There seems to be a recurring theme as we gear up for the 2018 campaign for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Youth is being served. Such is also the case at Joe Gibbs Racing.
In the 20 car, Erik Jones takes over for Matt Kenseth. In spite of his status as a former champion, it’s really hard to argue the move. Sponsors love young drivers in pursuit of that millennial market, and so far, Jones has been a winner wherever he’s gone. Stinks for Kenseth, but in the big picture, Joe Gibbs Racing is looking ahead and not looking back.
With one top five and 12 top tens, Daniel Suarez didn’t exactly blow the NASCAR world away in 2017, but he didn’t stink up the yard either. To be fair, he kind of got thrown into the deep end after the sudden retirement of Carl Edwards. Overall, Suarez showed promise, and besides, who else would you plug in that would be dramatically better? Few will say it, but we will, you know this is good optics for NASCAR with a Mexican driver in the fold.
With Kenseth gone, Denny Hamlin is the old man at Joe Gibbs Racing. What? Yes, ol’ Hambone is a grizzled veteran now. Like Kyle Busch, you have to think, the 2010 runner-up is looking for more. Many drivers would be happy finishing sixth in the season standings and grabbing a pair of wins, but Hamlin wants a championship. At 37, it’s not like DH is some old geezer on the downhill side. At the same time, all this youth in the MENCS could open a door wide for those drivers who know their way around.
It’s fair to say Kyle Busch isn’t happy. Even on a good day, Rowdy isn’t that happy. He grabbed the brass ring for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015, but he wants more. He’s capable of more. The question for him is one of getting there without completely alienating his allies in the process. Everyone wants to be a winner, but do you have to act like a jerk in the process? I have an opinion about this, and fans won’t like it. Personally, I want to root for him, as he seems like a really nice, funny, generous guy away from the track. On the track? Different story.
There’s no reason to expect Joe Gibbs Racing won’t kick some butt in 2018. The fact that the technically-aligned Furniture Row team led by Martin Truex won in it all in 2017 speaks to the talents at JGR. They’d just like one of their own. I suspect, that at least two, maybe three drivers will make the playoffs.