Richard Childress) equipment. The only championship Dillon has to his name is the 2011 ARCA-Menard’s Series championship — a title he was expected to win with a spending and equipment advantage few others could match.

Maury Gallagher’s initial decision to tap Dillon to drive the No. 94, now No. 42 after GMS purchased a majority stake in Petty Motorsports along with their two charters, appears more to be about gaining initial leverage with Richard Childress Racing. Now the bed is made with Dillon, and no one should be shocked if the story coming out of this camp is the gulf in talent between Ty Dillon and Erik Jones and the consequential results on the track.

Kurt Busch, 23XI Racing (45)

In his 22nd full-time Cup Series season, Busch finds himself transitioning from the No. 1 Chevrolet of Chip Ganassi Racing to the No. 45 Toyota of 23XI Racing. Continuing his role as an elder statesman of a Cup Series team, with a young but developing Cup talent (Bubba Wallace), Busch should bring a stabilizing presence for a team that was in need of veteran leadership. Going on nine straight seasons of qualifying for the playoffs, including eight straight seasons with at least one victory, Busch can serve as the perfect leader of this outfit as Wallace hopefully grows into a more rounded driver and no longer has the sole burden of carrying a squad that had lofty expectations before running its first lap.

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Phill Bennetzen is a father, husband, and Catholic as well as a self-professed annoying fitness guy. Phill heads up NASCAR content at Awesemo.com. You can contact Phill by emailing [email protected].

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