There has been plenty of off-season talk over the past three months since the 2017 season closed its doors.
Now, the first chapter of the 2019 NASCAR XFINITY Series season will take its first words heading into next month.
In this interview, Summer Bedgood from Kickin’ The Tires & I walk you through the number XFINITY Series changes that occurred going into the Christmas/New Year period.
1. How will Ross Chastain recover from the DC Solar Investigation which saw Chip Ganassi Ganassi shut down its No.42 XFINITY Series Team?
Will Chastain quickly find a ride before the new season starts at Daytona next month?
I apologize for not getting back to you sooner, but as I’m sure you are aware now, Ross Chastain will share the No. 45 Niece Motorsports ride in the Truck Series with Reid Wilson.
Niece Motorsports certainly isn’t a terrible team but they aren’t anywhere near the caliber that Chip Ganassi Racing was going to be — and now Chastain won’t be able to race for a championship now.
As much as I would like to say that I expect Chastain to eventually wind up at a better ride, unfortunately the racing world isn’t always fair and it’s going to be difficult for him to find the same quality of ride without bringing sponsorship.
2. In addition to the loss of Ganassi, Roush Fenway also packed its bags in a similar reason on lack of money.
How does it affect the futures of Ty Majeski & Ryan Reed as well as their Cup operation?
For Ty Majeski & Ryan Reed, I expect that one or both of them will land at lesser quality rides in one of the top three series.
For Majeski, he has quite a bit of road racing/endurance racing experience, so that could be an option for him outside of NASCAR.
As far as RFR’s Cup Series operation, I don’t buy into the idea that closing down their XFINITY Series program will somehow elevate their Cup Series performance.
I personally believe RFR’s issues run much deeper than simply having their resources over-extended, so I don’t expect to see a drastic change in their Cup results for 2019.
3. Kaulig Racing made one change where they fired Ryan Truex and replaced him with Justin Haley.
How will Kaulig ensure that Haley should perform consistently every week so this organization doesn’t make chopping and changing as they did to Truex & even Blake Koch over the last year?
Maybe they need to realize that whatever problem they are trying to solve isn’t simply dependent on the driver?
I know neither Koch nor Truex won races with Kaulig, but they both had fairly similar results.
Koch earned five top-10 finishes in both 2016 and 2017, finishing seventh and 11th in points, respectively.
Truex earned 11 top-10 results last season and finished 12th in points.
To me, similar results between two different drivers shows that the improvements need to be made on the performance side, not with the drivers.
I don’t expect Justin Haley to perform much better than the other two, unless Kaulig has been able to make some serious improvements over the offseason.
At that point, the team will have to realize the driver is not the issue.
In fact, changing your driver each season would, in my opinion, do more harm than good.
4. GMS Racing hired John Hunter Nemechek full-time to drive the No.23 Chevy.
In your viewpoint, where do you think John Hunter will end up in the Drivers’ Championship?
I believe John Hunter Nemechek will make the Playoffs, finish in the top 10 in points, and win a couple of races.
I’m going to stop short of saying he will contend for the championship since this is his first year in the XFINITY Series, though inexperience never hurt him in the Truck Series.
5. Stewart-Haas Racing now expands to two full-time rides with Cole Custer & Chase Briscoe.
What does Briscoe’s new home mean to him and how will Custer recover from Homestead where he finished 2nd to Tyler Reddick & bounce back by at last hoping to the win the Championship this time?
This is an opportunity of a lifetime for Chase Briscoe, who only has one full NASCAR season under his belt — driving for Brad Keselowski Racing in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2017.
Stewart-Haas Racing is a formidable opponent in both the Cup and XFINITY Series and Briscoe has accomplished a lot in his short amount of time in NASCAR.
I have to imagine his talent combined with the speed at SHR will have him in victory lane and contending for the championship this season.
As far as Cole Custer is concerned, he needs to put Homestead behind him and focus on doing what he needs to do to win races this season.
If that team races up front consistently, the points will take care of themselves.
Is Custer mentally tough enough to be able to do this?
Probably — but even if he’s not, he has several veterans who have been there, done that, supporting him at SHR.
6. It was somewhat a bit of a surprise when Richard Childress Racing chose to run one full-time ride with Reddick in the No.2.
Plus they now reassigned the No.21 Team as an all-stars side with some of their Cup drivers sharing the seat at certain events.
Why RCR’s restructure of their XFINITY Series operation to only one full-time ride will allow more time to make up lost time by achieving the results they desire with Austin Dillon & Daniel Hemric in the wheel?
I said earlier that I don’t buy into the notion that reducing the size of the organization is necessarily the best way to improve performance.
I don’t expect that will be the case for RCR either, though having Cup Series drivers share the seat with XFINITY Series drivers may very well improve their performance in that series.
7. Austin Cindric had learned a lot of lessons both ups and downs during his rookie NXS year in 2018.
Now that Team Penske put Cindric in the No.22 Seat full-time, is it about the time that he will begin to back up consistent Top 5 & 10s plus winning races since this equipment looks competitive compared to his previous schedule of splitting the Roush No.60 & Penske No.12 & 22 seats?
Honestly, he didn’t do too poorly of a job earning top fives and top 10s consistently last season.
He earned seven top fives, 13 top 10s and finished eighth in points.
Considering he earned those results with RFR, a team that we’ve already acknowledged is not near the powerhouse that it used to be, I think it’s a safe assumption that he can improve upon those results in 2019 and maybe make it into Victory Lane.
