Toyota solidifies NXS lineup with JGR/SHR, a look at the full NASCAR Silly Season slate now

The NASCAR Cup Series’ Silly Season front has been quiet as of late but that’s mostly due to the abundance of rides already taken. However, the two-feeder series have been busy with a slew of announcements this week. On Thursday, Toyota solidified their plans for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season with both Joe Gibbs Racing and Sam Hunt Racing naming drivers.

Each had every seat open as JGR saw Brandon Jones leave the No. 19 Toyota and take his long-time sponsor in Menards with him to JR Motorsports. They also elevated Ty Gibbs from the No. 54 Toyota to a Cup seat leaving both full-time rides open.

However, with Kyle Busch Motorsports also leaving the Toyota stable in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, it left some dominoes to fill and one of those was John Hunter Nemechek. It was clear to where his destination would be as he watched his teammates Corey Heim and Chandler Smith land elsewhere as Heim will run for the new TRICON Garage in the Truck Series and Smith getting promoted to the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing. With JHN landing nowhere, it was clear his destination was with Toyota still and with either JGR or SHR.

Nemechek made 10 starts with SHR between 2021 and 2022 and 6 more with JGR in that same span. As a second-generation driver with tons of talent and such a young age still, it made sense for Toyota to elevate him to a full-time Xfinity Series seat.

On Thursday, Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) announced that Nemechek will join the team to run the full NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) schedule and compete for a championship in 2023. Nemechek will be climbing behind the wheel of the No. 20 Toyota GR Supra which makes its return to JGR and NXS after a one-year hiatus.

The Toyota development driver has more than 250 starts in NASCAR’s national touring series displaying talent at all three levels. His resume includes 13 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series wins (NCTS), two NXS wins, and a full season in the NASCAR Cup. Nemechek is no stranger to JGR as he won at Texas Motor Speedway with the team in 2021 and ran three races behind the wheel of the No. 18 in 2022 with a best finish of second at Richmond.

The 25-year-old ran full time in the NCWTS in 2022 winning two races and seven pole awards making it to the Round of Eight in the NASCAR Playoffs. Nemechek was the 2021 NCTS regular season champion.

“I’m appreciative of the opportunity to get back to competing full time in the Xfinity Series,” said Nemechek. “JGR is a group that I know I can win with after getting that win at Texas in 2021. I’m excited to get to work on the 2023 season so we can go out and win some races and compete for a championship.”

Mobil 1 will be the primary sponsor for the year on the No. 20. Nemechek will also be backed by his long-standing partners Berry’s Bullets, Pye Barker Fire and Safety, Romco Equipment and his Grocery Store Brands throughout the 2023 NXS season.

“John Hunter has shown the dedication it takes to be a successful racecar driver,” said Steve DeSouza, Executive Vice President, Xfinity Series and Driver Development. “He has experience at all levels of NASCAR that will be valuable to the team in 2023. We are excited to add him to our driver lineup for the year and look forward to the success the No. 20 team will see.”

Ben Beshore will serve as crew chief of the No. 20 NXS team in 2023.

Another part to Thursday’s news is that Ryan Truex will run six races behind the wheel of the NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) No. 19 Toyota GR Supra in 2023.

Truex is well acquainted with the championship-winning team after running five races for JGR in 2022, finishing in the top five in three of those races. His best finish was a strong third-place run at Atlanta. Truex also competed in 13 NXS races with JGR over two seasons in 2011 and 2012.

“We are looking forward to having Ryan back in our lineup in 2023 to run the No. 19,” said Steve DeSouza, Executive Vice President of Xfinity Series/Development. “He has done well in the races he has run at JGR. His previous experience and driving ability will be assets as the No. 19 competes for an owner’s championship next year.”

Truex has over 175 starts across NASCAR’s top three touring series combining for 17 top-five finishes and 49 top-10 finishes.

“I am thrilled to be behind the wheel of the No. 19 for a few races next season,” said Truex. “It was fun to run well with the team this past year. I appreciate the opportunity to race for JGR again next year. I think we can build from what we learned this year and get some solid runs in.”

Jason Ratcliff will work with Truex as the crew chief of the No. 19 Toyota GR Supra.

The races Truex will run and the remaining 2023 lineup for the No. 19 will be announced at a later date.

Also on Tuesday, JGR announced that Sammy Smith will drive the No. 18 Toyota full-time with Pilot Flying J as the sponsor.

Sam Hunt Racing (SHR) also announced today that the team will field two full-time cars in the NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) in 2023. Kaz Grala will pilot the team’s No. 26 Toyota GR Supra, while the No. 24 Toyota GR Supra will be anchored by Connor Mosack, who will compete in 20 races starting at Phoenix Raceway in March.

