NASCAR: Is the No. 18 car ever going to return?

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports /

There is no No. 18 car in the NASCAR Cup Series this year following Kyle Busch’s departure from Joe Gibbs Racing. Will the iconic number ever return?

A year ago, it seemed improbable, if not impossible. But last week, Kyle Busch officially opened up the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series with a team other than Joe Gibbs Racing, and behind the wheel of a car other than the No. 18 Toyota.

Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after 15 seasons following the 2022 campaign and joined Richard Childress Racing as the replacement for the 23XI Racing-bound Tyler Reddick behind the wheel of the No. 8 Chevrolet.

Ty Gibbs, who won the Xfinity Series championship last year for his grandfather’s team, was long seen as the top candidate to replace Busch, and shortly after the offseason began, silly season’s worst kept season was formally announced.

But it was also announced that Gibbs would be keeping his Xfinity Series number and driving the No. 54 Toyota.

As a result, Joe Gibbs’ team sidelined he No. 18 Toyota for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

They continue to run the No. 11 Toyota for Denny Hamlin, the No. 19 Toyota for Martin Truex Jr., and the No. 20 Toyota for Christopher Bell.

The 2023 season is the first season since 1991 without a No. 18 car running full-time, and it could be the first Cup Series season ever — going all the way back to the series’ debut as the NASCAR Strictly Stock Series in 1949 — without a No. 18 car running at all. Joe Gibbs Racing used No. 18 as their original car number when they entered the Cup Series 32 years ago.

However, the absence of the No. 18 car should only be temporary, at least according to the team that ran it full-time for their first 31 years in the Cup Series.

When Joe Gibbs Racing announced Gibbs as the driver of the No. 54 Toyota, they stated that they planned to bring back the No. 18 at some point, but they did not specify when.

Given the fact that two of their drivers, Hamlin and Truex, are 42 years old, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team bring back the No. 18 Toyota when one of them retires and they have to make another driver change anyway.

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Perhaps they could even act before then and move Bell, the 28-year-old Norman, Oklahoma native who figures to be a key part of their future, to the iconic number.