When the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Season started, there were question marks about the future of Joe Gibbs Racing, but the question marks mostly surrounded Martin Truex, Jr. and his possible retirement. I don’t think too many people pegged JGR to have a driver change in the #18 car, driven by Kyle Busch. As the season has gone on though, the news has shifted so many times about Busch’s future and where he might drive next year.
The presumptive replacement of course should be Ty Gibbs, grandson of Team Owner Joe Gibbs. The news of Truex staying for another year, and the soon after announcement that Ty would stay in Xfinity in 2023 leads me to believe that even without Kyle, Ty might not be the replacement in mind. So here is a list of drivers likely to replace the two-time Cup Series champion.
Blaney to JGR is a long shot. He seems very vested at Penske, but it’s not out of the question. Blaney has done very well with the opportunities given at Penske, but the Ford camp has struggled for a few years now. To be frank, since the end of the 2020 Season, Ford has not been a major player. The Championship 4 in 2021 was the first to not have all three manufacturers, and Ford was the one left out. If I was Blaney, I would heavily consider the move as more than a lateral change, and one that would give him the best chance to win a championship.
This might seem a bit far out, as the relationship between Ty Gibbs and Noah is bitter at best, but there aren’t a ton of drivers this talented that could fill the void. Relationship might be squashed to hire the best available young driver.
Coach Gibbs might choose to hire a one-year fix instead of going after the driver of the future, and choosing the wrong one. Giving Bayne a second chance at a Cup ride has been talked about for a few years, and this could be the one-year deal to prove himself worthy of a quality ride.
Smith has a lot of upside. He has a lot of raw talent, but still needs time to craft his skills and mature. Consistency and bouncing back from mistakes has been a big issue. At times, Chandler has trouble controlling his temper, a trait often found in Kyle Busch, but that can be overcome.
I would love to see Zane Smith in a Cup ride next year, he is on his way, just not sure where he will land. He’s an intriguing pick to replace Kyle, as it’s believed that he has very close ties to Ford. His talent cannot be mistaken though, and if you want a driver for the next decade or more, Zane might be too good to pass on.