Wood Brothers Racing announced on Thursday, July 15, that Xfinity Series driver Harrison Burton will make the leap to Cup in 2022 and replace Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 21 Ford Mustang. This change leaves an open seat in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra, but the team has a likely replacement waiting in Ty Gibbs.
The 18-year-old driver has spent the 2021 season as a full-time ARCA Menards Series driver, making himself a championship contender with five wins in the first 10 races, as well as eight top-10 finishes. Gibbs has also made nine starts in the Xfinity Series while driving the No. 54 JGR Toyota Supra.
While he had no prior experience in the Xfinity Series, Gibbs has contended for wins against some of the sport’s best drivers. He reached Victory Lane in his opening race — Daytona International Speedway Road Course on Feb. 20. Gibbs then posted another win at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29.
As a part-time driver, Gibbs has achieved success on both oval tracks and road courses. He currently has nine starts in the Xfinity Series but only two finishes outside the top five. If he competed full-time, he would be near the top of the points standings.
2022 Could Serve As the Perfect Time To Move Up
While making the leap to the Xfinity Series after only one season of part-time driving could seem like Gibbs is “moving too fast,” there is actually a precedent for this timeline. Cup Series playoff contender Tyler Reddick is a fitting example.
The Richard Childress Racing driver made the leap from the Camping World Truck Series to a part-time Xfinity Series ride after the 2016 season. He then made 18 starts for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2017, winning once and registering four top-five finishes.
Reddick moved to full-time Xfinity Series racing the following year, winning two more races and the season championship. He competed full-time in the series for only one more season — 2019 — winning his second straight championship before making the leap to the Cup Series.
The traditional path sends drivers through the Truck Series before they compete full-time in the Xfinity Series. However, Gibbs has shown that he can compete with the best drivers while contending for wins. He held off defending champion Austin Cindric, as well as AJ Allmendinger and Justin Allgaier, in multiple races.
JGR Could Have Two Open Spots for 2022
Burton’s departure to the Cup Series means that JGR will have to find a full-time replacement for the No. 20 Toyota Supra. However, the team could actually add two drivers to the roster during the 2022 season.
JGR fields four full-time cars in the Xfinity Series. Brandon Jones is in the No. 19, Burton is in the No. 20, and Daniel Hemric drives the No. 18. The fourth car is the No. 54, which features a rotating cast of drivers. Though Gibbs and Kyle Busch made the most starts in 2021.
With Busch reaching 100 wins in the Xfinity Series, he confirmed that his intention is to stop racing in the series unless absolutely necessary. If Gibbs moves to the No. 20 on a full-time basis, more than a dozen starts would go away from the No. 54.
Instead of using the Toyota Supra as a ride for part-time drivers, JGR could actually opt to bring in a fourth-full time wheelman. One fitting option would be John Hunter Nemechek, the current points leader in the Truck Series.
The driver of the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra is the championship favorite in the Truck Series after five wins and eight top-five finishes, but he only moved to the racing team after spending 2020 in the Cup Series with Front Row Motorsports.
The expectation is that he will depart the Truck Series after 2021 and a potential championship win. Going back to the Cup Series is one option, but he may not have a seat available. If so, going full-time Xfinity racing would be another avenue to pursue wins and a championship.