“Timing and patience have been pivotal components of our growth process at SHR. Expanding to two full-time teams in 2023 brings an excitement level only matched by the responsibility and expectation to compete at a high level every week,” said Sam Hunt, owner of Sam Hunt Racing. “It goes without saying that having a full-time driver in the No. 26 for the first time is a blessing to our organization and an important component of our growth. Kaz is a highly talented and experienced driver and has strived for an opportunity like this for a long time. Having Connor anchor the No. 24 team is something we are also really looking forward to. He is a very talented young man and has every trait and characteristic I look for in a young driver. We’re heading into 2023 with confidence in both teams and drivers, and I’m excited to continue to build this program with each of them.”

For the first time in his career, Kaz Grala will compete in the NXS in a full-time capacity. He has 44 career NXS starts, collecting five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes over five years of competition. The 23-year-old has competed in all three NASCAR national touring series. He earned a top-10 finish in his NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) debut in 2020 and is the youngest driver to win in NASCAR’s history at Daytona International Speedway following his first win in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2017. Grala will pilot the No. 26 with Allen Hart continuing as the team’s crew chief for a second season.

“I’ve scratched and clawed for each opportunity over the past several seasons, and while it hasn’t been easy, it’s made me appreciate this sport and its difficulty more than I ever could have if things had been easy,” said Grala. “I feel like everything has finally come together at the perfect time in my life with the right team around me to start that next chapter in my career. I couldn’t be more proud and hopeful heading into 2023 with Sam Hunt Racing with a chance to compete for a championship. I’ve worked my whole life to get to this point, and I intend to make the absolute most of it next year and beyond.”

Connor Mosack, who will start his 20-race campaign at Phoenix Raceway, will continue to build on his stock car racing career throughout 2023. The 2020 CARS Tour Rookie of the Year and race-winning, championship-contending driver in the Pirelli TransAm TA2 series made the move to NASCAR’s national touring series level in 2022, competing in two NCTS races and two NXS races, including a top-15 finish for Sam Hunt Racing at Watkins Glen International in August. In addition to his national touring series starts, Mosack competed in eight ARCA Menards Series races, securing four top-five and seven top-10 finishes. In his full-time effort in TransAm TA2 competition in 2022, he won at Watkins Glen International and received six pole positions and five podium finishes.

“Being able to run 20 races in the Xfinity Series next year is a really big deal to me,” said Mosack. “Two years ago, I didn’t really know where I was going or how I was going to get there. Racing in this series is a big step toward where I want to go, and I’m excited it is with a team like Sam Hunt Racing. With SHR being a growing team, I know I can develop relationships with everyone involved and continue to learn from them. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Sam and trust that his team and values will help to develop me as a driver.”

Sam Hunt Racing adds Kris Bowen, former crew chief of the No. 02 NXS team, as the leader of the No. 24 team throughout the 2023 season.

Partnership information, Mosack’s schedule, and the remainder of the team drivers for the No. 24 entry will be announced at a later date.

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – OCTOBER 29: Sheldon Creed, driver of the #2 Whelen Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Dead On Tools 250 at Martinsville Speedway on October 29, 2022 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Xfinity Series

So what else has happened outside of these Toyota deals. We know that SHR will expand back to a two car team in this series with Riley Herbst back for a third straight season and Cole Custer moving down to join him. This week, AM Racing announced that they’ll align with SHR and transition to Ford power and field a full time entry for Brett Moffitt as another full-time driver for the blue ovals.

Other announcements are Sheldon Creed’s news of him returning to RCR in 2023 that was announced in Phoenix. JR Motorsports has also confirmed their plans too with Sam Mayer (No. 1 Chevrolet), Justin Allgaier (No. 7 Chevrolet) and Josh Berry (No. 8 Chevrolet) each returning while Brandon Jones (No. 9 Chevrolet) shifts from Joe Gibbs Racing to replace the departing Noah Gragson who advances up to the Cup Series with Petty GMS Racing.

Kaulig Racing will have Landon Cassill (No. 10 Chevrolet) and 2021 series champion Daniel Hemric (No. 11 Chevrolet) back while in a similar situation to JRM, Chandler Smith (No. 16 Chevrolet) moves up to replace AJ Allmendinger as Allmendinger is moving up to the Cup seat with the organization.

Parker Kligerman was announced as the full-time driver in the No. 48 Chevrolet for Big Machine Racing in Phoenix too. A week after Phoenix, it was announced that Garrett Smithley will drive the No. 78 Chevrolet for BJ McLeod Motorsports.

Outside of that, the other announcements would be if Austin Hill returns full-time for the 21 seat at RCR. He’s expected to be doing so. The rest are for midfield teams.

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 15: Zane Smith, driver of the #38 Speedco/Luber Finer Toyota, and Parker Kligerman, driver of the #75 Luck’s Beans/Food Country USA Toyota, race during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 15, 2022 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Truck Series

There’s still a lot left to be announced here but two of the three manufacturers have already set their flagship teams. Last month it was unveiled that David Gilliland Racing will move from Ford to Toyota power and get rebranded to TRICON Garage. Tanner Gray, Taylor Gray, Corey Heim and Dean Thompson will be their four full-time drivers. Taylor Gray however will miss the first few races as he’s not old enough until next spring to race on bigger tracks. They’ll have a 5th part-time truck.

