If you follow the trail, you’ll see that one of the younger stars that are currently under contact currently with Joe Gibbs Racing will likely end up with a potential second Leavine Family Racing seat.
Ahead of last week’s race at the Texas Motor Speedway, LFR spoke on how they’d like to expand to a second full time team and that it nearly happened this season. If not for Daniel Suarez landing with Stewart-Haas Racing, he was set to join Matt DiBenedetto for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season with LFR.
Translation, with LFR replacing Furniture Row Racing as the alliance team with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, both sides were going to place Suarez over at LFR and keep him in house.
Instead, he signed with SHR after being replaced by Martin Truex Jr.
Now, Toyota and JGR are in another predicament. What to do with Christopher Bell. Kyle Busch just signed a multi year extension to remain with JGR. Truex Jr., signed a multi year deal with JGR in the offseason. Denny Hamlin signed a new deal last year and said on Friday at the Bristol Motor Speedway that he never really was on the hot seat to begin with.
He said, “I can’t imagine someone doing a better job in my car than me.”
He’s so far right. Hamlin, is off to the best start of his Cup Series career in winning February’s Daytona 500 as well as last week’s race in Texas.
So, with three of the four rides with JGR accounted for and NASCAR capping each team with four max entries, where does Bell land? What do they do with Erik Jones?
Jones, said on Thursday that he and JGR are in talks of a contract extension and expects to have it done by the summer. He won a race last year at Daytona and is one of their budding young stars. No way, you’re giving up on him now.
Plus, no way JGR and Toyota want to throw away younger talent and keep aging veterans.
Hamlin and Truex both are 38. Yes, both are at the back ends of their careers, but both are championship front runners. You can’t let them go. But, with Jones (22) and Bell (24) you can’t part ways with their future either.
Busch, is only 33 and has several years ahead of him. He’s not going anywhere either.
That’s essentially five drivers for four spots.
“I’m honored that people want to know where I’m going to go,” Bell said on Friday afternoon in Bristol. “That’s better than people not caring, so that’s really cool. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say it’s a distraction just because it goes in one ear and out the other, so it’s not anything that I have any input in. It’s not like I can control that. The only thing that I can control is finishing races and hopefully winning races.”
Bell, has nine wins already in the XFINITY Series to go along with a Truck Series title in 2017. He broke several rookie records in the XFINITY Series a year ago and has already stamped his name into the playoffs again in 2019.
There’s no need for him to return for a third full time season in 2020. He needs to move up. The problem is, where?
Bell, said that he doesn’t see himself supplanting any of JGR’s current foursome at the moment.
“I never really pictured Erik (Jones) being my hole, and if you look at the Gibbs camp right now, I can’t really picture anyone being my hole because all four of their cars are running exceptional right now,” Bell said. “I mean, if you watch any of the races, all four of them are right in the top five. So, I don’t know. I don’t know where I’m going to land, and I’m just enjoying the ride right now.”
That’s why LFR really makes the most sense. Toyota has too many good drivers coming through the ranks but no where to really put them. JGR won’t have any openings for the foreseeable future but can’t just turn their backs on the youth movement either.