Jimmie Johnson somewhat surprisingly announced he would retire after the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. The 7-time champ has now gone winless for two straight seasons and missed the playoffs for the first time in his career.
This decision was coming sooner rather than later. Whether 2020 or 2021 be his last season Jimmie Johnson was far closer to retirement than many wanted to believe. With Ally signed on to sponsor the car through 2023, the question everyone wants an answer to now is, who will be in the #48 car come 2021?
The Favorite, The Most Logical, The Clear #1
Kyle Larson – You read that right. Yung Money Kyle Larson is by far the clear favorite to take over the #48 in 2021. His deal with Ganassi is believed to be up after the 2020 season making him a prime candidate for the seat. Larson has all the speed in the world but has been hampered by luck, strategy, and equipment at times. Hendrick Motorsports can pair him with a better crew chief, provide better cars and maybe just maybe some of that golden horseshoe luck will rub off Larson. With 6 career wins to his name Larson hasn’t won as much as people assumed he would. Potentially a run at Hendrick could change that. The only hold up here is his dirt racing. Hendrick had an issue with that when Kasey Kahne was on the team but everything is negotiable.
Daniel Hemric- The North Carolina native just completed his first Cup season with Richard Childress Racing and was promptly booted out the door in favor of Tyler Reddick. Hemric rebounded from that disappointment with a 21-race schedule at JR Motorsports next season. HMS has a tendency to promote from JRM. Chase Elliott and William Byron won Xfinity titles at JRM before being promoted to HMS. Alex Bowman made starts at JRM that put him on the HMS radar. Hemric’s woes may have positioned him perfectly for a far better Cup ride. The only hold-up, he needs to win. Hemric has yet to record a win in Trucks, Xfinity, or Cup. Hendrick isn’t going to promote a driver who has never won a national NASCAR race.
The Long Shots
Ross Chastain- Watermelon boy’s stock has been on a meteoric rise in the last two seasons. After winning an Xfinity race in 2018 with Ganassi, Chastain was in line for a full-time Xfinity ride in 2019. As you know the FBI shut that down, literally. Chastain responded by winning another Xfinity race in 2019 along with
four three Truck races and a second-place finish in the championship. Chastain is aggressive but has the raw speed that can win him races. His driving style may anger some but he’s a team owner’s dream. Depending on what he does in 2020 in a second Kaulig car could put him on the HMS shortlist.
Brett Moffitt- The 2018 NASCAR Truck Series champ won four races for GMS this season with a third-place finish in the championship. Moffitt is the 2015 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year and his Top-10 at Atlanta in the Michael Waltrip Racing #55 still stands out in a lot of people’s minds. Moffitt made starts at JRM in 2019 and will return to GMS in 2020. He’s entrenched in the Chevy camp now and that could help him out immensely. He also dated the girl Alex Bowman used to date so at least the teammates are familiar with one another.
The Unlikely But They Could Be Available
Erik Jones- The 2019 Southern 500 winner signed a 1-year deal with Joe Gibbs Racing for 2020. It’s understood Christopher Bell signed a 3-year deal that puts him at LFR for 1 season, LFR/JRG for season 2, and then JGR for season 3. So in all likelihood, Jones will be out of the #20 after the 2020 season making him a free agent. He hasn’t performed like many expected by a change of scenery could be nice. LoOk aT jOeY lAgAnO….
Ryan Blaney- Young Ryan Blaney signed a multi-year deal before the 2018 season. Most driver deals are for three years, that would mean his contract runs through the 2020 season. Blaney has won a race in each of his first three Cup seasons and shown speed week in and week out. Getting the proper finish is where he is lacking. Outside of that Blaney doesn’t fit the Penske mold with his long hair, facial hair, and laid back attitude. Hendrick could be a good spot for him.
Brad Keselowski- This is a far out there suggestion but there is a chance Hendrick could bring Brad Keselowski back to the family. The 2012 Champ left Hendrick at the end of the 2009 season for Team Penske. Mainly because Hendrick brought Mark Martin back in 2010 taking away the seat Keselowski thought would be his. In fairness, Mark was coming off a second-place finish in the championship. Hendrick could really benefit from a mid-30’s driver that could help develop their cars, etc. Keselowski’s deal apparently runs through 2020 and could go further. But there is always the chance he’s free.
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