The reason for the switch was due to Kyle Busch Motorsports leaving Toyota. They announced in Phoenix their plans as they’re the new flagship team for Chevrolet and will have a two truck operation with Chase Purdy in the full-time No. 4 Chevy and Jack Wood among a cast of drivers in the No. 51 Chevy. Nick Sanchez will be in the REV Racing entry with an alliance with KBM.

McAnally Hilgeman Racing will field two full-time drivers with Christian Eckes moving over to the No. 19 and Jake Garcia in the No. 35.

Carson Hocevar will be back with Niece.

Front Row is back with Zane Smith while GMS Racing will have Grant Enfinger back in one Truck and Daniel Dye as a rookie in another. But, with Jack Wood not returning, a third seat was open there. Rajah Caruth will be in that one. Rackley WAR should have Matt DiBenedetto back in his seat. We also know Hattori Racing Enterprises will have two seats open.

ThorSport lately has been announcing their plans closer to January-February but rumors are surfacing of the team moving back to the Ford back and bringing Hailie Deegan over. There’s a seat open with Eckes’ move and would make a ton of sense for her to join Ben Rhodes, Matt Crafton and Ty Majeski. Rhodes won the title for them in 2021 and made it back to the final round this past November. Majeski started to heat up towards the end of the season including a pair of wins in the Round of 8 and a Championship 4 berth. Crafton is a three-time champion for the organization.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – AUGUST 28: Dark clouds are seen during the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Cup Series

A few weeks ago, it was revealed that the long-awaited news that Ty Gibbs would replace Kyle Busch with Joe Gibbs Racing on the Cup level has now been confirmed. However, he’ll drive the No. 54 instead of the No. 18. A day prior, it was confirmed that Ryan Preece would replace Cole Custer in the No. 41 Ford in the Cup Series for Stewart-Haas Racing and that Custer will move down to a second seat in Xfinity Series within the team.

With that said, what’s left? 

Most of the Cup Series rides are now filled. Toyota is secured with Gibbs, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell back with JGR and Bubba Wallace/Tyler Reddick with 23XI.

Ford is pretty much set too.

Penske signed Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano to multi-year extensions and has Austin Cindric on a rookie deal. Harrison Burton is back with the Wood Brothers while SHR has 3 of their 4 drivers back with Ryan Preece the new kid on the block replacing Cole Custer in the 41.

For Chevy, HMS is set with their current 4 car lineup with signing Kyle LarsonChase Elliott and William Byron to extensions already. Trackhouse has both drivers back with Daniel Suarez on a one-year contract extension. Kaulig has Justin Haley back and now AJ Allmendinger full-time in the 2nd car. RCR has Reddick and Busch. JTG has Ricky Stenhouse Jr. back. Petty GMS signed Erik Jones to an extension as well as bringing Noah Gragson up to drive the 42 and now adds Jimmie Johnson to a part owner-part 3rd driver in a non chartered car.

The only other rides for 2023 open are with smaller teams like Front Row Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing and Live Fast Motorsports.

2022 Charters

Chevrolet (15)

  • Hendrick Motorsports (4) – Larson, Elliott, Byron and Bowman. Each are back in 2023.
  • Trackhouse Racing (2) – Ross Chastain is back while Daniel Suarez signed a one-year extension.
  • Richard Childress Racing (2) – Austin Dillon is back in the 3 while Kyle Busch moves over to replace Tyler Reddick in the 8.
  • Petty GMS Racing (2) – Erik Jones is back while Noah Gragson moves up from the Xfinity Series to run the 42.
  • Kaulig Racing (2) – Justin Haley is back in 2023 with AJ Allmendinger taking the 2nd car on a full time ride next season too.
  • Spire Motorsports (2) – Corey LaJoie is back in the 7 while Ty Dillon drives the 77 now.
  • JTG Daugherty Racing (1) – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is back for 2023

Ford (15)

  • Stewart-Haas Racing (4) – 3 of the 4 drivers from last year are back. Custer moves down to the Xfinity Series while Preece moves up.
  • Team Penske (3) – All 3 drivers are back in 2023 with 2 of them signing extensions this season.
  • RFK Racing (2) – Both drivers are back in 2023.
  • Rick Ware Racing (2) – 2 seats are open as of now for 2023.
  • Front Row Motorsports (2) – Both rides are open for 2023.
  • Live Fast Motorsports (1) – Their seat is open for now in 2023.
  • Wood Brothers (1) – Harrison Burton is back in 2023.

Toyota (6)

  • Joe Gibbs Racing (4) – Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. are each back in 2023. Truex just signed a one-year extension this past June. Ty Gibbs moves up to the 4th car.
  • 23XI Racing (2) – Bubba Wallace signed a new extension this past August while Tyler Reddick moves over a year early to replace Kurt Busch in the 45.

The focus is now pretty much on 2024 though which could be as wild if not more crazy that this past year’s. Suarez, Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Alex Bowman are each free agents at the end of next season. Suarez is betting on himself while Truex and Harvick could step out the door in a swan song season leaving rides with JGR and SHR open.

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