Over the last few weeks, the Silly Season picture in the NASCAR Xfinity Series has gotten clearer. JR Motorsports signed Noah Gragson for the 2022 season to remain in the No. 9 Chevrolet. On Tuesday, they unveiled that Justin Allgaier will stay put him and drive the No. 7 Chevrolet. That announcement on the day came minutes after Richard Childress Racing announced that defending Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed would join their program on the NXS side for next season too. Does this replace Myatt Snider or become a second full time team though remains to be seen.
That’s one of the top dominoes left in their silly season. Is Creed in the No. 2 Chevrolet for RCR or No. 21? Does Snider stay or does he have to find work somewhere else? What else is left?
Joe Gibbs Racing is losing Harrison Burton. Ty Gibbs makes the most sense to move up. Do they get rid of either Brandon Jones or Daniel Hemric or does the No. 54 Toyota become full time with John Hunter Nemechek?
Nevertheless, the slogan “Names are Made Here” has been so true for the NASCAR Xfinity Series lately anyways. Several drivers have made a name for themselves in NASCAR’s version of what AAA is to baseball and another young class is set to move up to the big leagues of the NASCAR Cup Series in 2022.
We already knew that Justin Haley was going to drive a full time car for Kaulig Racing. We also already knew that Austin Cindric would be in Cup but plans changed as he will now move from the initial plan of taking over the No. 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers and shift sooner over to the No. 2 Ford at Team Penske instead.
With that move, the Wood Brothers had an opening and in comes 20 year old Harrison Burton. That’s three drivers moving up the ranks which follows Chase Briscoe doing so last year. He followed Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Christopher Bell.
I mean, just look at those names. You also have to look at what’s being left being for the series itself too.
Reddick won eight times in two straight championship seasons between 2018 and 2019. Custer was second in points in both years and also won eight times those two seasons. Bell, won 15 times between 2018 and 2019 himself as all three made the Championship 4 in 2018 and again in 2019.
Briscoe and Cindric joined them in victory lane in 2019 as the five of them combined to win 25 of the 33 races that year. Kyle Busch won four of the other eight that they didn’t win.
In 2020, the door was open with all three moving up to Cup but Cindric and Briscoe took over. They’d win 15 times between themselves. Haley, won two more as they’d comprise three of the four Championship 4 spots last November in Phoenix. Burton, won four times himself with Cindric, Haley, Briscoe and Burton combining to win 21 of the 33 races.
This season, Cindric looks like the favorite to repeat. In fact though, if you look at the top seven in overall points, three of them have full time rides in Cup next year. A fourth, AJ Allmendinger, will be part time.
That leads the question being, who’s next?
Since 2018, only Daniel Hemric (2018) and Justin Allgaier (2019, 2020) have made the championship four other than these drivers mentioned above. Between them, they’ve won 50% of the races since the start of the 2018 season. They won 76% of the races in 2019 and 64% in 2020.
Who’s left to hold the candle as most of the top rides in Cup are taken by these younger drivers?
Allgaier is the most logical choice but he’s 35. Allmendinger is too but he’s 39. What about Jeb Burton? He’s 28. Daniel Hemric is 30 without a formed path anymore. Josh Berry is 30.
The next guys to fill the gap of the younger ones leaving may be more seasoned veterans without a defined path for them to make it up the ranks to a top Cup ride.
With that said, who’s the next younger class ready to capitalize the same way Reddick, Custer, Bell, Cindric, Briscoe, Haley and Burton did?
Gibbs is likely the next one up for the younger front as he’s won three times already this season in a part time role. He’s only 18. Same for Sam Mayer who’s with JR Motorsports who is just now 18 too. Noah Gragson could also benefit. He’s just 22.
JRM will roll out a lineup of Allgaier, Gragson, Mayer and Berry. Michael Annett likely will stay too with five full time cars for the organization.
Kaulig could leave Burton and Allmendinger in full time roles.
Snider or Creed could be a big benefit next as they’re just 26 and 23 respectively and one of them will be in that same RCR car that Reddick won back-to-back championships in. The jury is still out though on 22 year old Riley Herbst. Brandon Jones is only 24 but his path up the ranks with Toyota or JGR doesn’t appear to have much promise. He either stays with JGR with being an Xfinity Series veteran or tries to move to another team with a better path to Cup.
