NASCAR: What if Ty Gibbs doesn’t get the #18 Toyota?

Ty Gibbs has long been seen as the surefire replacement for Kyle Busch behind the wheel of the #18 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series.

Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch announced in September that he would be moving on from Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota after the 2022 season, ending a 15-year relationship that began in 2008 following a three-year run to open up his Cup Series career with Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet.

Busch made the decision to reunite with Chevrolet and join Richard Childress Racing as the driver of the #8 Chevrolet in 2023, leaving the #18 Toyota without a confirmed driver.

The obvious replacement candidate has long been seen as Ty Gibbs, the grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs who competed full-time in the Xfinity Series this season for the first time and won the championship to cap off a seven-win season.

Joe Gibbs Racing stated at the time of Busch’s departure that they would be making a driver announcement regarding the #18 Toyota at a later date, but nothing was said from then until the end of the season.

Is it possible that Ty Gibbs isn’t going to be promoted to the #18 Toyota yet?

There are a few reasons why it would make sense if this isn’t actually in the team’s plans. First of all, Joe Gibbs had said back in the late spring that he wanted Ty to run two full seasons in the Xfinity Series before a promotion to the Cup Series as a full-time driver.

Of course, at this point, Joe Gibbs Racing likely would have believed that they were going to be able to re-sign Busch to continue driving the #18 Toyota, despite the impending departure of longtime primary sponsor M&M’s. A once promising sponsorship development, however, ultimately fell through.

Even still, there would have been uncertainty at this point surrounding the future of Martin Truex Jr., who had hinted that retirement was a possibility. While he ultimately decided to return to the #19 Toyota for 2023, the fact is that Joe Gibbs Racing always knew it was possible that they’d have a seat open for next year.

And nothing in 2022 could change the fact that the 2022 season was only Ty Gibbs’s first full season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Ty did get the benefit of running 15 Cup Series races, which nobody expected to happen this year. He was called upon by the Joe Gibbs Racing-affiliated 23XI Racing to replace Kurt Busch after Busch suffered a head injury in his single-car qualifying wreck at Pocono Raceway back in late July.

Ty’s only missed start from that point forward came in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway, when he learned of the unexpected passing of his father Coy just hours after winning the Xfinity Series championship the night before.

So while he has not run a second full Xfinity Series season, he gained plenty of additional — and even more relevant — experience in 2022 than anybody could have anticipated.

But what happens if he doesn’t get promoted?

Joe Gibbs Racing could opt to run multiple drivers in the #18 Toyota next year, one of whom being Gibbs, to allow Gibbs to run a second full Xfinity Series season. This would effectively amount to what he ended up doing in 2022 since he would gain additional Cup Series experience as well.

John Hunter Nemechek is really the only other driver who makes sense here, whether that be replacing Busch full-time or driving part-time alongside Gibbs.

In fact, Nemechek was 23XI Racing’s original designated replacement driver before they called upon Gibbs to replace Kurt Busch, and Nemechek, who competed for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series in each of the last two seasons, is looking to remain with Toyota following Kyle Busch Motorsports’ switch to Chevrolet.

He also has plenty of Cup Series experience himself, having driven full-time for Front Row Motorsports in 2020 before making the decision to drop back down to the Truck Series and reunite with Toyota Racing Development.

As mentioned above, Truex’s future remains uncertain, so there’s a chance that Joe Gibbs Racing will have to fill another seat in their driver lineup sooner rather than later. Could that be when Ty actually gets his full-time ride, allowing him to run two full seasons in the Xfinity Series as initially planned?

Do make note of the fact that it took Joe Gibbs Racing until the week the 2022 season began for them to confirm that Gibbs would be driving the #54 Toyota full-time, even though that was seen as inevitable following his four-win effort in a part-time 2021 campaign. That being said, confirmation for a full-time Cup ride is a little bit different.