SPARTA, KY – Joe Gibbs Racing is going to have a very good, yet stressful problem on their hands sooner rather than later. The problem – they have too many talented drivers coming up through their program in the NASCAR ranks, and soon, they will have no where to go.
Under the current NASCAR rules, no team can have more than four entries in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. That’s the max any one car owner can run.
With JGR having four solid drivers in their Cup stable right now, where do these up and comers go?
Currently, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth drive for JGR on the Cup side. With the exception of Kenseth, the other three are 36 years of age and younger. In fact, Hamlin, Edwards and Busch are in the middle of the prime of their respective careers.
No way JGR will get rid of them any time soon.
Busch is only 31 years old and is coming off of his first Sprint Cup championship in 2015. Hamlin, is 35 years old and just won the Daytona 500 this year. Edwards, is only 36 and having a ton of success with them already after just joining team last year.
Do you really think any of these three are going anywhere in the next five or six years?
The drivers coming through the ranks for JGR are vying for Kenseth’s seat, but Kenseth, 44, has no plans of slowing down yet. Just last week both Kenseth and Joe Gibbs said at Daytona that they have a “multi-year” deal in place and that Kenseth plans of retiring there when he’s ready to hang up his helmet.
Gibbs agreed with that sentiment and wants to make that happen for the 2003 Cup champion.
So, I don’t see a seat opening up before 2020 in the JGR stable.
What does that mean for talented drivers like Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, William Byron and Christopher Bell then?
Jones, is ready to make his splash in Cup very soon as he has four wins and 29 top 10’s in just 41 NASCAR X-Finity Series starts. He also has seven wins and 34 top 10’s in 41 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts.
This is his first full season in the X-Finity Series as I can see him coming back maybe one more year, but in 2018 at the latest, he will be ready for a Cup seat.
What about Suarez?
He’s the current X-Finity Series points leader and won his first race in that series just last month. He also has 30 top 10’s in only 50 career starts in the X-Finity Series and is coming off of finishing fifth in the final standings as a rookie in 2015.
Suarez too can come back to the team in the X-Finity Series in 2017, but like Jones, he’s going to be ready for a Cup ride by 2018.
Following them through the ranks are Byron and Bell, who are staring in the Camping World Truck Series as rookies right now.
Bryon, just won his fourth victory in only 10 starts this year and 11 total Truck races, and he too is leading the points standings right now. He’s a star in the making.
But, his teammate Bell is too, as he won at Gateway two races ago and has two career Truck victories in 17 career races.
These two can probably come back to a Truck ride in 2017, but they need to move up to an X-Finity Series ride in 2018. They can spend a couple years there and be Cup ready by 2020.
So, four drivers coming up through the ranks, two leading their respective points standings, the other two very competitive, and all ready to land a Cup ride by 2020.
But, JGR may not have a ride open until then and it may only be one at that.
So, what do they do?
What are their options?
I can tell you they don’t want to make the same mistake that Hendrick made by having to let Brad Keselowski go to Team Penske because they had no room for him on the Cup side.
JGR doesn’t want to let any of these four go. They need to find a way to keep them – but how?
The best bet is helping Furniture Row Racing expand their program. They joined an alliance together for the first time this season and the relationship is working tremendously.
But, the one-car team doesn’t have the funding to expand without major help from JGR.
It appears this may be the best option as Jones and Suarez could end up in second and third cars there then have Byron or Bell replace Kenseth when he retires.
Or, Jones and Suarez could move from FRR to replace Kenseth and either Bell or Byron could replace them at FRR.
Either way, this is a good problem to have but one they don’t want to screw up. They can’t afford to allow these four to leave as they’re all very young and have their best years ahead of them.
Suarez is the oldest among them at 24, Bell is 21, Jones is only 20 and Byron just 18. They’re too talented and too young for JGR to allow them to walk to another competitor.