The Silly Season for 2021 NASCAR Cup Series seats is going to be wild. There’s so many top rides available with championship caliber drivers able to take them. But, how does it play out?
We know Jimmie Johnson is retiring so a seat at Hendrick Motorsports is open. So is a seat at Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and three at Stewart-Haas Racing too.
But, could we be getting some wild hints to how this could play out?
Look no further than to the Toyota dilemma.
Joe Gibbs Racing is capped out at four drivers. Currently, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones are driving their cars. But, the team would obviously want Christopher Bell to move over soon and with Leavine Family Racing having financial problems, where does Bell land in 2021?
You can be certain, Toyota doesn’t want to lose Bell and with all those top seats open, they could fear they’d lose him. But, where does he go?
Jones, is a free agent but Toyota has also said that they don’t want to lose the Michigan native either. He was a free agent last year but JGR inked him for a one-year extension. Jones, said that he feels good about how their talks are going for 2021 and that he expects at this point to be back.
“I’ve had a good, I guess what it is, third, fourth year at JGR now, something like that,” Jones said of his contract talks. “We started talking to them about next year, what we’re going to do moving forward.
“I feel like right now that’s kind of the plan, is working with them. We’ll see what happens. But I feel good about it right now moving forward.”
Part of his hopes is to certainly make the playoffs. Right now, he’s 16th but he feels he’s better than that.
“I think our cars are way faster than a 16th-place team,” Jones said. “Hopefully we can keep up the good runs. Three, four more races just running strong like we need to, get some stage points, we’ll be up in the top 12 pretty quickly.
“Three weeks ago we were fighting for 12 in points, trying to get into the better draw. All of a sudden we had multiple bad races. It happens. It was some things that were in our control, some things that weren’t. Hopefully if we can run like this more and more, I think the points come along right with that.”
So, if Jones is back, is Bell gone? Does Toyota find another team or help LFR out?
Well, a bombshell hint could have occurred this past week. Maybe a seat will be open at JGR after all and it not be Jones’?
Denny Hamlin confirmed he was out boating with Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon this past week. While it could very well have been nothing, it’s worth noting that Hendrick and Gordon co-own Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet, the seat open for next year.
“They called and wanted to see if I wanted to go on a boat ride,” Hamlin said of the meeting. “I said yes. I had nothing else to do. It was fun to say the least.”
Video confirmed this as it showed that Hendrick was driving the boat really fast.
“I was nervous,” Hamlin continued. “I’ll be honest with you, I was a little nervous. I think 60 is the fastest I’ve ever gone on water. Blew that out of the water
“Jeff was just sitting in the back enjoying himself. I think he’d already been on the boat for an hour or so. They invited me on, told me to hang on. They showed me where the ‘Oh, Shit’ bar was when things started getting fast. I held on and hoped that Rick knew what he was doing.”
Would Hamlin leave JGR? I thought that would never happen. Hamlin was so close with Gibbs’ late son JD. He’s driving JD’s number. After winning two straight Daytona 500’s and three in the last five years, plus looking like a championship favorite for a second straight year, why leave?
That’s why this could have been just a fluke, but with the game of musical chairs, it’s hard to say this could never happen.