NASCAR: Joe Gibbs Racing facing same big problem as 2022?

Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

After losing Kyle Busch due to the departure of a longtime sponsor, could Joe Gibbs Racing be facing a similar issue with Denny Hamlin during the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season?

Last year at this time, the thought of two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch competing for any team other than Joe Gibbs Racing during the 2023 season seemed preposterous, even after the announcement that M&M’s would not be back on the No. 18 Toyota in 2023.

Surely the sport’s most successful active driver/team partnership would find a way to continue on for a 16th year together, even following the departure of a longtime sponsor.

However, as more time passed with no deal announced, it became clear that a return to Joe Gibbs Racing was far from certain for the 37-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada.

Skip ahead to 2023, and Busch is set to drive the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

What was once considered a promising sponsorship development fell through at some point during the early stages of the 2022 season, and Busch was effectively forced to look elsewhere for a 2023 ride. Joe Gibbs Racing ultimately decided to replace him with Ty Gibbs, the reigning Xfinity Series champion and grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs.

Could Joe Gibbs Racing be facing a similar problem in 2023?

Denny Hamlin has only ever driven for one team during his Cup Series career. The longtime driver of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 Toyota is set for his 19th season (18th full season) with the team in 2023, but he is reportedly without a contract to compete beyond the 2023 season.

FedEx, which has served as his primary sponsor since he joined the team, is also without a contract to return to the No. 11 Toyota in 2024.

Surely Hamlin won’t end up in a situation like Busch was in, right?

Ever since Hamlin joined forces with Michael Jordan and formed 23XI Racing ahead of the 2021 season, there has been speculation that the 42-year-old Chesterfield, Virginia could decide to spend the final few seasons of his career driving for his own team before retiring.

He has addressed this possibility on a number of occasions, insisting that he would like to finish his career at Joe Gibbs Racing behind the wheel of a FedEx-sponsored No. 11 Toyota and go out on his own terms.

But what if a new FedEx deal doesn’t get done?

Is it possible that Joe Gibbs Racing could lose their longest tenured driver, a three-time Daytona 500 champion, in the same manner by which they lost their second longest tenured driver, a two-time Cup Series champion — and within a year of each other?

The situations surrounding M&M’s and FedEx are very different, with the former having announced shortly after the 2021 season ended that the 2022 season would be their last while the latter still hasn’t announced anything regarding 2024.

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But the uncertainty — and the reluctance of most fans to wrap their heads around the idea that any changes could truly take place — is eerily similar.