NASCAR’s new pairs ranking of drivers for the 2023 season

I’m here to get you match-ready on Sunday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. You need a primer for whoever has new numbers for 2023 when the green flag drops (5 p.m. EST; 8 p.m. EST, MAIN EVENT, FOX). Or you need to discuss with your friends who made the best off-season move.

So without further ado, here are my rankings for the 2023 changes. They will be in two parts. The first is the drivers with new teams. The second is the drivers who stayed with their team but changed crew chiefs.

Drivers in the new teams:

1. Tyler Reddick – 23XI Racing No. 45

Riddick won three races last year at Richard Childress Racing and joined a team led by Billy Scott, an unknown crew chief who has worked with both veterans (Kurt Busch) and drivers who have learned stock cars (Danica Patrick). Scott won a race last year with Bosch, and has played a role in the development of the next-generation car. Reddick is in a position to thrive as he joins a confident team and a team whose season was turned upside down when Bosh suffered a concussion.

2. Kyle Bush – Richard Childress Racing No. 8

Busch is replacing Reddick at RCR and will no doubt be compared to Reddick, as Reddick heads to Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyota team, which let Busch walk away as contract negotiations hit a dead end last summer. Busch joins the team that won three races amid last year’s turmoil and a team that comes into its own with Randall Burnett as crew chief. The big question is whether RCR can be a classy organization and challenge for victories and championships. Busch would play a major role in making this happen, and neither Busch nor Childress are known for their patience.

Bush talks about his move to RCR

Bush talks about his move to RCR

Kyle Busch says he’s spent the break getting many little things that fall as far as his move to Richard Childress.

3. AJ Alminder – Kaulig Racing No. 16

This is sort of a “new” duo since Allmendinger drove in 18 Cup races last year for College. His five best appearances and eight top 10 finishes show he can perform at cup level. With his strength on road courses and his improvement on the ovals, Allmendinger will likely have a breakout Cup season five years after leaving JTG Daugherty Racing without a clear path to riding for the Cup again. Everything is in place for this team to have a solid season, considering Allmendinger is already used to working with the team led by crew chief Matt Swiderski.

4. Ty Gibbs – Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54

Rookie Gibbs, grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, replaced Kyle Busch in the No. 18 car. He’s certainly Cup ready, or as ready as any driver – at least from a talent standpoint. His questionable decisions at times last year will have people wondering if he can handle the rigors of a cup schedule. It would be unfair to predict Kyle Busch’s numbers in Season 1. In fact, he would be, meaning Kyle Busch was 20th in points as a starter. Gibbs has been in the top 10 of the 15 starting players to replace the injured Kurt Busch last year at 23XI. Good thing for Gibbs – he has crew chief Chris Gayle, who has Cup experience, going with him from the Xfinity Series to the Cup.

Gibbs about moving into the Cup role full-time

Gibbs about moving into the Cup role full-time

Ty Gibbs describes what he thinks will be the biggest challenge when moving into Cup racing full-time.

5. Ryan Preece Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41

Preece replaces Cole Custer in the SHR Cup lineup and has a crew chief – Chad Johnston – that he and the team were familiar with as Johnston was the crew chief for Preece’s winning trucks the last two years and he was a former crew chief for Tony Stewart at SHR. Press Bryce to perform. But this group may need a little time to kick in, and SHR has struggled. If the modifications to Ford’s nose help the team’s competitiveness, it could be key to seeing if I got it wrong and Preece should have been ranked higher.

Bryce dishes for the next season

Bryce dishes for the next season

Ryan Preece discusses his relationship with crew chief Chad Johnston, future prospects, and proving himself in Stuart Haas.