Other than that, it’s really it. That’s why maybe a thing to watch is what Truck Series drivers get a chance to move up. Will Nemechek stay in Trucks another year with KBM or does JGR move him up and cut ties with either Hemric or Jones? Or, do they bring out the No. 54 car for Nemechek and go with four full time NXS cars?
Right now, the future is open again for the Xfinity Series with Gibbs and Mayer taking the next chances up. Nemechek isn’t far behind. Then do you see Gragson, Snider, Creed, Herbst and Jones capitalize?
We know Allgaier, Allmendinger, Jeb Burton and Berry have a chance to do something special as veterans in the series. It’s what kids will they be battling with that’s the question.
The other equation to figure into these plans are the paths to Cup rides. That’s the ultimate end goal for these drivers in this series.
Is the door also closing for someone like Hemric or Ty Dillon to get back up to a top Cup seat since now most of them are being taken with the youth movement.
Hendrick Motorsports has all four drivers 28 years of age or younger. Penske’s future in now having 31 year old Joey Logano, 27 year old Ryan Blaney, 22 year old Cindric and 20 year old Burton locked up.
No one new will be with these two teams any time soon.
Stewart-Haas Racing has also gone younger with having Cole Custer (23) as a rookie last year and current rookie Chase Briscoe (26) in a car now. Kevin Harvick will be there through 2023 but with the 10 car potentially open at seasons end, they have a potential to get another younger driver as well. While signs point to Aric Almirola now being back, they’ll eventually have to get younger still. Unless Hemric, Dillon or even a Matt DiBenedetto find themselves vying for a seat here, where else do they have?
RCR obviously would go with Ty Dillon if they expand but right now there’s no plans for that. Name me another team in the Chevrolet or Ford camp at this moment that can be a destination spot for a free agent to go to and be a legitimate playoff contender for a team that I didn’t already mention.
HMS, Trackhouse, RCR and Spire are set with Chevrolet while Penske, Wood Brothers, SHR and even Roush Fenway Racing are set with Ford.
Which then bodes the question, what can Toyota do to their landscape? They lost out on a younger driver to Cup again. They already lost out on Larson and Byron, had Erik Jones but didn’t have room for him to stay, lost Noah Gragson to JR Motorsports and others. Burton is just the latest casualty.
See, Toyota runs a different business model than the other manufacturers. They get scrutinized a lot but they’re also showing that it works.
Toyota won nine times in 2020 and put Denny Hamlin in the Championship 4. In 2019, they won 19 times and had three drivers in the final round including a championship by Kyle Busch. In 2018, they won 13 times. In fact, from 2012 through 2019, they had won at least 10 races seven times in the eight year span.
The thing with them is, they really only had four Cup rides to put their drivers in. They tried to expand with Furniture Row Racing but while that worked for a while, it faded with FRR closing their doors. Leavine Family Racing tried it in 2019 but they folded after the 2020 season. Now, it’s 23XI Racing’s turn. They’re expanding to a second full time car for 2022 which would give Toyota six cars in Cup.
The problem is, Ford and Chevrolet has so much more and a lot more real estate to place younger drivers in. Toyota’s business model doesn’t but Toyota also spends a lot on younger drivers from the dirt ranks to Trucks to Xfinity where Ford and Chevrolet don’t.
Toyota gives them the resources to compete at a high level quick and if you don’t win right off the bat, someone else will. Their only issue is, they’ve not really given the younger drivers that can succeed much room to grow in Cup.
JGR is full. Kyle Busch (36) isn’t going anywhere. 40 year old Denny Hamlin and 41 year old Martin Truex Jr. aren’t either. Why would they? Why would JGR or Toyota want to push them out? All three have contracts in place for the team past this season and I’d expect them to be back not only in 2022 but 2023 as well. So would Christopher Bell. He’s shown to be their future and is only 26.
So, for drivers like Burton or anyone else, what’s their path? When you get a job opportunity in Cup, you take it.
Bubba Wallace will be back with 23XI and he’s only 27. Busch will hold the fort in the second car for a year or two.
It’s clear Ty Gibbs is the future for the 20 car in Xfinity and with Kyle Busch not racing in the series next season, they can keep Brandon Jones in the 19 and if Daniel Hemric wants to return, let him stay in the 18. The only issue is, the path for Jones and Hemric to move up to Cup seems to be low.
Gibbs is likely next in line to move up to Cup in the Toyota camp. I’d say John Hunter Nemechek is behind him.
That means a lot of NASCAR’s future is known really now. So, positioning yourself in the Xfinity Series is going to take some strategic planning.