NASCAR: The one Denny Hamlin rumor that actually came true

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

There were some bizarre rumors about Denny Hamlin’s 2021 NASCAR Cup Series plans last summer which were inevitably shot down. One reasonable one, however, did come to fruition.

You know NASCAR Silly Season reached crazy new heights this past season when the driver who sat in second place in the championship standings with six wins in the regular season had been the subject of multiple rumors for the 2021 Cup Series season.

Such was the case for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, even though he had already been under contract at Joe Gibbs Racing, the only team for which he has ever competed, through at least the 2021 campaign.

Of course, none of those bizarre rumors turned out to be true, and there was nothing that even remotely suggested otherwise.

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Hamlin had been rumored to join Hendrick Motorsports as the replacement for Jimmie Johnson after he was seen on a boat with team owner Rick Hendrick as well as Jeff Gordon, who owns the #48 Chevrolet which Johnson has driven full-time since 2002.

This rumor was based on the idea that Toyota were set on keeping both Erik Jones, who had competed for Joe Gibbs Racing since 2018, and Christopher Bell, the rookie who competed for the Joe Gibbs Racing-affiliated Leavine Family Racing. Leavine Family Racing shut down after 2020.

With Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. both already set to return to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021, Hamlin would have been the odd man out, given that FedEx’s sponsorship deal of the #11 Toyota had only run through the end of the 2020 season.

But it was later (and expectedly) confirmed that Bell would replace Jones behind the wheel of the #20 Toyota, completely shutting down this rumor. Jones is set to replace Bubba Wallace at Richard Petty Motorsports.

Speaking of Richard Petty’s team, Hamlin had also bizarrely been linked to a seat there. This strange rumor revolved around the idea of him purchasing an ownership stake in the team, forming a new technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and switching to Toyota, effectively as Leavine Family Racing’s replacement.

They would expand to two cars, one for Hamlin and one for Wallace.

But as this speculation grew back in late August, Hamlin practically confirmed that he will retire with Joe Gibbs Racing and that he will do so only when he feels like he no longer wants to compete at NASCAR’s top level.

Here is what Hamlin recently had to say about the matter, according to Autoweek.

"“Certainly I believe that, no matter what, my career will be with Joe Gibbs Racing and FedEx as long as I want to drive.”"

He added to those comments regarding the FedEx rumor, as he also told Beyond the Flag that he anticipates retiring with FedEx, his one and only primary sponsor since he began competing full-time back in 2006.

“I’ve been with FedEx my entire career now, which is very, very rare in NASCAR,” he said. “You usually see the cars change colors and sponsors each and every week, but I’ve been very blessed to be with the folks at FedEx now for 15 years, and hope to be with them throughout and retire with them when my career is over, whenever that might be.

“As long as we keep winning the amount of races that we’re winning year to year, I don’t see that ending anytime soon. But yeah they’ve been just a great partner. We share the same visions and goals, and it’s really been a family atmosphere with Fred and his whole group there.”

Put two and and two together, and there was never any evidence to suggest anything else, and both he and FedEx unsurprisingly inked multi-year extensions with Joe Gibbs Racing ahead of the 2021 season.

In the meantime, Wallace himself confirmed that he wouldn’t be back at Richard Petty Motorsports next year, which is what led to Jones moving to the #43 Chevrolet — notably not the #43 Toyota.

However, one rumor about Hamlin — a reasonable rumor — did turn out to be true.

Hamlin, who has long been public about his desire to stay involved in the sport after he retires as a driver, is set to serve as the co-owner of a new team, 23XI Racing, along with NBA legend Michael Jordan, and Wallace is set to be the driver.

Their name and car number (23) were confirmed in October, as were their alliances with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, although those details which were practically implied all along.

But even this deal never remotely involved around him leaving Joe Gibbs Racing as a driver, and that is despite what had been interpreted as a rule preventing drivers of four-car teams from owning a separate car.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps clarified that this rule is in place to prevent that fifth car from effectively being the fifth car of the four-car organization, which is why Hamlin was able to invest in 23XI Racing with Jordan without actually leaving Gibbs’s team.

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23XI Racing are set to make their debut in this Sunday’s Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Wallace is slated to start in sixth place behind the wheel of the #23 Toyota, and the race is set to be broadcast live on Fox beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.