Too early to predict 2018 Joe Gibbs Racing driver line-up
The primary topic of conversion on the “Trading Paint” show Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio was a contemplation of which current Joe Gibbs Racing Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver (Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin or Matt Kenseth) would be out at 2017 season’s end to make way for Erik Jones. Jones is a JGR driver on loan to Furniture Row Racing for 2017, Jones’ rookie campaign in the series.
The guys from “Trading Paint” were quick to assume that Jones would be in one of the four JGR rides in 2018, because the deal that put Jones in the second Furniture Row entry is a one-year deal. I’m not so quick to assume, though, that means Jones at JGR in 2018. Maybe the current deal was only struck for one year to leave things open for multiple options at the conclusion of 2017. Sure, FRR owner Barney Visser has said he doesn’t expact to have Jones for more than a season, but “doesn’t expect” is a lot different than “won’t” and he may have just been setting himself up to not be disappointed if he does, indeed, lose Jones at the end of 2017. Besides, expectations don’t always play out.
But, at the same time, Jones very well could be at Gibbs in 2018, but to replace which of the four current JGR drivers at the Cup level. I’m thinking not even Coach Joe Gibbs, himself, knows the answer yet. After all, several factors could come into play.
1. Contract negotiations — From what I’m hearing, multiple JGR drivers are or will be in contract negotiations throughout 2017 in preparation for 2018. Sure, all four drivers were multiple race winners and Joe Gibbs Racing is, without a doubt, the top team in the sport right now, but negotiations could still fall through with one of the current drivers. NASCAR racing is, after all, not just a sport; it’s also a business. And often in business, several things come into play. Money, anyone?
2. Sponsorship — In the business that is today’s NASCAR, sponsors often get what they want. After all, sponsors are shelling out millions of dollars. We’re talking five digits per season for a primary sponsorship. What if a sponsor decides to go in a different direction, like maybe trade a current driver for the next young thing, i.e. Jones? What if one of the current sponsor leaves or opts to cut back a little? That sponsor’s replacement may want the next young, hot thing in the garage.
3. Is Kenseth contemplating retirement? — I don’t know, maybe. Kenseth was still competitive last year, but so was Jeff Gordon in his last official year. And Tony Stewart won at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in 2016, his final season. In case you don’t realize it, Kenseth is around the same age of Gordon and Stewart. Maybe he’s almost ready to hang up his hat, and he just hasn’t told us yet. If this scenario is reality, maybe Gibbs already knows and the plan is already in place for Kenseth to retire at 2017 season’s end, making way for Jones in the No. 20 in 2018. But if that’s the case, we sure don’t know yet.
Maybe we’re jumping the gun, here, trying to figure out the Joe Gibbs Racing 2018 driver line-up. Why should we even bother? Heck, let’s enjoy the 2017 that hasn’t even started yet first.