Most people expected John Hunter Nemechek to figure into Joe Gibbs Racing’s 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series plans. With Harrison Burton and Daniel Hemric departing at seasons end, the No. 18 and No. 20 Toyota’s were open.
Instead, I think one of those seats may go unfilled by a full time driver. That’s because Nemechek reupped his contract with Kyle Busch Motorsports to remain in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for next season. He’ll drive the No. 4 Toyota again.
He and his crew chief, Eric Phillips, will remain together and go for another run at a title in 2022.
Nemechek, leads the Truck Series with five wins as well as tops in top fives (12), driver rating (114.5), average finish (8.5) and average running position (6.961). He’s also tied for most top 10’s (15) and is second in laps led (570).
The 24 year old won the regular season championship this past year and sits 36 points above the cutline heading to the final race of the Round of 8 in two weeks at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway.
“I came to Kyle Busch Motorsports because it was an opportunity to get back to victory lane — I accomplished my goal of being here for wins and I’m excited to be coming back for more next year,” Nemechek said. “With the support of Kyle and Samantha, everyone at KBM and everyone at Toyota and TRD, I’ve been able to experience the thrill of victory alongside my long-term partners ROMCO, Fire Alarm Services, Pye-Barker Fire & Safety and Safeway, and we were also able to get Mobil 1 back to victory lane for KBM. We have some unfinished business left trying to bring the championship trophy home to KBM this year and then we’ll go to work on the brand new 2022 Tundra so that we can compete for more wins and another championship next year.”
“It’s been refreshing to see John Hunter get the No. 4 Tundra back out front leading laps, winning races and competing for a championship this year like it had in the past and it’s important for us that we are able to keep him in that seat for another season,” Kyle Busch said. “In addition to the accomplishments of the No. 4 team this season, the efforts that John Hunter and Eric have put in behind the scenes have helped keep that winning edge of performance in our whole program. I’m pumped to have the both of them back leading the charge at KBM as we roll out the new 2022 Tundra TRD Pro’s next season to continue our winning ways!”
Nemecheck, in his first season driving for KBM, collected his first victory of the season at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway in March, he also produced wins at Richmond (Va.) Raceway in April, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in May and in June was victorious at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.
The second generation driver is an 11-time winner in Camping World Truck Series action, winning at least one race each season from 2015 to 2018 for his family-owned team, NEMCO Motorsports in addition to his triumphs this season. Across 121 career starts in NASCAR’s third division, he has compiled two poles, 1,169 laps led, 40 top-five and 65 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 12.4.
Phillips returned to KBM in 2021 to lead the No. 4 team efforts after six seasons working at Joe Gibbs Racing in various roles. In 2010, under Phillips’ direction KBM’s No. 18 team recorded eight victories in its inaugural campaign and became the first team in Truck Series history to capture an owner’s championship in its first season of competition. In 2014, the Illinois native led the No. 51 team to an owner’s championship and his team’s 10 wins spearheaded KBM to a single-season Truck Series record of 14 wins. His 42 career Truck Series victories make him the winningest crew chief in Truck Series history, with 32 of those coming while at KBM.
With that said, the No. 18 Toyota doesn’t have a driver yet but all indications are of Chandler Smith returning.
The other rides we know of are GMS Racing having Grant Enfinger in the No. 23 Chevrolet and Jack Wood in the No. 24 Chevrolet. Sheldon Creed is moving up to the Xfinity Series ranks with RCR while Zane Smith could potentially be back.
McAnally-Hilgemann Racing has aligned with GMS and will likely have Derek Kraus in the now No. 19 Chevrolet. They were with Toyota this past season. Colby Howard will drive the second truck.
Carson Hocevar should be back in the No. 42 Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports.
Front Row Motorsports is eyeing a move up to the Xfinity Series and if they do, Todd Gilliland will be their driver. If they don’t, both will be back together for 2022 in Trucks.
Hattori Racing Enterprises has an opening in the No. 16 Toyota with Austin Hill not returning while ThorSport hasn’t announced their plans yet.