8. JR Motorsports have made some changes to their organization.
Michael Annett & Justin Allgaier have stayed on their respective rides at No.5 & No.7.
Plus they’ve added some bright stars in the mix of Noah Gragson replacing the retired Elliott Sadler in the No.1 car & Zane Smith racing for only short track races in Tyler Reddick’s old seat which is the No.9.
Why does the acquisition of Noah Gragson in the No.1 Seat & Zane Smith in the No. 9 Team reflect JR Motorsports’s vast treatment on developing young talent having seen Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott & William Byron deliver Drivers’ Championships before?
JR Motorsports and, by extension, Hendrick Motorsports, has a tendency to allow young talent to develop elsewhere (*cough*Kyle Busch Motorsports*cough*) and then scoop them up afterwards.
We are seeing that happen, I believe, with Noah Gragson.
As far as Zane Smith is concerned, he won four races last season in ARCA and finished fifth in his only NASCAR start (Gateway in the Truck Series).
Smith might actually qualify as a legitimate development driver for JR Motorsports, though his statistics in other series give the organization plenty of reason invest in him.
9. In addition to retaining Christopher Bell & Brandon Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing decided to give Jeffrey Earnhardt a chance to shine out of a limited schedule.
Since the departure of Ryan Preece, how will J. Earnhardt make up each opportunity in a much faster car & follow in the footsteps of both Preece and Chastain?
I honestly don’t know if Jeffrey Earnhardt can genuinely be the next Ryan Preece or not.
In 151 starts across all three of NASCAR’s national series, he has earned only one top 10 finish.
While I am aware that most, if not all, of these starts came with, at best, sub-par teams, you would think that someone with exceptional talent would be able to earn a few more top 10s here and there, or at least give reason to believe his talent is being squandered in his current ride.
I just haven’t seen that from him.
Drivers like Preece, Ross Chastain, and Chase Briscoe have shown what they can do when put in good equipment, when otherwise they may have been seen as backmarker drivers.
I’m certainly curious to see if Jeffrey Earnhardt can do the same.
Is 2019 the year of the Bell regarding Championship Honors since he returned to the No.20 NXS seat despite some calls to move up at Cup level?
It’s almost impossible to answer questions like this with the current championship format.
Bell won seven races last year, and all it took was mediocre run in the season finale for him to lose the title. That could happen to anybody.
However, I do have to think that Bell is the favorite heading into the 2019 season.
Bell’s talent combined with Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance means that he’s going to be next to impossible to beat on speed alone.
They’re going to have to make some mistakes to lose the title again.
And will Brandon Jones step up & make his performances consistent before JGR looks at other young talents to drive the No.19 Team from 2020 or 2021 should Jones again fail to make the first or second round Playoffs?
I don’t think consistency is an issue for Brandon Jones, nor do I think his Playoff standings are cause for concern. He had 17 top 10s in 2018.
I think the issue is that he’s not consistently challenging for wins and, yes, I think that will become a problem for JGR eventually.
They are too accustomed to winning for them to be satisfied with “just okay” results, and my guess is there are at least a handful of young drivers out there who could compete for wins right out of the gate.
10. Let’s look at JD Motorsports.
Any word on Garrett Smithley’s return to the team this season as well as the other two vacant No.01 & 15 seats at this stage?
No, JD Motorsports has not announced their official plans for this season, Garrett Smithley or otherwise.
And how will Blake Koch recover from the fate when Kaulig Racing no longer needed his services by taking a sabbatical out of racing throughout last year when he gets back in the No.4 Chevy in a couple of weeks?
Unfortunately, because JD Motorsports is one of the lesser teams in the series, I don’t anticipate it doing very much for his career.
I doubt he’ll make the Playoffs, let alone contend for race wins.
But, who knows, maybe being visible in the series again will help him get lined up for a better ride sometime in the future.
11. I like the look of the new Toyota Supra sports car that is about to hit the roads later this year.
Yes, it’s nearly 20 years now that the Supra was last seen on the roads before Toyota removed them from its product line-up.
How does the recent switch over from saloons to sports cars by Ford & Chevy influence Toyota’s decision to race the Supra in the NASCAR XFINITY Series?
I have to think this was one of, if not the, primary reasons that Toyota decided to roll out the Supra in the XFINITY Series.
They would want to have a similar car out on track to that of their competitors.
The Supra also has somewhat of a cult following in the automotive industry, so certainly the popularity of this model played a role as well.
And why or why not does Toyota’s eventual plan to have the Camry replaced by the Supra at Cup level will help other car makers consider joining NASCAR in the years to come?
I’m not sure it will influence other car makers to join NASCAR until (or unless) the Supra is actually rolled out at the Cup level.
Other makers would want to know for sure that there would be some sort of return on investment.
Don’t get me wrong, there is already plenty of data out there for that very issue, if needed.
But in terms of how the Supra specifically can influence decisions, I believe we won’t see the effect of that until after the Supra has already been in Cup at least one season.
12. Which driver in your opinion will win this year’s XFINITY Series Championship as well as your pick on any particular youngsters in this series to graduate at the NASCAR Cup Series by the end of this season?
Christopher Bell — for both questions.
I believe Bell will win the championship this year and he will have a ride in the Cup Series announced by the end of 2019.
Thank you to Summer for your time, consent caption for the feature photo and I hope we talk again very soon.
If you like to keep in touch with Summer, make sure you follow her on Twitter.
Plus you can follow & read her range of articles via the Kickin The Tires’s Blog Archive page here.
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