Joe Gibbs Racing will switch from Chevrolet to Toyota for the 2008 NASCAR Cup Series. According to the Charlotte Observer, the formal announcement of the move will be at a news conference scheduled for 11 a.m. ET this coming Wednesday. Gibbs drivers Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin are expected to attend, along with Toyota officials, but there was no word on whether Joe Gibbs himself would appear.
A spokesperson for Gibbs Racing, Mike Arning, reiterated the party line which Gibbs has been reciting for at least the past month: that no decision has been made by the team concerning selection of manufacturer. Chevrolet reiterated it statement that it does not comment on negotiations with its teams.
However, the Gibbs spokesperson did confirm that Hamlin has agreed to a contract extension that keeps him with Gibbs through the 2013 season and that Gibbs is in negotiations with Stewart to extend his contract, as well.
Assuming the report is true, that means that Chevrolet will have an opening in its line-up for another team, in addition to Hendrick, DEI-Ginn, and Childress. It also suggests that Toyota has provided Gibbs and his drivers with reason to believe the Toyota program can be more competitive than it has been this season, or at least enough financial incentive to encourage all concerned to take a long-term view.
One unknown factor is the extent to which this may affect the chances of the Gibbs drivers in the Chase for the Championship. Stewart is currently second in points, and Hamlin is third (and only 5 points behind Stewart). Both Stewart and Hamlin are locked in for the Chase. Chevrolet will obviously want to win the Championship. Equally obviously, it will want to avoid providing information to the Gibbs team that could be useful to them next year when they are competitors to the Chevrolet teams. Whether the move will handicap the Gibbs teams during the Chase remains an unknown. Certainly, however, Chevrolet would probably prefer one of their other teams to take the Championship.
Currently Chevrolet driver Jeff Gordon leads in points, and is also locked into the Chase. Jimmy Johnson, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex, Jr., are all in the top 12 currently, and all drive Chevrolet s. The only cars in the top 12 that are not Chevrolets are the Fords of Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, fourth and fifth respectively.