Remember all that money that Joe Gibbs was going to save by paying his grandson less than he would have had to give Kyle Busch next season? Well, a bunch of that cash may have walked out the door Wednesday, one day after Busch made his move to Richard Childress Racing official.
It’s not as big a deal competitively as losing Busch in the NASCAR Cup Series, but the organization potentially will feel Brandon Jones’ departure in the wallet.
Brandon Jones is leaving Joe Gibbs Racing for JR Motorsports
The motorsports world hadn’t finished digesting the news of Kyle Busch’s decision to leave when news broke less than 24 hours later that Brandon Jones is switching Xfinity Series rides in 2023. The announcement came via a 37-second video on social media from JR Motorsports, the team co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
JR Motorsports had an opening because Noah Gragson, who is in the thick of the hunt for this season’s Xfinity championship, is moving to Petty GMS in 2023 to race in the NASCAR Cup Series. Barring an unexpected development, Earnhardt’s lineup will be Jones, Sam Mayer, Justin Allgaier, and Josh Berry. All four are in the top eight in points entering the final regular-season race at Bristol.
From a competitive standpoint, losing Jones, 25, is hardly a crushing blow for Joe Gibbs Racing. He has driven full-time in the series since 2016 but captured just five victories in 228 starts. However, he has finished in the top 10 in five of six seasons and is seventh in points entering the weekend.
Joe Gibbs Racing may need to replace another sponsor
Joe Gibbs shouldn’t find it too difficult to land a quality driver to replace Brandon Jones in the No. 19 Toyota. However, there are implications of a financial nature, and they appear to be significant.
Jones has posted one victory and nine top-10 finishes this season. The more relevant statistic may be that he has been sponsored by Menards in all 25 races on the heels of the home improvement chain underwriting about two-thirds of races in recent seasons.
The relationship between Jones and the retailer goes back to when he was competing in the 2015 ARCA Menards Series. Thus, it’s reasonable to speculate that JR Motorsports landed a package deal. That means Joe Gibbs Racing, which was not able to replace the Mars, Inc., sponsorship of Kyle Busch’s Cup Series car, will presumably need to replace another major partner.
That tab probably runs around a quarter to a third of the $20 million to $25 million Mars, Inc., reportedly was paying. So, the hit is sizeable.
JGR will presumably be replacing two Xfinity Series drivers
The full-time Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas in the Xfinity Series will have new drivers in 2023. Aside from Brandon Jones leaving for JR Motorsports, JGR will need a new face in the “54.” That’s because Ty Gibbs, currently competing for the Xfinity championship, almost certainly is the heir to Kyle Busch’s Cup Series car.
Two candidates come to mind almost immediately.
With 13 wins in 143 truck series starts and an appearance in the 2021 Championship 4, John Hunter Nemechek doesn’t have much left to prove. He’s also driven full seasons in the Cup Series and the Xfinity Series and needs a landing spot for 2023. Nemechek drives for Kyle Busch Motorsports under his contract with Toyota, but KBM is dropping the manufacturer and moving to Chevrolet now that he’s moving to Richard Childress Racing.
As for the second full-time car, JGR took ARCA Menards standout Sammy Smith out for a test spin this season, and the results have been promising. Smith, 18, has finished third, eighth, and 12th to go along with three DNFs in his six appearances.
If it’s not Nemechek or Smith, many will be rooting for former Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne to scrounge up sponsors for more than the six appearances he’s made in JGR’s third car. Additionally, Ryan Truex has three top-10 results in five appearances for JGR.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.
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