Tuesday was the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ 2020 playoff media day. The big theme of the session was the future for many of these drivers. See, the postseason kicks off this weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and wraps up on Nov. 7 at the Phoenix Raceway. What these drivers do during the seven race playoff, not matter how good or bad, may not matter.
While a majority of the playoff field has earned a promotion to race in the NASCAR Cup Series next season, I just don’t see many paths that could take them to that route. Their best moves for their careers may be to just stay in their seats for another year.
We saw some big turnover between last year and this one with the “Big 3” in Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Christopher Bell all moving up to the Cup Series in 2020 as rookies. That trio combined to win the last two titles (Reddick) and win 31 of the last 66 NXS races heading into this season.
Bell, won 15 times all by himself. Custer and Reddick each won eight times a piece over the last two years as well.
Now, the wins were there for the taking in 2020. Several drivers have stepped up, but there don’t have many spots to go to step up even further on the ladder.
Austin Cindric won the regular season championship and has five victories this season alone. He’s in his second full time year in the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske. Does he really need a third? Unfortunately, he may have to.
Team Penske has all three current Cup drivers under contract for 2021 and I don’t see them expanding to a fourth full time effort either. The only other option would be to run for the Wood Brothers like Ryan Blaney did. With his dad being Tim Cindric, I don’t see him leaving the Penske organization, so it’s either return to his NXS seat next year or move up to the Wood Brothers.
Same kind of scenario for Chase Briscoe. No one won as many races (7) as him this past season so far. He’s also in his second full time season with Stewart-Haas Racing. Three of the four SHR seats are filled for 2021 and rumor is Clint Bowyer is expected back for one more season. That leaves Briscoe returning to SHR in his No. 98 Ford next season or going to Go Fas Racing on the Cup level. But, will Go Fas Racing allow him, even with an SHR alliance, to be competitive to where he can just remain where he is for another season and excel? He’s a Ford driver too, but what out there with Ford is better than Penske or SHR? He’s best to stay with SHR.
Noah Gragson won twice this season and we know he will be back with JR Motorsports in his No. 9 Chevrolet in 2021.
I expect all three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers to be back because there’s no room to move up right now. Harrison Burton is only 19 years old and has won twice as a rookie. Riley Herbst is just 21 and also a rookie. Brandon Jones is having a career year as he’s 23 years old and in his fifth season, but where could he go? Their best choices for their futures would be to remain put.
Kaulig has Ross Chastian moving to Ganassi on the Cup level but Justin Haley has no plans yet for next season. He won on the Cup level in 2019, won twice in NXS in 2020 and is deserving of a Cup ride but the thing is, nothing is coming to him. His best shot would be to return to Kaulig for another season if all possible or move to one of these other seats if they become available. The thing is, Haley said on Tuesday he pretty much has nothing lined up still for 2021.
Hendrick Motorsports has a ride in the 48 open, but it doesn’t seem like any of these drivers make sense to be considered for it. Richard Childress Racing has scaled back in recent years from a two car team to three and if they expand back, Ty Dillon would get that seat.
Richard Petty Motorsports has a ride but Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones could be in play there. JTG could have a seat available if Ryan Preece isn’t retained.
Ganassi, Penske, SHR and Gibbs are all full with the exception of what they do with Cindric and Briscoe.
These drivers even if they dominate the playoffs and whoever can win the championship, may be forced to stay put another season which would make the 2021 NXS season as good as the 2019 one was, if not deeper. These guys are all still young.
Gragson and Cindric are 22 each. Haley and Herbst are only 21. Jones is 23, Briscoe 25. Burton is just a teenager.
The future is still bright for this group as they have time.