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All the Cars, All the Drivers

With a handful of notable exceptions, this year’s 36-race NASCAR Cup Series roster is almost identical to that of recent seasons. Here’s a bit of what you might have missed during a news-filled offseason in NASCAR.

• Just when we thought we’d seen the last of Jimmie Johnson, he’s back for …. what?… why? Well, nobody knows. He recently became an investor with Maury Gallagher (and, to a lesser extent, Richard Petty) in the rebranded

Legacy Motor Club, formerly Petty GMS Racing. The seven-time champion and 83-time winner will run the Daytona 500 and selected races in the No. 84 Chevrolet. (The number is significant). Amateur psychologists figure Johnson is so embarrassed about his short-lived IndyCar debacle that he needs something to remind people that he was… you know… pretty good back in the day.

• The Rookie of the Year scrap should be interesting since the newcomers don’t particularly like each other. After winning 11 Xfinity races in two years, defending series champion Ty Gibbs moves to grandpa Joe’s No. 54 Toyota, sort of replacing Kyle Busch. Noah Gragson is in the No. 42 Chevrolet (replacing Ty Dillon) at the newly renamed Legacy Motor Club of Maury Gallagher, Jimmie Johnson and Richard Petty. Gragson won eight Xfinity races last year (13 in his career) en route to being series runner-up.

• Two-time champion Kyle Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after 15 seasons to replace 2022 breakthrough winner Tyler Reddick in the No. 8 Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing. Reddick was scheduled to leave RCR for 23XI Racing after this season, but Childress was happy to shed him early. It became even easier when Busch became available because of sponsorship problems at JGR.

• Former champion Kurt Busch faces an unsettling future. He missed the last 16 races last year after being injured in an innocent-looking crash at Pocono. He’s still associated to 23XI Racing, but it’s unclear if he’ll ever race again. (He insists the concussion won’t force him out, but it may not be his call). His situation made it easier for 23XI to work with RCR to get Reddick a year earlier than expected. Don’t be surprised when Busch makes a start or two so he can say he retired on his own terms.

• AJ Allmendinger is back full-time in Cup, driving the No. 16 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing. He already has two Cup victories on road courses and 15 Xfinity victories, 10 of them on road courses. Owner Matt Kaulig is hoping to follow the path Justin Marks took in building Trackhouse Racing into a championship contender. It won’t be a stunner if Allmendinger or teammate Justin Haley wins again;

• Cole Custer, in the No. 41 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing last year, is gone, relegated back to the Xfinity Series for SHR. He’s been replaced by Ryan Preece, a wildly popular driver from Connecticut with a huge fan base built on his successes in Xfinity, Trucks, and Modifieds, especially on New England’s short tracks.

Here’s a look at the 36-car roster of full-time drivers along with the four non-chartered cars of part-time Cup drivers Jimmie Johnson, Travis Pastrana, Conor Daly and Zane Smith who make up this year’s Daytona 500 field:

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