This picture is getting clearer. JR Motorsports will have Josh Berry likely in the No. 1 Chevrolet since Michael Annett is retiring at seasons end. Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson will remain in the No.’s 7 and 9 Chevrolet’s respectively while Sam Mayer will likely just keep the No. 8 Chevrolet. They’re now set.
Richard Childress Racing will have Sheldon Creed in the No. 2 Chevrolet while also keeping Myatt Snider as a developmental driver for them. While they won’t expand to a two-car team, they said that Snider will be placed with an alliance team. Is that Kaulig?
They’re aligned with Kaulig and Big Machine but Big Machine is going to have Jade Buford in the No. 48 Chevrolet.
Kaulig, will have Daniel Hemric in the No. 11 Chevrolet and AJ Allmendinger in the No. 16 Chevrolet. The No. 10 Chevrolet that’s currently being driven by Jeb Burton is open with Burton likely not returning due to a lack of funding. That’s why Snider makes the most sense here.
JGR will likely have Brandon Jones back in the No. 19 Toyota while the signs are clear that Ty Gibbs should move up to the No. 18 Toyota. Do they keep the No. 20 Toyota and do so with a full time driver or use that car for the part-time role where Cup drivers share this seat and a younger developmental driver later in the year?
Team Penske will keep the No. 22 Ford but do they sign another young driver or use it for the Cup guys to race in?
Stewart-Haas Racing is the only other big team left. Does Riley Herbst and Monster stay?
Ryan Preece and Matt DiBenedetto would make strong candidates to run the Penske or SHR cars in NXS, but do they?
Brett Moffitt and Austin Hill could figure into plans depending on OUR Motorsports and Hattori Racing Enterprises’ plans. Hill isn’t returning to the Truck Series ride but it sounds like he has something bigger he’s working on.
That’s pretty much it in terms of championship contenders for 2022.
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 Hemric (2018) and 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 will be 40 in December. What about Jeb Burton? He’s 29. Daniel Hemric and Josh Berry will be 31 by time we get to Daytona next February.
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 23.
Snider could be a big benefit next as he’s just 23 and 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.
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 whenever he moves back out. Then do you see Gragson, Snider, Creed, Herbst and Jones capitalize?
We know Allgaier, Allmendinger 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 to get back up to a top Cup seat since now most of them are being taken with the youth movement. That’s part of why Hemric moved again. Kaulig has 2 Cup cars, so this move gets him back to Cup better than JGR’s would.
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, hence the GMS alliance. 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.
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.
The Silly Season front had been quiet again for a few weeks in terms of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series rides but that’s starting to heat back up again. That’s by design though. The music is dimming and the folding chairs available in the high speed game of Musical Chairs are folded up and stacked neatly against the wall. We’re nearing the point to where we put them back in storage again for another year.
That’s all due to this new car coming out next season. With needing to assemble cars for Fall testing, you kind of want your 2022 driver in it. In turn, you really can’t wait on funding to come through or future plans. You need to know now.
That’s also why most of the deals are already solidified.
The only rides really left now are Stewart-Haas Racing (No. 10 Ford), maybe one at Front Row Motorsports (No. 38 Ford), Kaulig Racing’s part time ride and some with Rick Ware Racing.
It seems like SHR, will bring Aric Almirola back meaning the top rides are filled.
That just leaves Silly Season down FRR, StarCom, Rick Ware Racing and 23XI Racing with the honus on charters. See, 23XI Racing is after a charter for Kurt Busch’s No. 45 Toyota. Rumors are they are down the road in purchasing one from FRR. Do they end up purchasing two and leasing one back out, or just the one? If it’s just the one, does that leave FRR down to a one-car operation? If so, Michael McDowell is the primary choice as he’s been vocal that the team said that they’ll remain together.
The other possibility is, StarCom is rumored to be closing up shop. If so, their charter can be purchased which it seems like it will be by Spire. Also, it allows RWR to keep all three of his charters in the process too as they’ve aligned with SHR and Ford. The court charter they’re using is leased and they don’t think they can run four cars.
GMS is after a charter so this may play out for them to acquire one as well. Other than that, the rest is pretty much done.