6. Noah Gragson – Legacy Motor Club No. 42

Gragson is moving on from the JR Motorsports Xfinity program to replace Ty Dillon at what was Petty GMS. He brought in his Xfinity crew chief Luke Lambert, who has several years’ experience leading a Trophy crew. But that team has struggled in the past year and is now in another transitional phase with the arrival of Jimmy Johnson as co-owner. Johnson’s presence and leadership can help improve a team – but not necessarily immediately. Gragson has had one of the top 10 finishes in his 18 Cup starts last year driving select races for Hendrick Motorsports (as a replacement for the injured Alex Bowman), Coolig and Bird.

Noah Gragson talks about working with Jimmie Johnson

Noah Gragson talks about working with Jimmie Johnson

Gragson has a great milestone in Johnson as he enters his National Cup rookie season.

7. Ty Dillon – Spire Motorsports No. 77

Dillon only managed one Top 10 at Petty GMS last year as he, the team and the rookie crew chief didn’t click. Nine races in which he didn’t finish definitely didn’t help matters. The hope is that his start in the 2020 Cup will help Spire. There’s a chance for that, but for Dillon to get an average finish inside the top 20 there are going to be questions.

not available. Jimmy Johnson – Legacy Motor Club No. 84

Well, it’s probably just a five-race deal but we can’t rule out the seven-time champ returning to the Cup Series with a small ownership stake but a big leadership role in what was once Petty GMS and now the Legacy Motor Club. He’s got former champion Joey Logano’s crew chief Todd Gordon making the decisions. So just how good will it be? I will lower expectations. This is still a young organization. Picking the top 10 players would be a good start.

Same driver and new crew chief:

1. Alex Bowman – Blake Harris

Bowman is the most successful driver on this list and drives for the best team (Hendrick) on this list. Harris, who replaced Greg Ives, comes after a successful one-year stint as crew chief for Michael McDowell and several years at JGR and Furniture Row. The key in this relationship is trusting that they are doing the right thing and in each other as well.

2. Austin Dillon – Keith Rhoden

Rhoden’s appointment as Dillon’s crew chief as Justin Alexander’s replacement was a bit of a surprise but could be a great move. Rodden has experience as a crew chief working for several organizations (he was crew chief for Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray) and most recently worked for Chevrolet. He knows how to handle drivers and knows how to work under pressure, which is certainly the case when you’re the crew chief for the grandson of a team owner.

3. Michael McDowell Travis Peterson

McDowell clearly didn’t want to lose Harris, and they will now go with engineer Peterson, who was most recently at RFK Racing and formerly at JR Motorsports and Hendrick. Their success will depend on whether Peterson can implement changes to improve the car based on McDowell’s feedback and whether he can take the calculated risks in racing strategy that is often required for an organization that does not have the funding for larger teams.

McDowell on his new chief of staff

McDowell on his new chief of staff

Michael McDowell, who will have a new crew chief for the second year in a row, discusses what he’s looking for from Travis Peterson.

4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Mike Kelly

Kelly was already working for JTG Daugherty Racing in a competition advisor role, and now he will take over as Stenhouse’s crew chief. The duo had magic in the Xfinity Series a decade ago as Stenhouse won back-to-back titles. They couldn’t repeat that in the Roche Cup. What might make this situation even better is that Stenhouse is the only driver for JTG, so they can tailor the car specifically to his wants and needs.

5. Todd Gilliland – Ryan Bergenty

Bergenty has been McDowell’s chief of staff for the past three years and now takes over as Gilliland’s crew chief, replacing Seth Barbour, who moved to the team’s head coach. Gilliland has talked about how he has to be better at starting a race weekend and finding the pace needed in 20 minutes of practice – and Bergente will play a key role. But these things don’t usually turn around quickly.

6. Cody Ware – Jerry Kelly

Weir Kelly, the longtime chief of cars at Penske, will become his crew chief starting this year. Ware has shown improvement in the past year, and if Kelley brings in some ideas from Penske that can be applied to Rick Ware Racing cars, there’s a chance Ware will continue to put up better numbers.

Bob Pokeras covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene, and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobocrassand subscribe to FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pokras.

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