It’s human nature, but once Jimmie Johnson officially announced on Wednesday that he will retire following the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, everyone began to speculate on who will hop into the No. 48 Chevrolet.
No one, including Rick Hendrick himself, knows who will replace Johnson. Hendrick said as much during Thursday’s media availability. But, that doesn’t mean fans can’t speculate on whom it will be.
It’s fun to do so. While none of this is official, here’s who the top drivers could be that are on Hendrick’s wish list.
Remember, this is a tough ride to fill. It’s won seven championships, which ranks tied for first ever. It also has scored 83 wins, sixth most ever and two shy of fourth all-time. The flipside of that is, this ride hasn’t won since 2017 too.
Despite that, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on whomever takes over. The good thing though, this car is fully funded through 2023, so Hendrick can have his pick on who he wants with funding not an issue.
He’s made it known he’s a free agent at the end of 2020. Larson, would fit in nicely. He’s young, fast and a California native. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were both born in California and they turned out as good as it could go for HMS. Larson, is still a good young driver with plenty of years ahead of him.
Why not another young driver with a contract that ends in 2020. Jones, was a free agent following the 2019 season but he and Joe Gibbs Racing reached an agreement for a one-year extension for 2020. With Christopher Bell waiting at Leavine Family Racing until a ride at JGR opens, maybe HMS signs Jones to come over.
He’s another driver with a contract that ends in 2020. DiBenedetto has proven to be fast in everything that he’s driven but has never had a big break yet. LFR was his first real shot and now he moves over to the Wood Brothers. HMS would be the break he’s been searching for.
He’s proven in the Trucks and XFINITY Series the last two years that he’s earned a chance at the big table with a big team. Ganassi, still has him under contract but HMS could buy him out and bring him into a Cup team. Chastain, has been a Chevy driver and would instantly win. If CGR extends Larson and with Kurt Busch coming back for 2021, Chastain to HMS makes sense.
John Hunter Nemechek
Nemechek, had seven top eight finishes over his last eight starts on the season including six straight. He’s made 51 NXS starts over the last two years with one win, 12 top five finishes and 30 top 10’s. He’s also had Truck Series experience with six wins, 28 top five finishes and 49 top 10’s in 99 starts.
He could follow the path of others from JRM to HMS. Gragson, will be in his second season in NXS competition in 2020 and a natural step up to Cup with HMS for 2021 would make sense.
Maybe Hamlin dips a bit in 2020 and JGR brings Bell over. HMS could sign Hamlin, groom Noah Gragson or a young driver for a year or two and once Hamlin retires bring them up for his replacement.
HMS didn’t have room for him in 2008. They would now. Would Keselowski come back to end his career where it started? He’s still young enough with some good years ahead of him. Penske, has Austin Cindric waiting in the wings and could even move DiBenedetto over too.