The NASCAR Xfinity Series is where names are made, but in 2019, it’s going to be the series where changes are made. Not only will the defending series champion make a team swap, but one of the series’ longest-tenured teams will also not participate.
In 2018, Tyler Reddick stamped his name on the champion’s trophy. Despite an impressive season that included wins in the season opener at Daytona and the season finale at Homestead, Reddick is on the move. He departs his championship-winning team at JR Motorsports to join Richard Childress Racing’s Xfinity program.
The move is a little surprising. While RCR has had success in the series over the years, the rate at which the team produces victories has slowed over the past two seasons. The team, which won the NXS championship with Austin Dillon in 2013 and has 79 total NXS victories, has had only one win — Dillon’s win at Michigan in June 2018 — over the past two seasons.
Reddick’s departure leaves two open seats at JR Motorsports. Elliott Sadler, who had been with the team since 2016, announced his retirement midseason, meaning the team’s No. 9 and No. 1 Chevrolets will have a different cast of drivers in 2019.
Perennial championship contender Justin Allgaier is set to return to JRM, as is Michael Annett — and they will be joined by former Truck series driver Noah Gragson. With less than two months to go before the season was set to start at Daytona, the team still had one of its four cars open.
Allgaier won five times in 2018 and was poised to make a run at the series title before an ill-timed spate of bad luck in the playoffs took him out of contention. Still, Allgaier had a career year; he doubled his career win total and established himself as the driver to beat for the series title in 2019.
Annett is still looking for that breakthrough season that establishes him as a championship contender. With the upheaval at JRM, there’s a likelihood that Annett’s team could be bolstered with additional personnel and resources needed to nudge him toward becoming a regular threat to win. While his teammates have collected a total of 13 race wins and won the championship in each of the two seasons he’s been at JRM, Annett has managed just 10 top-10 finishes over that time frame.
RCR’s NXS team had openings due to the departure of Daniel Hemric, who is moving to the organization’s No. 31 Chevrolet in the Cup series. Hemric’s 2018 teammate Matt Tifft has also departed, making the move to the Cup series as well with Front Row Motorsports. RCR has not yet named a replacement for Tifft in its No. 2 Chevrolet. It’s expected that Dillon and his brother Ty, grandsons of team owner Richard Childress, will compete for the team on a part-time basis alongside Shane Lee, who joined the team in a limited schedule in 2018.
Christopher Bell, who set the series record for wins as a rookie in 2018, will be back to lead Joe Gibbs Racing’s NXS program.
Bell won seven times in 2018, surpassing the record of five wins by a rookie set by Greg Biffle in 2001 and then tied by Kyle Busch in 2004 and Carl Edwards in 2005. Bell also encountered bad luck in the series playoffs, but he, too, is poised for another championship run in 2019.
Stewart-Haas Racing teamed with long-time NXS team owner Fred Biagi in 2018 and found success with its full-time driver Cole Custer and part-timer Chase Briscoe. Custer locked himself into the playoffs on points and advanced to the final round at Homestead with a win at Texas. Custer came up just short, finishing second to Reddick, but he has positioned himself as another favorite for the championship in 2019.
While Custer has proven himself to be a contender, Briscoe’s ascension to a full-time ride is a storybook tale. The son of an Indiana open-wheel driver, Briscoe made the move to Charlotte and slept on the couch at the Cunningham Motorsports ARCA race shop hoping to get a full-time job and a chance to one day drive the racecar. Briscoe’s attitude impressed team owners Kerry Scherer and Briggs Cunningham, and a year later, in 2016, he not only was driving their racecar but also won the ARCA championship.
In 2017, he closed the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season with his first career win at Homestead. When his Truck team owner Brad Keselowski shut the team down heading into 2018, Briscoe latched onto a part-time NXS ride with Roush Fenway Racing, then added a handful of races with his boyhood hero Tony Stewart’s team. A midseason win in the Trucks on the dirt at Eldora caused Briscoe’s stock to rise, and a dominant win in the Stewart-Haas ride on the Roval at Charlotte propelled him to a full-time gig with the team in 2019.
