Commentary

TRACKING THE CHANGES: NASCAR Xfinity Series

By: Ashley McCubbin

Every NASCAR Silly Season results in several drivers finding new rides for the upcoming campaign, with a couple others either retiring or left on the outside looking in. The 2021 version was no different, with drivers moving forward to other ventures and many switching seats.

So as we have done in past years, allow us to break down the changes for you.

Our Motorsports will switch from a single entry to two-cars for 2021, with Brett Moffitt ready to tackle the full schedule. He ran 29 events last year while competing for the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series Championship, scoring seven top-10’s highlighted by a fifth at Talladega Superspeedway. While they had bright spots last year, bringing Moffitt on-board full-time allows for continuity which should therefore allow a set-up in performance.

The second car has yet to release it’s full plans, except for NASCAR Cup Series’ Tyler Reddick on-board for Daytona. Possible discussions so far have linked NTT IndyCar Series competitor Santino Ferrucci and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver Patrick Emerling to a select number of events each. Emerling ran Bristol Motor Speedway in 2020 for them.

B.J. McLeod Motorsports made some waves, as they snagged Jesse Little to drive their second entry alongside Matt Mills. Little competed in 2020 for JD Motorsports, scoring a pair of season-best 10th-place finishes. Mills, meanwhile, was unable to see similar success with a best performance of 13th at Richmond Raceway. Consistent top-20’s should be the name of the game, given their equipment.

JD Motorsports is still in the conversation, as they will have a familiar face behind the wheel, as Jeffrey Earnhardt returns to the team full-time in 2021. Last year saw some bright spots for the mid-pack organization as the third-generation racer posted 10 top-20 finishes, including an 11th at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Colby Howard also finds himself getting a promotion, going from 22 events in 2020 to a full slate in the year ahead. Those events showed his potential with six top-20 finishes.

Being able to consistently be in the top-20 should be goal against the bigger organizations for both of these drivers.

JR Motorsports will not see a lot of change, with Michael Annett, Justin Allgaier, and Noah Gragson all back in the fold.

Being able to perform on-par with his teammates and reach victory lane more often should be the goal of Annett, as he was often forgotten behind the team’s other three entries. Allgaier – it’s the same age old question as to whether this year will be his chance to finally break through for his first series title. He has shown bright spots of brilliance, but a tough summer with incidents and mechanical issues paid him no favors.

Lastly, Gragson showed improvement in 2020 compared to his rookie campaign, with more trips to victory lane as he became part of the conversation for the win. However, his aggressive nature saw him get into trouble on a couple occasions that you make you wonder where to draw the line. Balancing everything together may allow him to pinnacle and secure the championship.

However, the No. 8 will see a slew of changes with two new drivers on-board, as the other pair head on to different teams. Team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. is expected to run a single event as part of his Unilever sponsorship – with the Martinsville Speedway night race hinted given his joy for the event.

Whether or not the car will compete full-time is unknown, but it will see more than just the single race as Josh Berry and Sam Mayer have been announced thus far, replacing Jeb Burton and Daniel Hemric – more on those two later as this is a good change in their respect. The new talent will be interesting to watch to see whether they can be successful, given their records to date prior to a break into Xfinity competition.

Berry won the 2020 NASCAR Advanced Auto Parts All-American Weekly Series Late Model Championship via victories across the country at various short tracks. It’s just the icing on the cake, if you were to fully view his resume. Despite the talent, lack of funding has kept him from Xfinity competition – until now, where he will get the to run 12 events. In seven starts over the last full years, he has scored a pair of top-10 finishes.

Mayer burst onto the scene with a lot of success, securing the ARCA Menards Series East Championship in 2021 by winning five of the six races. He then made his second career NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series start at Bristol Motor Speedway – scoring the victory. Now he will not turn 18 until June, so expect him to run some Truck events for GMS Racing to continue gaining experience. By the way, he’s also confirmed for full-time competition in 2022.

Both of these young drivers will be looking to prove their worth, in hopes of securing future rides down the road, possibly in the NASCAR Cup Series. Consistently being up front in JRM’s top equipment can help your career, just ask Burton and Hemric. They both ran a select number of races in 2020, and now have opportunities to go full-time in 2021.

Jeb Burton makes the jump over to Kaulig Racing, replacing Ross Chastain as he moves up to Chip Ganassi Racing. Kaulig Racing proved their worth in 2020 via multiple trips to victory lane and a final four appearance by Justin Ha;ey.

Haley will return full-time to chase the title, along with A.J. Allmendinger being promoted from part-time to the whole ordeal. The move can only make the close knit organization stronger, given the speed they showed and ultimately ended the year proving equal to JRM, Joe Gibbs Racing, and RCR. With having three capable drivers full-time, it could be enough to put them ahead of the competition.

Daniel Hemric, meanwhile, makes the jump to Joe Gibbs Racing, as he takes over the reigns of the No. 18 entry. JGR proved they’re fully capable of being title contenders, with Harrison Burton just missing out in the playoffs before winning the two of the final three events of 2020. Combined with Brandon Jones scoring a win, they’re just steps away from returning to the dominant force and having experience in Hemric may do the trick.

The No. 18 was previously piloted by Riley Herbst, who moves over to Stewart-Haas Racing to replace Chase Briscoe in the No. 98 as Briscoe goes Cup racing. Herbst has been a bit of a mix bag – showing speed at times and capable of winning, to his inexperience and possibly immaturity resulting in poor results. Finding his footing and gaining experience could prove pivotal in setting the stage of 2021.

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