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Written by: Max Man

On Thursday, Bubba Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports announced that the 26 year old Mobile, Alabama driver would not be returning to the famed #43 Chevy next season. Wallace, who made his cup debut in 2017 driving the 43 who began by subbing for the then-injured Aric Almirola and was eventually signed to drive the car full time in 2018. Wallace has amassed 3 top fives, 9 top tens, 24 laps led, and a best finish of 2nd (in the Daytona 500) in his career at RPM. This announcement comes just weeks after Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Erik Jones would not be returning to the #20 Toyota next year. Both of these drivers are top candidates for the Hendrick Motorsports #48, which will be vacated by the retiring Jimmie Johnson at the conclusion of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. All of this begs the question: which of these two talented young men will get the ride, and what will that mean going down the line for the rest of silly season 2020?

Both drivers seem like a great fit for the 48 ride for various reasons. First of all, lets look at Erik Jones: The 24 year old Byron, Michigan native has made a name for himself in his first 3 seasons in the Cup series. His rookie season played out under the radar while he drove a second car for (the now closed) Furniture Row Racing. His accolades were especially drowned out by his teammate, Martin Truex, Jr. winning the championship. In 2018, Jones made the switch to driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones’ sophomore year in Cup went better when he took a checkered flag for the first time. With the win at Daytona in July, Jones set himself up for his first appearance in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Even with a first round exit, Jones had some decent momentum to build off of for the 2019 season.

Erik Jones (AP)

2019 went about the same for Jones, one win followed by a round of 16 exit. However, another Joe Gibbs Racing driver was doing much bigger things. With that, I am talking about #20 Christopher Bell. Bell scored 8 wins, 20 top fives, and 21 top tens in the 2019 xFinity Series season. Naturally, people began wondering: how many races does Erik Jones have left at Joe Gibbs Racing? Seeing as Bell just barely lost the xFinity championship and Jones was struggling to stay in the playoffs, it began to seem that Bell was the easy option for Joe Gibbs in the #20 car. Instead, Jones received another season at JGR and Bell was signed to Leavine Family Racing; a satellite affiliate of Joe Gibbs Racing. This brings us to today. A few weeks ago, we learned that Jones was out at JGR for 2021 and Bell would replace him. And with the news that Leavine Family racing was closing, Erik Jones is now listed as a free agent.

Bubba Wallace and Richard Petty (Getty Images)

On the flip side, you have Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. Bubba started his NASCAR Cup series career in 2017 after Aric Almirola was injured in a crash. Wallace ran 4 races in 2017 while Almirola recovered. (Regan Smith ran 2 and Billy Johnson ran 1). Later in the season, Richard Petty Motorsports, whom Almirola had driven for at the time, got into a dispute with sponsor Smithfield Foods. This resulted in both Smithfield and Almirola moving to the Stewart-Haas Racing #10 car for 2018. Now without a driver, RPM signed Bubba Wallace to drive the famed #43.

2018 started off strong with a 2nd place finish in the Daytona 500, and a few races later, Wallace managed to lead some laps at Bristol. After 2018, Wallace and RPM looked to be rebuilding the organization…until they didn’t.

Sponsor difficulties and tanking performance through the rest of 2018 and into 2019 almost ended the Petty racing dynasty altogether. However, enough funding came in to bring the team back to a healthy financial state. The beginning of 2020 seemed to be more of the same, however, things went south fast. The global pandemic hit NASCAR and it’s teams just as hard as every other business around the world. Multiple teams were forced to lay off many employees. Luckily, RPM was able to survive the pandemic, and things finally seemed to be looking up. Soon, things went up. Many mainstream brands such as DoorDash, CashApp, and Columbia joined in sponsorship for many races.

The open 48 ride (Beyond the Flag)

Now you may be thinking, what do these two young stars have in common? Both are free agents at the end of the 2021 season, and both are top candidates for the open Hendrick Motorsports #48. The seat is set to be vacated as its long-time driver, Jimmie Johnson is retiring at the end of this season. So who’s getting the ride? While nothing is set in stone just yet, I have a reasonable theory:

While nothing regarding a confirmation has been reported, here’s what I think about this whole situation. I think between the two, Erik Jones will get the HMS #48. So what does this mean for Bubba? Well, another seat that will very, very likely be open next season is the Chip Ganassi Racing number 42. Now, you might be thinking, “what about Ross Chastain? Wasn’t he going to the 42?”

That’s where you’d be wrong. I think Bubba Wallace is fixing to move over to CGR. He’s got plenty of sponsors, and so does Ganassi. I think with all that financial backing, CGR could possibly grow to a major powerhouse team. And as for Chastain? Well, when news broke that he was NOT replacing the fired Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi made a public statement saying he had plans for Chastain. RPM, CGR, and Richard Childress racing all have a relationship, so Ganassi will likely get Chastain the #43.

Only time will tell about the way this all shakes out and who ends up where and in what car. One thing is for sure, silly season 2020-21 is shaping up to be one of the wildest in recent memory.

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