Another pleasant surprise was Ross Chastain, who capitalized on a part-time slate with Chip Ganassi Racing and turned it into his first win and a full-time ride. Chastain knocked heads with Kevin Harvick at Darlington, but despite intense criticism, he didn’t back down. Chastain scored his first win at Las Vegas and put himself in the discussion for championship contention despite driving for two different owners.
One team that will not answer the bell for the 2019 NXS season is Roush Fenway Racing. Ryan Reed’s funding fell through shortly after the end of the 2018 season, and the team’s self-funded second car — split among Briscoe, short-track ace Ty Majeski and road racer Austin Cindric — had a disastrous season. With no sponsorship on the horizon, the team has decided to pull out of the series and focus solely on its Cup series program. Team owner Jack Roush had fielded at least one entry in the NXS every year dating back to 1993.
Roush Fenway’s departure from the series gives some other teams an opportunity to make some noise. Kaulig Racing has announced that Truck series playoff finalist Justin Haley has joined the team for 2019, replacing Ryan Truex. Haley scored a trio of Truck series wins for GMS Racing and made the final round of the playoffs, finishing third.
GMS Racing’s full-time NXS ride will see a change in 2019 as well, as driver Spencer Gallagher announced his retirement after the season. Gallagher earned his first series win at Talladega in April, and the team has solid funding behind it. Now, John Hunter Nemechek will move from a part-time role at Chip Ganassi’s NXS program to a full-time role at GMS. Can the one-time perennial underdog make the most of his first full-time NXS opportunity?
Some of the smaller teams could see some additional success as well. Johnny Davis’ independent four-car team has made steady progress and has a chance at more success with funding from new top full-time driver Blake Koch. RSS Racing with driver Ryan Sieg is also expected to stay competitive despite needing to start-and-park additional cars in races in order to survive.
Top 10 Drivers
1. Justin Allgaier, JR Motorsports
Five wins in 2018 gave Allgaier the best year of his NXS career. He and his team return largely intact. Comfort and confidence should combine for another run at the series championship.
2. Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing
Seven NXS wins were impressive, but he also bolstered his resume with almost two dozen high-profile open-wheel wins throughout the year as well. Bell is happy and confident.
3. Cole Custer, Stewart-Haas Racing
Custer seems to peak late in the season, when performing at your best is most important. If he can race his way into the playoffs again in 2019, he’s likely to be around at the end.
4. Ross Chastain, Chip Ganassi Racing
Chastain has bided his time in underfunded cars while hoping a powerhouse team would take a chance, and he earned a ride with CGR with an impressive win for the team at Las Vegas in a part-time role. Chastain could open some eyes in 2019.
5. Tyler Reddick, Richard Childress Racing
Reddick is the defending series champion but is moving from JR Motorsports to RCR, which has struggled to find Victory Lane in recent years. Reddick could also make some Cup starts for RCR, if funding can be found.
6. Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing
Briscoe was perhaps the biggest surprise of 2018 when he won on the Roval at Charlotte. A full-season with SHR support should give him many more opportunities to surprise in 2019.
7. Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing
Haley nearly nabbed the win at Daytona in July, but he was below the out-of-bounds line on the final lap and relegated to the last car on the lead lap. Haley likes to have fun, and his new partnership with Matt Kaulig could provide a lot of that.
8. Brandon Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing
Jones has proven to be a winner in the ARCA series, but he has yet to find that success in the NXS. He spent two years at RCR before transitioning to JGR, and after a year in the seat, he should find his stride in 2019.
9. John Hunter Nemechek, GMS Racing
JHN has impressed in every level of racing he’s competed in, winning in super late models and in Trucks despite not having a bottomless budget. Teaming with GMS will give him the biggest opportunity of his career.
10. Noah Gragson, JR Motorsports
Gragson comes over from Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck series and is paired with reigning championship crew chief Dave Elenz. Critics claim Gragson has underperformed thus far; can the underrated mechanic make miracles with another young talent?
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