Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Who Is Joe Gibbs’ Next Xfinity Prospect?

1. Can RFK Racing pass the Kansas test?

They’ve been fast everywhere else, but this weekend will be the true test in seeing if RFK Racing is the real deal.

Chris Buescher once again surprised many this past weekend at Darlington Raceway when he finished third, earning his fifth top-10 result in the last six races and his first top five at the 1.33-mile track in 13 starts.

While it may be too early to determine if RFK Racing is on the verge of making a run for the championship, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to argue against each week.

But there are few tracks that will truly test the two-car organization more than that of Kansas Speedway.

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In the last nine years, RFK Racing has earned only one top-five finish at the 1.5-mile midwestern circuit (Carl Edwards in 2014). In that same time frame, the team has earned only three top 10s.

Additionally, its 1.5-mile intermediate performance has lacked. In 2023, both cars have combined to earn only one top 10 at the track type when Buescher finished eighth at Charlotte Motor Speedway this year.

Despite all of that, RFK does have at least one advantage it can count on when it comes to overcoming their own issues: momentum. Thankfully, both Buescher and Brad Keselowski have finished in the top 10 in four of the last six races. The only ones they didn’t? Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Watkins Glen International. Road courses.

But it isn’t their lack of speed RFK should be most afraid of; rather, it’s the speed that other manufacturers and teams have.

Since using the Next Gen car, there has not been one race where more than one Ford driver has finished in the top 10.

Why? Because most of the other positions have been taken by teams like Joe Gibbs Racing, 23XI Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.

2. Where will win No. 300 be for Mr. Hendrick?

We may witness NASCAR history being made as soon as this weekend.

You may have missed it, but this past Sunday (Sept. 3) saw Kyle Larson take HMS one step closer to NASCAR history when he won the organization’s 299th Cup Series victory.

Think about that for a second.

In the entire 75 years of NASCAR racing history, no team has come close to reaching that milestone. That includes the pre-modern era when there were seasons that included up to 62 races in a single year — nearly double the amount that there are today — giving race teams like Petty Enterprises or Wood Brothers Racing ample opportunity to rack up those wins in a short amount of time. Yet they didn’t.

Despite that, even in this age of what is perhaps the most competitive racing we have ever seen, HMS has still remained successful all this time.

Now the question is, when will it reach No. 300?

While it’s only won three of the last 18 races at Kansas, it has run up front. HMS has led the most laps at Kansas in four of the last five races there and probably would have won the most recent one there if it weren’t for last-lap contact between HMS driver Larson and Denny Hamlin.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say Toyota really does dominate this Sunday, and HMS will need to wait a little longer for another win.

Then next is Bristol Motor Speedway, a track where HMS has only four wins at in the last 16 years (or 29 races). It doesn’t imbue you with confidence at first, but don’t forget that the team has also won three of the four short track races this season (four of the five if you count the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway).

In all honesty, most tracks on the rest of the schedule have a chance of a Hendrick win, but none of them more so than perhaps the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.

In only its five years of existence, the ROVAL has been won three times by an HMS driver. Additionally, last year’s race, while not won by the team, had the most laps led by a HMS driver in Chase Elliott.

3. Who will be Joe Gibbs’ new Xfinity prospect?

With John Hunter Nemechek moving on to Legacy Motor Club in 2024, it leaves an open seat in what is arguably the most competitive team in the NASCAR Xfinity Series garage.

But the question remains, who will take it over?

It’s only natural to assume its the next driver in the Toyota development lineup, which is NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regular season champion Corey Heim.

The TRICON Garage racer has impressed early on in his upbringing in the lower-tier NASCAR series. In the ARCA Menards Series, he earned nine total race wins, including six during his only full-time season in 2021.

More recently, he earned two wins in his part-time schedule in the Truck Series last year and two more in 2023, where he has established himself as an easy favorite for this year’s championship.

But what if JGR has other plans?

The No. 19 JGR entry has fielded quite a few drivers that hope of a more concrete full-time ride with the successful race team — drivers like Ryan Truex.

With older brother Martin Truex Jr. reaching the twilight of his career, there could be some roles left unfilled when he finally departs the sport. Perhaps JGR would like another Truex to take his place?

It would make sense. Truex has been one of the sport’s ultimate journeymen, racing for 11 different teams across all three series before returning to a part-time role with Gibbs and finally earning his first career NASCAR win at Dover Motor Speedway this season. In other words? He certainly has the experience.

What he doesn’t have, however, is a Daytona 500 victory unlike another part-time Gibbs driver in 2023, Trevor Bayne.

While he hasn’t won with the Toyota team yet, Bayne has earned five top fives and seven top 10s in only 10 starts with it so far. While one of those wasn’t in his only start this year at Daytona International Speedway, he did lead 26 laps on the 2.5-mile oval before being taken out by a late-race crash.

More realistically, however, it isn’t driver talent and results alone that land you a Xfinity ride. Sometimes you need sponsorship, and there are a few Gibbs entries this year that have just that.

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4. Is Legacy Motor Club finally on the upswing?

Legacy Motor Club has been on a hot streak lately, and that doesn’t only include Darlington.

In the first half of the races run so far this season, Erik Jones had only three top-15 finishes. In the second half, he has earned six with the most recent coming at Darlington where he ran as high as third at one point.

There’s also worth the mention of temporary driver Carson Hocevar, who competed in only his second-career Cup race at the South Carolina circuit and managed to put a 17th-place finish for the No. 42 car — the second-best result for the entry all season.

It isn’t Joe Gibbs Racing or Hendrick levels of success, but there are signs of improvement, and with the recent announcement of them signing Toyota driver Nemechek, it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

In only nine short weeks, Legacy will no longer be competing as a Chevrolet team as it makes its switch to the Toyota fleet in 2024. The last new Toyota Cup team was 23XI Racing, which has already earned four wins in the last two years and now has both of its entries competing for a championship in the playoffs.

With Legacy having support from its OEM again in 2024 and results becoming slightly better at the end of this year, could Legacy soon follow in 23XI’s footsteps?

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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Good sense of humor. Your joking about Ryan Truex, right 😳

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