NASCAR: Could Joe Gibbs Racing face a tough dilemma?

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

While Martin Truex Jr. is officially set to return to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, Kyle Busch is facing an uncertain future.

Following Martin Truex Jr.’s announcement that he plans to return to Joe Gibbs Racing for a fifth year behind the wheel of the #19 Toyota in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, there is just one Joe Gibbs Racing car without a confirmed driver for next year.

That car is the #18 Toyota, which has been driven by two-time series champion and 60-time race winner Kyle Busch since the 2008 season.

With several months of speculation about Truex’s future now in the books, Busch is back in the NASCAR silly season spotlight, just like he was after making several cryptic comments about his future — or lack thereof — with Joe Gibbs Racing in the Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway back in April.

Busch is not under contract beyond the 2022 season, and with longtime primary sponsor M&M’s having announced before the season began that they will not be back for 2023, it’s clear that he needs substantial sponsorship funding to continue driving for the team next year.

Following several recent promising developments, the most likely option remains that Busch will be back for a 16th season with the team in 2023.

But in the event that Busch does not return, what move would Joe Gibbs Racing make to fill the #18 Toyota?

Ty Gibbs seems like an obvious replacement candidate, as the plan is for the team to promote him to the Cup Series at some point in the near future.

However, Joe Gibbs, team owner and grandfather of the 19-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina native, has said that the goal is for him to run two full seasons in the Xfinity Series first before he makes the jump to the Cup Series.

Despite the fact that he ran more than half of the races on last year’s schedule, the 2022 season is still technically his first full season in the Xfinity Series, so a second full season in the series would come in 2023, setting up a 2024 move to the Cup Series at the earliest.

Would Joe Gibbs Racing sign somebody for the purpose of simply keeping his seat warm for a year, or would they sign somebody whom they can be a long-term option?

If Joe Gibbs Racing opt to sign somebody whom they believe can be a long-term driver of the #18 Toyota, would they be doing so under the assumption that Truex’s final season is the 2023 season and Gibbs could replace him instead?

Truex said that it took him six months to decide on what he wanted to do for 2023, so don’t expect a decision on 2024 to come at any point in the near future.

Is there a chance that Gibbs could go to the Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan-owned 23XI Racing first, in the event that Truex does opt to return to the team in 2024, or would Hamlin vacate his seat behind the wheel of the #11 Toyota and move to the team he co-owns instead, a possibility that was recently discussed on The Dale Jr. Download?

Bottom line, the simplest solution for everybody is Kyle Busch re-signing with Joe Gibbs Racing for 2023, pushing off the need for any driver change or changes by at least another season.

JGR seat still open -- and for 2022. dark. Next

Joe Gibbs Racing would run the same four drivers for a third straight Cup Series season, no changes would need to take place at the Joe Gibbs Racing-affiliated 23XI Racing team, and Ty Gibbs would get the second full season in the Xfinity Series that his grandfather wants for him before a Cup Series promotion takes place.

But if that doesn’t happen, chaos could ensue.