The 2024 NASCAR season is here.
The season unofficially began in hasty fashion on Feb. 3 with the Clash exhibition race at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Denny Hamlin won the race as it was moved up a day because of incessant rain in Southern California.
This week, things get real. The Daytona 500 is Sunday and drivers take the track on Wednesday for front-row qualifying ahead of Thursday's qualifying races.
If you need a quick refresher of what's different heading into the 2024 season, we've got you covered. Here's a brief look at what's new for this season as NASCAR embarks on another 9-month season that will conclude on Nov. 10.
Stewart-Haas Racing has two new drivers
Half of Stewart-Haas Racing’s driver lineup will be new for the 2024 season.
Kevin Harvick retired at the end of the 2023 season while Aric Almirola stepped away from full-time driving. In Harvick’s place is former JR Motorsports Xfinity Series driver Josh Berry, while Noah Gragson takes the place of Almirola in the No. 10 car. They join Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece at SHR.
Berry, 33, won five races over the past three seasons in NASCAR’s No. 2 series. He was an injury replacement at Hendrick Motorsports and Legacy Motor Club in 2023 and had a top five and three top 10s in 10 races while he took the place of Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman. He’s the rare Cup Series rookie in modern NASCAR who is getting a shot in his 30s.
Gragson’s rookie year in 2023 lasted half the season before he was suspended and then subsequently lost his ride at Legacy Motor Club for liking a social media post mocking George Floyd’s death. After missing the rest of the year, he got a second chance at SHR.
Stewart-Haas has a lot of work to do to be competitive, however. Harvick was the only driver who showed any consistent speed in 2023. He was 13th in the standings while everyone else was outside the top 20. Preece was 23rd in points while Briscoe was 30th in a miserable season that included a massive points penalty. It’s going to take a lot of work for SHR to get back to the heights it hit in the early 2010s when Tony Stewart and Harvick each won a championship in a four-year span.
Both Harvick and Stewart are doing something new in 2024 as well. Harvick is joining Fox's announcing booth and will serve as an analyst for the network's portion of the Cup Series schedule. Stewart, meanwhile, is set to race full-time in NHRA's Top Fuel division in 2024 for his wife Leah Pruett.
Legacy Motor Club heads to Toyota
Newly-inducted NASCAR Hall of Famer Jimmie Johnson will be doing something at Daytona International Speedway that he’s never done in his entire Cup Series career: drive a Toyota.
Johnson’s Legacy Motor Club switched from Chevrolet to Toyota ahead of the 2024 season as there are now eight full-time Toyota entries in the Cup Series. John Hunter Nemechek moves up from the Xfinity Series to team with Erik Jones. Johnson will drive a part-time schedule for the second consecutive season after his retirement from full-time racing with Hendrick Motorsports following the 2020 season.
Legacy was one of the worst teams on the grid in 2023 — Jones was 27th in the standings and Gragson’s No. 42 car finished 32nd — and they could be significantly improved in 2024. Don’t be surprised if Jones is in contention for a win or two over the course of the season.
Spire expands to three full-time cars
Spire Motorsports will field cars for Corey LaJoie, Carson Hocevar and Zane Smith in 2023 as it grows from two cars to three. LaJoie got plaudits for his best Cup Series season ever in 2023, but he was only 25th in the points standings and had just three top 10s.
Smith and Hocevar should both be better than Ty Dillon was in 2023. Dillon was last among full-time drivers in the points standings and had 88 points fewer than the driver directly above him in the standings. Smith is a former Truck Series champion and Hocevar showed promise filling in for Gragson a season ago.
Getting Hocevar to rein in his aggressive driving will be a significant task, however. He’s developed a reputation for needlessly causing contact and crashes in the Truck Series, including when he was racing for the championship at Phoenix in November.
Other driver moves
Justin Haley moves from Kaulig Racing to Rick Ware Racing in 2024. Haley’s switch will be a test of RWR’s commitment to getting better in 2024. Ware has been the worst multi-car team in the Cup Series over the last few seasons as only Live Fast’s No. 78 car finished below the two RWR cars in the owners points standings. Live Fast sold its charter to Spire ahead of the season.
As Haley moves to RWR, Daniel Hemric takes over for him in the No. 31 car. This Is Hemric’s second full-time shot in the Cup Series after he was 25th in the standings in 2019 in his rookie season at Richard Childress Racing. After he was one-and-done in the Cup Series, Hemric dropped down to the Xfinity Series and scored his first national series win ever in the final Xfinity Series race of the season in 2021 to win the second-tier series title.
Kaulig is staying at two cars in 2024 but Hemric will be the team’s only full-time driver. AJ Allmendinger will drive for the team in the Daytona 500 and will share the car with Josh Williams and Chicago street course winner Shane van Gisbergen as he begins his transition to NASCAR.
Iowa is on the Cup Series schedule
The Cup Series will head to Iowa Speedway for the first time in 2024. The NASCAR-owned track has hosted the Truck Series and Xfinity Series since it opened in 2019, but hasn’t held a NASCAR race of any kind since 2019.
The 0.875-mile track has produced multi-groove racing in the two lower series and the hope that its layout and worn pavement will do the same in the Cup Series.
If you don’t count the Cup Series’ return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval as a new track, Iowa is the only new track on the 2024 Cup Series schedule. However, the playoffs will look different thanks to the Olympics.
NASCAR is taking a two-week break between races at Indianapolis on July 21 and Richmond on Aug. 11 because of NBC’s Olympics commitments. That means Darlington’s Labor Day weekend race is the final race of the regular season and not the playoff opener.
A second race at Atlanta will open the playoffs, followed by the first playoff race at Watkins Glen and the Bristol night race. The addition of Watkins Glen among the final 10 races means that two road courses will be a part of the postseason for the first time ever as the Charlotte roval stays in the playoffs.