Commentary

TRACKING THE CHANGES: NASCAR Xfinity Series

By: Ashley McCubbin

The theme of each NASCAR Silly Season is figuring out what the changes will be, so that way you can find the ride that your favourite driver(s) is(are) behind the wheel of. It’s why News From The Pits is here to help you sort through it all.

Aric Almirola electing to cancel his retirement plans threw a wrinkle into what was planned at Stewart-Haas Racing with Ryan Preece set to take over his ride. Instead, Preece gets to go full-time NASCAR Cup Series racing, at the expense of Cole Custer. It’s no secret he has not found the success everybody hoped for, with just five top-10’s in the last two seasons. Perhaps he got moved up too early, or a chance to get back on the horse of success would be good for him. Enter a return to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with SHR for 2023.

If Custer can perform – repeating the success which earned a win and three top-10’s in five 2022 appearances, it could set-up a good reason for him to return to the top-tier level in motorsports. After all, Almirola said he’s only adding a single season and Kevin Harvick is set to vacate the No. 4 at season’s end. Enter Custer, along with his SHR teammate Riley Herbst who returns for 2023. But if Custer does not live up to expectations, the end of road may be coming – even with his father working for the team.

#98: Riley Herbst, Stewart Haas Racing, Monster Energy Ford Mustang

Herbst will easily be someone to watch this season, thanks to eight top-five’s and 20 top-10 finishes. Now having found his footing in the series and remaining with a constant team, this should be the break-out campaign everyone has been expecting. A win should be at the top of the list, finally. A Championship 4 appearance must be on the goals. Neither of those succeeded, and the above is out of the picture probably.

SS Green Light Racing has brought in Blain Perkins to drive their No. 07 Chevrolet as Joe Graf Jr. part-ways with the organization. The California native ran five races in 2022, scoring a 10th in his last appearance at Martinsville Speedway. He placed second in the 2020 ARCA Menards West standings with three wins and nine top-10’s.

With Noah Gragson moving up to the Cup Series, it left the No. 9 open at JR Motorsports, which will be filled by Brandon Jones. It marks an interest factor for him, as it’s his third different team in the series following Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs RacingBut the past four seasons have been met with success, including victories in three of those – but never a Championship 4 appearance. Could he be trying to change that moving forward? JRM is no stranger to placing drivers each season. It could also align him for the future, with a couple different Chevrolet options possible.

Jones’ ride at JGR will be filled by Ryan Truex after running a partial schedule for the organization in 2022 with three top-10’s in six races, including a third at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It’s a deserving opportunity after watching him push through a variety of different opportunities in an effort to prove himself to be allowed to go full-time with a top-tier organization. Now he needs to back it up, and show he’s deserving by putting together a good season. The playoffs should be the goal, with a possible Championship 4 appearance after watching Ty Gibbs win the series championship in 2022.

John Hunter Nemechek also transitions to the organization after a stellar string of campaigns in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports with seven wins, 31 top-10’s, and a pair of top-five point finishes. He should easily be someone to watch for the championship in JGR equipment after scoring four top-10’s in 11 appearances last year, to go with a win at Texas Motor Speedway in 2022.

Some of those races he showed promise did not come with JGR, but rather Sam Hunt Racing whose proving to be no slouch despite being a newer team in the series. They have regularly seen drivers run solidly, and are just on the verge of becoming a top-10 runner regularly. Connor Mosack has been appointed the reigns for 20 races, which may seen the sub-teen runs continue in being his first foray in the series. A Late Model standout, continued progression through the year would certainly be the goal.

#18: Chandler Smith, Kyle Busch Motorsports, Safelite AutoGlass Toyota Tundra

Chandler Smith joins the Chevrolet camp, going from a Toyota with KBM to Kaulig Racing, replacing A.J. Allmendinger in the No. 16 as he moves up to the Cup Series. Kaulig knows how to chase championships so the expectation is certainly there for Smith to do the same as he joins the organization. The Georgian did that in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, placing third in points with three wins and nine top-five’s so he’s up for the task at hand.

Whether the right move or not, AM Racing is adding an Xfinity Series car to their organization alongside the Truck operation. They have not become a regular front runner with the trucks, and one has to wonder if this jump is coming too soon when focus on step one should be the primary focus. That said, Brett Moffitt has been known to sometimes take sub-par equipment and find a bit of gold with a couple top-15 runs so that could very well happen in 2023. After all, the past Truck Series Champion scored five top-10’s in 21 races with Our Motorsports last season.

Stay tuned for the second part of the series as we digest more of what is to come in 2023.

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