Joe Gibbs has an unusual dilemma on his hands. He has too many drivers and not enough race cars. As it currently stands, NASCAR allows team owners a maximum of 4 cars per team. Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Hass Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing being the only teams at that current threshold.
So, who’s the driver at Joe Gibbs Racing that will be left without a seat when the music stops to begin the 2020 NASCAR season?
I believe it’ll be safe to say that the 2015 and 2017 series champions of Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have nothing to fear. With seven wins this season between them, and with both drivers comfortably in the playoffs, it seems ridiculous to finish writing this portion of the blog. So I’ll move on to the next subject of Denny Hamlin.
With his victory in this year’s Daytona 500 and collecting a win in my home state of Texas, he has all but secured his seat for next season based on his performance. Going winless last season for the first time in his Cup career, Denny Hamlin looked to be starting to decline. I know that it may have been a knee jerk reaction, but if you had asked me this question before the season, I would have made a strong case for Christopher Bell being in that #11 car for the start of the 2020 season. It seems as though the changing of crew and car chiefs have done wonders for Denny. With Denny’s two wins, JGR has claimed victories in nine of the fifteen races this season.
So this leaves the seat of Erik Jones and that #20 car for any real debate for Christopher Bell. The question Joe Gibbs has to be asking himself is when is it too early to give up on young talent, and how do you justify his development? With only one career win in a wreck infested Coke Zero 400 last season, is that enough to secure his seat?
He is currently talking to JGR about a contract extension as his current deal ends at the end of this year. I have to believe that if he doesn’t have a strong playoff run, there would be no real reason to bring him back to drive the #20 when Christopher Bell seems primed for the opportunity and might arguably have the better talent. Jones has become more consistent. He has currently collected six top-tens this season, but at the time of me writing this post, he sits 18th in point standings, 7 points back from that critical 16th place playoff cut line.
I do believe that Jones will need to secure a win to get into the playoffs.
Racing at Joe Gibbs Racing isn’t the only place that Christopher Bell could find himself when the 2020 season rolls around. Leavine Family Racing, owners of the #95 Toyota Camry, does have a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. Much like the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing did for Erik Jones, Leavine Family Racing could field a second car for Christopher Bell. Or will it possibly be Erik Jones in that seat?
Will Leavine Family Racing want to add that kind of commitment to their small team operation?
There is no question that with his dominating four wins and 760 laps led in Xfinity competition, (you can not forget his impressive Chili Bowl win either) Christopher Bell is ready for the bright lights and big stage that is the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Is the Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs ready to take the chance? I have no doubt Toyota Racing Development will have a strong opinion about it.
photo credit: Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press