It feels like it’s been a part of the rumor mill since Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan formed 23XI Racing, but until he officially retires from racing, people will always wonder if Hamlin will leave Joe Gibbs Racing and drive for his own team.
With Ty Gibbs, Joe Gibbs’ grandson, on his way up the racing ladder and expected to spend one more season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, according to a Charlotte Observer interview with Joe Gibbs this week, do the drivers at JGR know who will be the one to go to make way for Ty Gibbs?
“We don’t,” Hamlin said on this week’s edition of the Dale Jr. Download. “There’s just a lot of question marks at Gibbs about who is going to be where and what. I don’t know. I don’t know. I wish I knew, because I could plan accordingly as well.”
With that answer, Hamlin insinuated that if he were the odd man out, he may make other plans. Would he entertain driving for 23XI Racing?
“I would,” Hamlin responded to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s line of questioning.
While Hamlin says he would drive for his team, if it came down to it, that is not his ideal scenario. If his longtime partner FedEx remains in the picture, Hamlin sees himself walking into the sunset as a JGR lifer.
“Not if FedEx extends,” Hamlin said of a potential move to 23XI Racing. “I think I would like to retire at Gibbs with FedEx. Because it’s so unique to have a sponsor that has been part of the sport as long as they have and backed me as long as they have. I just — there’s just no way I could leave them. Maybe at that point then I just run one or two races or something with them…”
While Hamlin wants to retire at JGR, he is willing to change his thought and adapt if his situation changes.
“I would like to retire at Gibbs with FedEx,” Hamlin stated again. “But if things change, things change and you have to reevaluate.”
So, if it isn’t Hamlin, who else could be on the chopping block to pave the way for Ty Gibbs joining JGR in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2024 or sometime soon after?
Earnhardt Jr. riffed that Martin Truex Jr.’s future depends on how well he adapts to the NextGen car and whether he is still having fun behind the wheel.
“I know we’re hearing that Martin is not sure whether he wants to keep racing or not, he’s really gonna determine whether he’s having fun or not in this car and I don’t know if he has decided that, I don’t know if he is having fun right now,” Earnhardt said in the segment of the interview.
Kyle Busch is in the middle of a contract negotiation to continue at JGR, but in his interview with the Charlotte Observer, Gibbs also says he expects that deal to ultimately come together.
This means, if FedEx stays, Kyle Busch is re-signed and Truex decides he’s still having fun at Cup, that the pressure of the world will rest on the shoulders of 27-year old Christopher Bell.
However, Hamlin just doesn’t see the odd man out being Bell, as JGR has had some regrets over passing on talent over the years, only to see the talent they groomed succeed elsewhere.
“It’ll be a very interesting three to four years at Joe Gibbs Racing to see how this all plays out. Really interesting two to three years is probably the realistic number. I don’t know, I think — and I’m not going to speak for him — but just in my opinion, I think JGR has got some heartburn over letting some guys go in the past that they gave up on too early. I’m not putting Christopher in that boat whatsoever, because I think Christopher is very good.”
Here is the full Dale Jr. Download with Denny Hamlin, if you’d liek to listen to the entire two-hour and 18 minute show:
So, while there is uncertainty of what the future Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Cup Series driver roster looks like, Hamlin has made it be known he will remain at JGR for as long as FedEx continues to support him.
If FedEx extends their deal, and if Joe Gibbs Racing does indeed re-sign Kyle Busch, it looks like the entire JGR lineup in 2024 and beyond could hinge on Truex’s decision about his future in the sport.