NASCAR: Joe Gibbs Racing avoid another Kyle Busch problem

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Without a deal to compete past the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, Denny Hamlin looked like he could end up in a situation like Kyle Busch did at Joe Gibbs Racing. But that won’t be the case.

Denny Hamlin, who has only ever competed for Joe Gibbs Racing since entering the NASCAR Cup Series in 2005, entered the 2023 season without a deal to compete in 2024.

Additionally, even after being rumored to be “close” to a new contract, longtime primary sponsor FedEx had not yet announced whether they would be back for another season on the No. 11 Toyota next year.

The situation somewhat resembled that of Kyle Busch with Joe Gibbs Racing last year. While M&M’s announced after the 2021 season ended that the 2022 season would be their last, not many people believed that Busch, who had been with the team since 2008, could actually end up competing elsewhere in 2023.

Busch himself stated that if he wasn’t back behind the wheel of the No. 18 Toyota, it would probably mean the end of his Cup Series career.

Yet here we are in 2023. The No. 18 Toyota is now the No. 54 Toyota, rookie Ty Gibbs is the driver, and Busch is driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Was Denny Hamlin at risk of going down a similar road to continue his NASCAR career?

There were certainly some striking similarities and differences, though at the end of the day, it was always far less likely that Hamlin would end up leaving Joe Gibbs Racing.

And following Monday’s confirmations, both that Hamlin is set to return to the No. 11 Toyota on a multi-year deal and that FedEx plan to continue their longstanding partnership with driver and team, he won’t be.

What was similar was the fact that nobody could seriously envision Hamlin leaving, just like with Busch. It wasn’t really until late April of last year that the possibility of the two-time series champion competing elsewhere became one that was seriously considered by anybody.

However, everybody knew that Busch was going to need new sponsorship with M&M’s leaving. In Hamlin’s case, FedEx never actually confirmed a departure, even though several months went by with no new news following reports that they were “close” to a new deal. So even without a new deal confirmed, there was no need to panic.

Plus, a new deal was naturally going to take some time, given the fact that Hamlin owns his own Toyota Cup Series team, 23XI Racing, with Michael Jordan. A new deal was never going to be as simple as it would have been for a, for lack of a better word, regular driver.

That said, the same thing could also have been said about Busch, who had to account for his Kyle Busch Motorsports Truck Series team. With Busch switching to Chevrolet, they also made the switch from Toyota. While it made things a bit more complicated, it wasn’t a full-on roadblock to a switch.

The thing about Hamlin’s situation is that he was transparent the whole time that the details of new deal for 23XI Racing were the driving factor behind a lack of formal confirmation on the driving side. Now 23XI Racing have been confirmed to remain with Toyota, and Hamlin has been confirmed to remain with Joe Gibbs Racing.

So quite honestly, had it not been for Busch’s situation last year, there never really would have been any doubt from anybody about a new deal with Hamlin. Now his focus is strictly on winning his first championship this fall.

FanDuel Sportsbook, which is giving fans an instant $200 for betting $5, lists Hamlin as the fourth favorite to win this year’s championship.

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