NASCAR: Denny Hamlin rumors amount to absolutely nothing

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

The rumors of Joe Gibbs Racing keeping both Erik Jones and Christopher Bell and releasing Denny Hamlin after the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season did not come to fruition.

As it turns out, not all high-profile boat rides mean shocking business deals.

Joe Gibbs Racing confirmed nearly two weeks ago that Erik Jones will not be back with the team for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. Rookie Christopher Bell, who currently competes for the Joe Gibbs Racing-affiliated Leavine Family Racing, is set to replace him.

This move completely shuts down rumors that Denny Hamlin, who currently sits in second place on the playoff leaderboard with five wins through 23 of the 2020 season’s 36 races following a season that saw him advance to the Championship 4 for the first time since 2014, would be released from the team.

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These rumors had been mounting since Hamlin was seen on a boat with Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon, who co-owns the #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. In fact, the 39-year-old Chesterfield, Virginia native posted a picture of the experience to his Instagram story.

The #48 Chevrolet has been driven full-time by seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson since the 2002 season, but it does not have a confirmed driver for next year, as Johnson is set to retire following the 2020 campaign.

So could that boat ride have been more than a boat ride?

There had been mounting speculation that Leavine Family Racing would be forced to sell the team after the 2020 season as a result of the financial strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Those rumors have since been confirmed, as the team will not operate beyond 2020.

In this case, Joe Gibbs Racing would presumably have to choose between re-signing Jones or promoting Bell, whose “multi-year” deal would effectively go down the drain otherwise. Joe Gibbs Racing’s other three drivers, Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., had already been under contract for 2021.

But there was the belief that Joe Gibbs Racing still may be able to replace Hamlin with Bell and manage to retain Jones.

Hamlin’s deal with FedEx, his lone primary sponsor over the course of his 15-year career, all with Joe Gibbs Racing, is believed to be up after 2020, and Hamlin would have needed sponsorship to continue to fund his ride.

Now with Jones being out after 2020 and Bell moving in, a few things are clear.

  1. Joe Gibbs Racing’s 2021 lineup is set.
  2. Denny Hamlin is set for a 16th year behind the wheel of the #11 Toyota.
  3. Rick Hendrick wouldn’t allow official business to be leaked on a driver’s Instagram story.
  4. Hendrick is still looking for Jimmie Johnson’s replacement.
  5. Boat rides can just be boat rides.

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At this point, the most interesting storyline surrounding this situation is where Jones will end up next year. Could he be the man tabbed to replace Johnson? Is Stewart-Haas Racing an option, given their two empty seats and their recent trend of altering their driver lineup after each season?