As Labor Day Weekend is upon us, NASCAR Silly Season has moved slowly. A main key to its movement among all three national series is Joe Gibbs Racing.
It’s Labor Day weekend and NASCAR Silly Season has moved at a glacial pace. The two official announcements regarding next season are that Front Row Motorsports’ David Ragan will retire from full-time competition and Matt DiBenedetto will not drive the #95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota.
Why has Silly Season moved so slowly? A main reason is that Joe Gibbs Racing have not announced their 2020 driver lineup in the NASCAR Cup Series or Xfinity Series, and therefore Kyle Busch Motorsports have not announced their 2020 driver lineup in the Truck Series.
The two particular Cup Series rides in question are the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and the #95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota.
In all likelihood, Erik Jones will return as the driver of the #20 Toyota and current Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity Series driver Christopher Bell will drive the #95 Toyota as a Cup Series rookie next season.
There has not been official confirmation, however. Furthermore, although Joe Gibbs Racing picked up Bell’s option for next year, he remains unsure about which series and which car he will drive next season. Until those announcements are made, the rest of these dominoes remain in limbo.
If Bell moves up to the Cup Series, there is an Xfinity Series vacancy for Joe Gibbs Racing behind the wheel of the #20 Toyota. Presumably, the #18 Toyota will remain an all-star car for Busch, Jones, Bell and other drivers.
Although there has been no word on whether Brandon Jones will return to the #19 Toyota, he brings sponsorship, he has driven for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series for two full seasons. He is also currently well above the playoff cut line in 11th place in the championship standings.
Despite Bell probably moving up to the Cup Series, the #20 Toyota vacancy in the Xfinity Series has already been filled next season, and its driver will not be Matt DiBenedetto.
Who will drive the #20 Toyota in the Xfinity Series next season? Currently, the most discussed name is Harrison Burton. He brings sponsorship from DEX Imaging and he is the son of former NASCAR driver Jeff Burton. He is marketable.
Would it be too early to bring Burton up to the Xfinity Series? He is only 18 years old and missed the Truck Series playoffs in his rookie. In the Xfinity Series, he has competed in three of his eight announced races so far this season. In those three starts, he has recorded one top five finish and two top 10 finishes. If he succeeds in those remaining races, the decision may be easier.
If Burton moves into the #20 Toyota in the Xfinity Series next season, then Kyle Busch Motorsports’ 2020 Truck Series driver lineup could greatly differ from this season. It is almost a certainty that the #51 Toyota will be an all-star entry for Busch, Brandon Jones, Burton, etc. However, who will drive the #4 Toyota and the #18 Toyota?
Todd Gilliland has failed to make the Truck Series playoffs in his two seasons driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports, and I don’t expect him to return next season. He will probably drive for his father David Gilliland’s Truck Series team, DGR-Crosley, in some capacity.
Because no decision has been made regarding these aforementioned Cup Series rides, which will affect Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity Series driver lineup, it is harder to speculate who will drive for Kyle Busch Motorsports next season.
The three names to keep in mind as possibilities to drive for Kyle Busch Motorsports next season are Tyler Ankrum, Chandler Smith and Christian Eckes. Ankrum brings limited sponsorship, but fortunately for him, the majority of sponsors for Kyle Busch Motorsports are team sponsors, not sponsors tied to a specific driver. Ankrum is in the Truck Series playoffs, and with a fully funded season, he would be a favorite for the Truck Series title.
Smith is only 17 years old and he will not turn 18 until June 26, 2020, so he would be ineligible to race tracks smaller than one mile until he turns 18. He could only compete at Richmond Raceway, Dover International Speedway and Iowa Speedway next season before he turns 18.
Would NASCAR grant him a playoff waiver, and could he win to make the playoffs next season? Nevertheless, he has six career ARCA Menards Series wins, and he has recorded three top eight finishes, including two top four finishes and a career-high second place finish, in three Truck Series races this season with an impressive average finish of 4.67. He has a bright future ahead of him.
Eckes has competed part-time in the Truck Series this season, and he took the pole position for the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. He is currently battling for the ARCA Menards Series championship with two wins so far this season. If he wins that title, the most logical step would be for him to move to the Truck Series full-time next season.
The dominoes for NASCAR Silly Season rely largely on Joe Gibbs Racing. When they, along with Toyota Racing Development and Leavine Family Racing, decided not to retain DiBenedetto for the 2020 season, the dominoes began to fall, but many still stand. Perhaps most notably, where will DiBenedetto end up?
When will these announcements be made? Outside of Joe Gibbs Racing, when will other announcements occur to facilitate movement in Silly Season? Hopefully we’ll find out soon.