NASCAR: Breaking down the latest major Cup Series rumor

Bubba Wallace, Richard Petty Motorsports, and Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace, Richard Petty Motorsports, and Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

There have been recent rumblings of a deal involving Bubba Wallace, Denny Hamlin, Michael Jordan and Richard Petty Motorsports for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. What does it all mean?

In terms of drivers already under contract through the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, Denny Hamlin has been in the rumor mill quite often over the last few weeks.

NASCAR Silly Season is always full of interesting headlines and possibilities, and that is no different as the 2020 season winds down and the focus shifts to 2021 for many drivers and teams.

While many of the rumors don’t pan out for one reason or another, many of them are still worth looking into due to their potential to have a big impact on the driver lineup. We have seen some crazy things happen in the past, and ruling out anything — especially in 2020 — doesn’t seem like the right way to approach these topics.

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Over the last few weeks, there have been rumblings of a deal involving Hamlin, Bubba Wallace, NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan and Richard Petty Motorsports for the 2021 season.

Wallace, who has driven the #43 Chevrolet since the 2018 season, has been offered a greater ownership stake in the team than that which he already holds, but he has also been offered a deal to drive the #42 Chevrolet at Chip Ganassi Racing, which have been a far more consistent and faster team over the years. He has not publicized any other offers, but it wouldn’t be shocking if he has received more than just these two given his uptick in performance this season.

But there is the belief that Richard Petty Motorsports need to improve their performance as a team in order for him to commit to staying past the conclusion of the 2020 season.

Richard Petty Motorsports co-owner Andrew Murstein recently confirmed that there are a number of potential investors interested in the team for 2021, and he noted that one of them is a celebrity. In this week’s episode of the Door, Bumper, Clear podcast, it was reported that Jordan is that celebrity.

There have been several contradicting reports about whether or not the Charlotte Hornets owner is indeed involved, with one report saying that there is “no truth at all” to the rumor and another saying that the deal is “all locked in”.

That’s just your average NASCAR Silly Season; keep that in mind as this article progresses.

So what would this entail?

It would involve Richard Petty Motorsports ending their three-year relationship with Chevrolet and switching to Toyota, a move that would make sense given the fact that Leavine Family Racing are shutting down after 2020.

As of now, Joe Gibbs Racing, which have now seen two teams with which they have had technical alliances shut down over the last 24 months, are the only chartered Toyota team set to compete in the Cup Series next year.

As a result, this deal would also likely involve a technical alliance between Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports, giving them the competitive boost they need to retain Wallace. A second car could also be in the mix.

But how would Hamlin factor in?

Hamlin has had a deal with Nike’s Michael Jordan Brand for several years. But because he drives for the four-car Joe Gibbs Racing operation, he would not be allowed to own a separate team.

Would he leave Joe Gibbs Racing to make this happen?

While he signed a contract with the team that runs through at least 2021 back in early 2017, this isn’t too far-fetched. FedEx, his line primary sponsor throughout his 15-year Cup Series career, is under contract through the end of 2020, and there were already rumors that he would leave the team to replace the retiring Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports.

Of course, that ended up not being the case; these rumors were based on the idea that Joe Gibbs Racing wanted to retain both Erik Jones and Christopher Bell alongside veteran champions Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., who are locked in on multi-year deals.

Bell, who currently competes for Leavine Family Racing, ended up signing to replace Jones, with Jones now slated to leave the organization and Toyota as a whole after 2020.

However, even under the assumption that he can still walk away from Joe Gibbs Racing after 2020, the 39-year-old Chesterfield, Virginia native is also in the midst of a career year, having won six races already and positioned to challenge for his first championship. Would he really leave the #11 team?

Even if this deal happens, he may not have to, as there are rumors that he may invest in Jordan Brand with the six-time NBA champion as the owner, allowing both him and Wallace to stay put.

In that case, who would get Richard Petty Motorsports’ second seat? There are quite a few logical selections, with Erik Jones being one since Toyota never truly wanted to release him and Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity Series driver Brandon Jones being another.

Of course, even if the Hamlin or Jordan (or both) portions of this scenario go out the window, which is a possibility considering the fact that Jordan’s spokesperson publicly shot down the rumor of his involvement, there still could be another celebrity involved. Murstein confirmed this earlier this week.

Additionally, the rest of this rumor about Richard Petty Motorsports retaining Wallace and moving to Toyota is still plausible, assuming the right investors come along.

After all, Wallace has competed for Toyota before, doing so (and winning) for Kyle Busch Motorsports full-time in the Truck Series back in 2013 and 2014 and for Joe Gibbs Racing as a part-time driver in the Xfinity Series back in 2012 and 2014. He also competed (and won) for Rev Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing in K&N Pro Series East back in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

But there are still some road blocks to consider, just as you might expect in a situation that could be this big.

A manufacturer switch would mean that Richard Petty Motorsports would not longer be able to operate out of the campus of Richard Childress Racing, the team with which they currently have a technical alliance, and a switch just one year before the Gen 7 car is introduced may not make a ton of sense from a financial standpoint.

With the latter point having been made, when Spire Motorsports purchased Leavine Family Racing, the cars were not included in that deal. The cars themselves went back from Bob Leavine’s team to Joe Gibbs’s team.

Could Joe Gibbs Racing supply cars to the sport’s presumed newest Toyota team in 2021? It’s not out of the question.

Let’s also not forget about the “big deal” Wallace hinted at after his ninth place finish at Michigan International Speedway a few weeks ago…

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Even in a Silly Season that is already loaded with rumors and storylines, this is certainly a situation to keep an eye on over the next few weeks, especially since it is expected that Wallace will make his decision in the very near future.