Are changes on the horizon for Joe Gibbs Racing’s driver lineup for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, or will all four drivers stay put?
Kyle Busch’s cryptic comments about his contract status with Joe Gibbs Racing at Talladega Superspeedway back in April got the ball rolling in terms of silly season talk and speculation about what the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series driver lineup might look like.
Busch is in a contract year with Joe Gibbs’s team, and before the 2022 season started, it was announced that longtime partner M&M’s would not be returning to the #18 Toyota next year.
So there is some uncertainty about the 37-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native’s future in the Cup Series. While Gibbs and Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson are both optimistic that Busch will be back, nothing has been confirmed, and sponsorship is sure to play a key role.
The fact that Ty Gibbs is poised to be promoted to his grandfather’s Cup Series team at some point in the near future has led many to conclude that if Busch does lose his ride, Gibbs will be the one to replace him, even though the goal is for him to run two full seasons in the Xfinity Series first.
But what about the rest of Joe Gibbs Racing?
It’s pretty clear that both Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell are in line to return next year. Hamlin has a longstanding partnership with FedEx that doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon, and some of his recent comments have suggested that he doesn’t plan on stepping away anytime soon either.
While he took on a team ownership role with 23XI Racing last year and has needed to commit a ton of time to that role, in addition to the time he commits to his role as the driver of the #11 Toyota, he still has no reason not to continue competing himself.
As for Bell, things were less certain entering the year, especially after a treacherous start which saw him finish higher than 23rd place just once in the first five races.
Making things worse was the fact that he actually finished in second place at Atlanta Motor Speedway before he was issued what many believed was an unjust penalty for a move he made on the final lap.
But since then, he has recorded eight top nine finishes in 11 races, including four top six finishes in a row, to vault himself into the top 10 in the point standings.
As the team’s youngest driver by nearly a decade, there is no reason for him to be let go, even though he is still seeking his second career victory and first since February 2021.
However, we can’t forget about Martin Truex Jr. Truex, like Busch, does not have a deal to compete in the 2023 season, and he has admitted on multiple recent occasions that he isn’t certain about what his future holds either.
Unlike Busch, however, his decision is completely up to him.
So what happens if both Busch and Truex end up not returning to Joe Gibbs Racing after 2022? Who would land with the team next year? Even if only one leaves, who would be the replacement, considering Gibbs is still only in his first full Xfinity Series season?
Regardless of what happens, one thing is clear: Joe Gibbs Racing find themselves holding all the cards to this year’s NASCAR Cup Series silly season, and the first move is not far away.