NASCAR: 2023 season could end a 74-year streak

Daytona 500, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Daytona 500, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

With Kyle Busch out at Joe Gibbs Racing and Ty Gibbs driving a different car number, the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season could be the first ever without a No. 18 car.

The 65th annual Daytona 500 got the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season underway this past Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, marking the first race for several drivers at new teams.

This past offseason was filled with notable driver lineup changes, highlighted by Kyle Busch’s departure from Joe Gibbs Racing following 15 successful seasons with the Toyota organization. He replaced the 23XI Racing-bound Tyler Reddick at Richard Childress Racing behind the wheel of the No. 8 Chevrolet.

Instead of moving reigning Xfinity Series champion Ty Gibbs to Busch’s No. 18 Toyota for the 2023 season, Joe Gibbs Racing opted to let Gibbs continue to use his Xfinity Series number upon his arrival to the Cup Series. He drives the No. 54 Toyota as opposed to the No. 18 Toyota.

There has never been a NASCAR Cup Series season without a No. 18 car.

The No. 18 car has been in the Cup Series full-time since Joe Gibbs Racing entered the series back in 1992. In 1,077 races from 1992 to 2022, only one race was ever contested without one in the field, that being the October 1994 race at North Wilkesboro Speedway when Dale Jarrett failed to qualify his No. 18 Chevrolet for the team.

John Wright was the first individual to drive a No. 18 car in the Cup Series, piloting the No. 18 Ford to a seventh place finish at Heidelberg Raceway back in October 1949 during the series’ inaugural season. The Cup Series was still known as the NASCAR Strictly Stock Series back then.

From 1949 to 2022, the No. 18 car appeared in 1,575 races. Busch is responsible for 56 of its 80 wins, with Bobby Labonte responsible for 21 of the other 23. Jarrett was responsible for its first two back in 1993 and 1994.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s plan is to bring the No. 18 car back at some point, but that is as much as we know about those plans as of now. They already field four cars, including the No. 11 Toyota for Denny Hamlin, the No. 19 Toyota for Martin Truex Jr., and the No. 20 Toyota for Christopher Bell, so they can’t field a fifth entry at any point this year.

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It is highly unlikely that a part-time team with a non-chartered entry would field a No. 18 car in any races this year, meaning that Busch’s departure from and Gibbs’ arrival to Joe Gibbs Racing could produce the first season in Cup Series history in which there is no No. 18 car.