Where Does Joe Gibbs Racing Go From Here?
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Joe Gibbs Racing has been left with a void to fill ever since a couple weeks ago when their franchise driver, Tony Stewart, announced his departure from the team following the conclusion of this season to venture into the realm of car ownership at the Sprint Cup level to become a 50% owner of the newly formed Stewart Haas Racing. In the absence of Stewart, Gibbs will still hold claim to two of the top young stars in the sport with Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, but the fact of the matter is that Stewart has won two championships for the organization over his ten years with the team, and that’s just something that’s not easily replaced.
Now Joe and JD Gibbs are left with a decision to make. They had previously expressed interest in starting a fourth Cup team to build around their young star in the waiting, Joey Logano, and that’s still a viable option if they’re able to land a solid driver to fill their current void. Whatever they decide to do, though, whether it’s stay at three teams or expand to four, it’s very likely that their decision will revolve around Logano. At the very tender age of 18 years old and with only a few Nationwide Series races under his belt, Logano has already expressed his desire to climb into the no. 20 seat next season, and that could force Gibbs’ hand to give him an early promotion to the Cup level in an effort to protect their interests and keep other teams from pursuing him.
Another huge variable that has to come into play here, though, is Ryan Newman’s recent announcement that he will leave Penske Racing at the end of 2008. Newman is hands down considered the biggest player left on the free agent market, and he has a proven track record that when he’s surrounded by the right team and the right equipment, he’s more than capable to go out and win some races and put a bid in towards winning a championship. Gibbs’ best bet could be to pursue Newman as an option for the no. 20 car and begin building a part-time fourth team around Logano next season that would give him some seat time in the Cup through about six or so races, and then get him ready for a full-time run in 2010. This would also give him a full season in the Nationwide Series to work with Crew Chief, David Rogers, and continue to build a relationship with him, and then bring Dave to the new team with him.
That is a very circumstantial plot, however, as Newman has already stated that there are really three contenders for his services next season, and his other two options are considered to be the seat alongside Tony Stewart over at Stewart Haas Racing and the newly formed no. 33 ride at Richard Childress Racing. Other free agents on the market such as Casey Mears are not considered to be primary contenders for a spot within Joe Gibbs Racing, so if Newman’s name gets scrapped from the table, then expect to see Logano full-time in 2009.