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Early summer is still too early to determine the prospects for any struggling drivers who are in their contract year. However, teams can make jolting decisions well before the Championship 4 in Phoenix, as we witnessed last season when 23XI Racing pulled off a summer stunner by signing Tyler Reddick.

Stewart-Haas Racing got the jump on hiring replacement drivers for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series, but it’s hardly a case of casting aside an underperformer.

June 21, 2023: SHR reveals Kevin Harvick’s replacement

Josh Berry looks on during practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco Uniforms 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2023. | David Jensen/Getty Images
Josh Berry looks on during practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco Uniforms 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2023. | David Jensen/Getty Images

Stewart-Haas Racing signed Josh Berry, 32, to drive the No. 4 Ford in the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series, the team announced at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Berry’s first full-time opportunity in the top-tier series comes as the replacement for 2014 Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick, who is retiring at the end of the season to join the Fox Sports booth. Crew chief Rodney Childers will remain atop the pit box for the No. 4 team.

Berry is an accomplished Late Model racer who joined JR Motorsports in 2010. He is in his second full-time Xfinity Series season with JRM but has filled in for Hendrick Motorsports in eight Cup races this season while Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman recovered from injuries. He posted his career-best Cup finish by placing second at Richmond Raceway on April 2.

May 2, 2023: Legacy Motor Club jumping from Chevy to Toyota next season

Jimmie Johnson (above) and Maury Gallagher have announced a fundamental change for their 2024 Cup Series team. | Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Jimmie Johnson (above) and Maury Gallagher have announced a fundamental change for their 2024 Cup Series team. | Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Legacy Motor Club owners Jimmie Johnson and Maury Gallagher revealed the team will leave Chevrolet to compete in Toyotas next season. The decision means Toyota will send eight full-time cars to the starting grid each week, allowing the manufacturer to share more data with its other affiliates, Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing.

Toyota hasn’t fielded that many cars since 2011, and it’s a significant decision on Johnson’s part given that he won all of his record-tying seven championships in Chevys while at Hendrick Motorsports.

Legacy drivers Erik Jones and Noah Gragson don’t have any experience in Next Gen Camrys. However, Gragson made his Craftsman Truck Series and Xfinity Series debuts in Toyotas, while Jones previously competed for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Feb. 16, 2023: Ross Chastain signs an extension with Trackhouse Racing

Daniel Suarez talks with teammate Ross Chastain during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 on Oct. 29, 2022. at Martinsville Speedway. | Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Daniel Suarez talks with teammate Ross Chastain during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 on Oct. 29, 2022. at Martinsville Speedway. | Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was July of 2022 when Tyler Reddick and 23XI Racing made the stunning announcement the Richard Childress Racing driver would leave after the 2023 season. The way the situation eventually played out, Reddick made his switch in time for this season.

The Ross Chastain announcement during Daytona Speedweeks was the third driver contract extension of the week and fourth in a month, an indication that owners are taking no chance of being blindsided the way Childress was.

Chastain, 30, a Championship 4 driver in his first full season with Trackhouse Racing, would have been a desirable free agent at the end  of the year, but the new agreement keeps him in place through at least 2025.

“It’s taken a lot of years, a lot of hard work and sacrifice, plus a lot of help from a lot of people, but I can safely say I have found a home at Trackhouse Racing,” Chastain said.

What it means: The odds of Chastain leaving were remote, but Trackhouse owner Justin Marks shut down any speculation that Stewart-Haas Racing would make a play to put the driver into Kevin Harvick’s car next season.

Feb. 15, 2023: Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez are staying put to kick off Silly Season

It wasn’t until June 24 of the 2022 Silly Season season that news broke of a driver contract extension. In that case, it was Martin Truex Jr. putting retirement speculation to rest by signing a one-year deal. Fast-forward to 2023, and Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez triggered a wave of three announcements in two days, with none of the developments particularly surprising.

Bowman, with seven wins over the past four years, was the only one of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers without a long-term deal when last season wrapped up. But the team got Daytona Speedweeks rolling by announcing a three-year extension in conjunction with Ally Financial, the sponsor of the No. 48 Chevy, tacking five years onto its relationship with HMS.

Suarez was coming off his second season with Trackhouse Racing as well as his first Cup Series win when the team rewarded him with an extension of undisclosed length.

What it means: Bowman and Suarez were always candidates to stay put. With them locked in and Ross Chastain agreeing to his extension, the most prominent drivers potentially available for 2024 appear to be Martin Truex Jr. (retiring?), Denny Hamlin (heading for a Kyle Busch-style breakup at Joe Gibbs Racing?), and Michael McDowell.

Jan. 26, 2023: Chase Briscoe and Stewart-Haas Racing strike a new deal

Stewart-Haas Racing revealed it had signed driver Chase Briscoe, 28, to a longterm extension to continue piloting the No. 14 Ford. Terms were not disclosed, but the arrangement likely carries Briscoe through 2026 and is an important piece of the puzzle for SHR since Kevin Harvick is retiring and Aric Almirola might also be contemplating retirement again.

SHR promoted Briscoe, a third-generation racer, to the Cup Series in 2021. After a trying rookie year, the Indiana native won last spring at Phoenix Raceway in his 40th career start, making him NASCAR’s 200th Cup Series winner ever.

Jan. 11, 2023: Kevin Harvick will retire after the season

A year ago, it was Aric Almirola giving notice right after the holidays that he would retire from Stewart-Haas Racing after the season. It turned out that Almirola didn’t really mean it, but Kevin Harvick is serious about it in leading off the 2023 Silly Season.

The future Hall of Famer, 47, will give up the No. 4 Ford after a final season. He has 60 wins in all, the last 37 with SHR, and one Cup Series championship. He will forever be remembered as the driver Richard Childress called upon to replace Dale Earnhardt following The Intimidator’s death at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500.

“The significance and the importance of keeping that car on the race track and winning that race early at Atlanta – knowing now what it meant to the sport, and just that moment in general of being able to carry on, was so important,” Harvick said.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at JohnM@Sportscasting.com.

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