NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace surprised racing fans on Thursday by announcing that he would not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021. He did not reveal his destination in his statement, but sources have provided surprising news. Gaunt Brothers Racing is reportedly now the frontrunner to land Wallace following a Cup Series shakeup.
Tuesday morning, driver Daniel Suarez posted a video on Twitter and announced that he will leave Gaunt Brothers and the No. 96 Toyota Camry at the end of the season. This leaves the team without a driver, but owner Marty Gaunt confirmed to Motorsport.com that the team remains dedicated to competing in the Cup Series, especially with a focus on the Next-Gen car in 2022. He said that "the next driver of our No. 96 Toyota will be an integral part of that development," but would not name Wallace specifically.
Considering that Suarez never secured a top-10 finish in the No. 96 Toyota, there are questions about why Wallace would leave one small team in RPM for another in Gaunt Brothers. Sources say that part of this reported move to Gaunt would also involve investment from another popular driver. Denny Hamlin, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry, could buy into the Cup Series team and help provide some much-needed funds.
"I'm always looking at avenues that would allow me to stay in the sport beyond driving," Hamlin said in August. "Certainly, it's a sport that I believe in. Certainly, the financial model hopefully will get better in the next few years for the team owners, regardless if I'm in it or not."
NASCAR President Steve Phelps previously told reporters that it is possible for a current driver of a four-car Cup Series team to hold ownership in another team. Although racing's governing body would have to ensure fair competition. Hamlin had not made an official request at the time to NASCAR for team ownership.
Wallace and Hamlin are competitors on the track, but they do share a same agent. PROSPORT Management's Rod Moskowitz represents the two Cup Series drivers, as well as the suspended Kyle Larson. Having the same agent doesn't guarantee a partnership in 2021, but it does make the process much easier.
If Wallace heads to Gaunt Brothers Racing as sources indicate, he will likely bring several high-profile sponsors with him. In 2020, Wallace negotiated deals with Beats by Dre, Columbia Sportswear, DoorDash and Cash App. If these companies renew with the 26-year-old driver and join him for the 2021 season, the deals would be worth an estimated $15-20 million. DoorDash would also become one of the biggest sponsors in the sport.