NASCAR Silly Season is upon us. While there’s not going to be as much movement this offseason compared to recent years, we do have two big dominoes wrapped into one as to where this thing will head.
Joe Gibbs Racing right now is having almost too much of a good thing – if that’s possible. See, NASCAR caps the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams with having four full time entrants max. Where the problem falls, they have five drivers all good enough for those four positions.
Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch have each recently signed contract extensions to remain with JGR. Martin Truex Jr. signed a new deal with them for this season and beyond. Combined, all three have won 11 of the 21 races run this year and look to be legitimate championship favorites.
Christopher Bell during last weekend’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at the Iowa Speedway
Christopher Bell recently announced a contract extension to remain with JGR too. But, where does the talented NASCAR XFINITY Series driver go? He’s too good to remain in the XFINITY Series for a third year. What gain would he have by remaining in the No. 20 Toyota again? He’s won 13 of his 60 career starts in the series including 12 just in the last two years alone. Just look at his season thus far – 5 wins, 12 top five finishes, 13 top 10’s, four poles and 1,252 laps led. There’s still 14 races remaining. He’s ready for a Cup seat.
But, what does the team do with Erik Jones? While he has just one career win in three seasons in NASCAR’s premiere series including being winless in 2019 while his teammates have won 11 times, he’s arguably as hot now as any driver in the series. Jones, has three consecutive top three finishes in his No. 20 Toyota on the season and four top seven results in his last five races too. Heading into the Kentucky, he was 13 points behind the cutoff. Heading into Watkins Glen, he’s 39 points to the good. I like his direction. But, he doesn’t have a deal in place yet for 2020 despite that.
“I want to say to everybody, it’s so hard putting everything together,” team owner Joe Gibbs said on Sunday regarding Jones’ contract situation. “I know people get frustrated because you haven’t made a decision yet on some things. But I just say this: there’s sponsors involved, so many relationships involved, you’re trying to get through all that and work it all out.
“Yeah, I think honestly that’s part of Erik’s (Jones) world. It doesn’t go easy sometimes. He knows. I keep him updated, we do. He knows we’re working as hard as we can. Hopefully it will be one of those things will get put in place here pretty quick.”
So, if Jones is extended, what do they do? That’s why Matt Dibenedetto said what he said on Saturday at the Pocono Raceway I think.
“I’ve had to fight and claw so hard, now that I’m in a good, quality ride with a great team that I love, I’m just 100-percent focused on performing,” said DiBenedetto. “That’s what we’ve been doing. That’s the awesome part. These top fives, top 10’s, I know that anyone, not to sound arrogant, but they’d have to have their heads examined if they get rid of me. Because nobody will do a better job in my car than myself”
The reason he said that is, he hasn’t had any talks regarding his future with Leavine Family Racing either. Heading into last weekend’s race in Pocono, DiBenedetto scored three top 10 finishes in his last five starts. He and LFR with a Toyota alliance was starting to click.
But, without any word on an extension to remain with LFR, DiBenedetto is seeing and hearing the same things that we are. JGR has an alliance with LFR and LFR would love to keep that going. How badly though?
If Jones is retained, JGR would need to house one driver somewhere. That driver is likely Bell. Why would LFR turn JGR’s funding away? They could be even closer to JGR for 2020 if they allow Jones to be housed there. Think of it like a Furniture Row Racing situation. But, LFR isn’t FRR. They don’t have the funding or resources to remain a top program like FRR was.
If they were to keep DiBenedetto and move to a two car team, they’d need some serious help in doing so
So, how badly does JGR want to move their pieces around? Would they give enough to LFR to allow them to be a two car team or does DiBenedetto have to look elsewhere? If Jones doesn’t return to JGR, then it’s a moot point as Bell would take the No. 20 seat and Jones could land somewhere like Stewart-Haas Racing who has three of their four drivers not under contract for next season.
Jones is the top domino to fall and he’s still standing. Gibbs, says that nothing is done yet. How long will Jones wait? That affects Bell and DiBenedetto.