NASCAR: Denny Hamlin avoids Kyle Busch dilemma

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports /

Denny Hamlin entered 2023 without a contract with Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season, as did primary sponsor FedEx. But he has avoided a situation like Kyle Busch faced a year ago.

Eighteen months or so ago, the idea that Kyle Busch would be anywhere other than Joe Gibbs Racing behind the wheel of the No. 18 Toyota for a 16th straight year in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season seemed preposterous.

Yet here we are. Busch is nearing the end of his first season behind the wheel of the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, the No. 18 Toyota is now the No. 54 Toyota, and Ty Gibbs is the driver.

What set the shocking chain of events into motion was the fact that M&M’s announced after the 2021 season that the 2022 season would be their final season as the primary sponsor of Busch’s No. 18 Toyota.

The initial belief was that it still wouldn’t be too difficult to put together a deal to keep the 38-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native with his longtime organization for at least another year, but that proved false. After a once promising sponsorship deal fell through, it became easier and easier to envision Busch competing elsewhere in 2023. And that’s what happened.

It was beginning to look like Denny Hamlin could be facing a Kyle Busch-like situation in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

The suggestion that Hamlin might be competing somewhere other than Joe Gibbs Racing behind the wheel of the No. 11 Toyota in 2024 always seemed quite preposterous. He has been with the organization since joining the Cup Series in 2005 (full-time in 2006).

The only other Cup Series team with which he has been affiliated since joining the series is 23XI Racing, which he started with Michael Jordan in 2021. Unsurprisingly, that team formed a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota before they made their series debut.

Hamlin has long been adamant that he wants to end his career where he started it: with Joe Gibbs Racing, and with FedEx as the primary sponsor of his No. 11 car. He wants to go out on his terms, and he doesn’t want his involvement in 23XI Racing, which has been a substantial undertaking to say the least, to shorten his driving career.

But there was a chance that FedEx wouldn’t renew their deal for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Was another Kyle Busch/M&M’s situation in the cards for Joe Gibbs Racing, this time involving Hamlin?

There were certainly differences between the two situations, the most obvious being the fact that M&M’s confirmed after the 2021 season that the 2022 season would be their last. FedEx did no such thing, though it did almost feel like we had been here before.

In June, it was reported that FedEx, which has been Hamlin’s primary sponsor for far fewer races than they used to be, were closing in on an extension with Hamlin and the team, but more than two months later, nothing more had been said.

Joe Gibbs himself and Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson had also both said that Hamlin would be back in 2024, but nothing was official.

That finally changed on Monday.

Hamlin has officially signed a multi-year deal to return to the No. 11 Toyota, and he confirmed that FedEx plan continue their longstanding partnership with him and the team.

He added that 23XI Racing plan to continue their alliance with Toyota as well. He had previously suggested that the details involved in working out this deal were ultimately why he couldn’t yet officially announce a new driving contract.

So beyond the usual silly season speculation that happens every year, there was never really any doubt.

Hamlin and the team reaching a new agreement was clearly in the best interest of all parties involved, and unlike we saw last year with Busch, they got it done.

Now Hamlin’s focus is strictly on winning his first championship. FanDuel Sportsbook, which is giving fans an instant $200 for betting $5, lists him as the fourth favorite to win this year’s title.

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