If they run as an open team, they’ll join Team Hezeberg, a NASCAR Whalen Euro Series team who will compete part-time in 2022 and then eye moving up on a full-time basis in 2023.
It’s all made possible by a joint effort between Toine Hezemans and Dutch businessman Ernst Berg. That plus an alliance with Reaune Brothers Racing who will offer technical support, add up to a new entry in Cup.
The car will be a No. 27 Ford and driven by 2019 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion Loris Hezemans. He will race on all the road courses. Both he and Jacques Villeneuve will test the new car next week on the ROVAL here in Charlotte.
Some may wonder, who is this team. They’ve started their career in 2018 and was a champion a year later. They then won another championship in 2020 too.
Hezemans, won 11 times in it and leads the standings again. He’s also made three Xfinity Series starts including two of which coming this year.
The 2021 charter list.
Hendrick Motorsports (No. 5, No. 9, No. 24, No. 48)
Stewart-Haas Racing (No. 4, No. 10, No. 14, No. 41)
Joe Gibbs Racing (No. 11, No. 18, No. 19, No. 20)
Rick Ware Racing (No. 52, No. 53, No. 15)
Team Penske (No. 2, No. 12, No. 22)
Richard Childress Racing (No. 3, No. 8)
Roush Fenway Racing (No. 6, No. 17)
Chip Ganassi Racing (No. 1, No. 42)
Front Row Motorsports (No. 34, No. 38)
JTG Daugherty Racing (No. 47)
23XI Racing (No. 23)
Wood Brothers (No. 21)
Spire Sports (No. 7, No. 77)
Spire Sports (No. 99) *leased to Trackhouse Racing
Richard Petty Motorsports (No. 43)
Live Fast Motorsports (No. 78)
StarCom Racing (No. 00)
Petty Ware Racing (No. 51)
For 2022, the list remains somewhat similar.
Hendrick Motorsports (No. 5, No. 9, No. 24, No. 48) *no changes
Joe Gibbs Racing (No. 11, No. 18, No. 19, No. 20) *no changes
Stewart-Haas Racing (No. 4, No. 10, No. 14, No. 41) *no changes unless the 10 car has a new driver
Team Penske (No. 2, No. 12, No. 22) *Cindric replaces Keselowski in the No. 2
Roush Fenway Racing (No. 6, No. 17) *Keselowski replaces Ryan Newman in the No. 6
Richard Childress Racing (No. 3, No. 8) *no changes expected
Trackhouse Racing (No. 1, No. 99) *team bought out Chip Ganassi Racing, Chastain takes over the No. 1
Front Row Motorsports (No. 34, No. 38) *McDowell likely back in the 34, the 38 ride is open
Kaulig Racing (2 charters, numbers TBA) – Justin Haley in 1 car, AJ Allmendinger to share the 2nd car with other driver. Charters purchased from Spire.
Wood Brothers (No. 21) *Harrison Burton replaces Matt DiBenedetto for 2022
JTG Daugherty Racing (No. 47) *Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is back.
23XI Racing (No. 23) *Bubba Wallace will be back in 2022, team seeking an additional charter for Kurt Busch
Spire Sports (No. 7) *Corey LaJoie back in the No. 7, they sold other 2 charters for Kaulig.
Richard Petty Motorsports (No. 43) *Erik Jones will be back.
Live Fast Motorsports (No. 78) *Team not selling a charter, looking for drivers for 2022.
StarCom Racing (No. 00) *Are they back?
Rick Ware Racing (No. 52, No. 53, No. 15) *How many of these charters are back?
Petty Ware Racing (No. 51) *Does RWR and Petty sell this one?
As you can see, 31 of the 36 charters are known with FRR, StarCom and RWR now holding the keys to the rest of Silly Season for 23XI and GMS’ chances of securing a charter.
Stewart-Haas Racing (1) – No. 10 Ford
Front Row Motorsports (2) – No. 34 and No. 38 Fords
Kaulig Racing (1) – Part time seat in 1 of their Chevrolet’s
Rick Ware Racing – all their seats are open
Aric Almirola (linked to stay at SHR)
Michael McDowell (linked to stay at FRR)