Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: Is ARCA-to-Xfinity the Way to Go for Rising Stars?

As the NASCAR Xfinity Series kicks off its season, one driver has caught the attention of the garage after a surprising start to the season.

Jesse Love joined Richard Childress Racing over the offseason after he was announced as Sheldon Creed‘s replacement in the No. 2. The move was seen as a shock, and even Love has mentioned that the move was not the one he expected.

It had largely been believed that John Hunter Nemechek, who drove Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 in the Xfinity Series in 2023, would be promoted to the Cup Series, driving the No. 42 for Legacy Motor Club. When that happened, many believed that NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Corey Heim would get the call to replace Nemechek in Xfinity competition.

In turn, Love, who was full-time in the ARCA Menards Series for Toyota-backed Venturini Motorsports, would replace Heim in the TRICON Garage No. 11. Love made three starts in the Truck Series for TRICON in 2023 (including one race at World Wide Technology Raceway where he drove Heim’s No. 11 when Heim sat out due to an undisclosed illness), so the move would have made sense. Furthermore, with Love backed by Toyota Racing Development, a move from ARCA’s flagship Toyota team to the Truck Series’ flagship Toyota team was a no-brainer.

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But surprisingly, Heim returned to his No. 11 full-time for 2024, barring Love an opportunity to go full-time Truck Series racing. So when Creed left RCR, Love was contacted by the team, and Love opted to skip the Truck Series altogether to progress his NASCAR Cup Series aspirations.

So far, the move has paid off. While the results on the scorecard haven’t served as a good reflection, Love scored back-to-back poles in the opening two races of the season and dominated the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway before running out of fuel on the final restart. And all without more than three races in the Truck Series.

Normally, a driver’s progression through the NASCAR ranks starts in the Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series before moving to either full-time ARCA East or West, or even the main ARCA series. After a year or two doing that, the driver moves up to the Truck Series, then the Xfinity Series, and then finally the Cup Series.

However Love now joins a long list of drivers who made the jump straight to Xfinity from ARCA, bypassing a full season in the Truck Series. Recent drivers who have made the move include Ty Gibbs, Sammy Smith, Riley Herbst and Daniel Suarez. Brandon Jones, Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made similar moves, as did Joey Logano.

Eventually, it appears William Sawalich will follow in the footsteps of his ARCA rival Love. Even Frankie Muniz is in the same boat, jumping from full-time ARCA to part-time Xfinity, with no Truck Series experience.

While one would think the Truck Series is an essential stepping stone to doing well in the Xfinity and Cup Series, it seems to have worked out well for the drivers who have done it. Gibbs, Custer, Stenhouse and Suarez are Xfinity champions, while Logano is a two-time Cup champion. Meanwhile, Allgaier is one of the most successful Xfinity drivers without a title. Along with two Xfinity titles, Stenhouse has a Daytona 500 victory as well.

None of the guys listed have run a full season in the Truck Series. Hell, most of them haven’t even made more than 20 career starts in the Truck Series.

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So how relevant is the Truck Series to driver development?

Don’t get me wrong, the series certainly is crucial to developing young drivers. However, the series has become more and more like ARCA itself in the way of both driver development and on-track racing.

If you’ve followed ARCA long enough, you may be aware of the term “ARCA brakes” that gets floated around the internet sometimes. This refers to ARCA drivers and their inability to slow down in time when a wreck occurs, inevitably becoming part of the wreck themselves. The 2009 ARCA season opener has many examples of “ARCA brakes” becoming an issue, including one scary crash that hospitalized Patrick Sheltra and Larry Hollenbeck.

But the respect level in ARCA has also gone down with the rise in young drivers in the sport. Drivers who come into the sport with less talent and more money have come in and have drawn the ire of many fans, teams, and drivers higher up in NASCAR. Case in point: the tale of Sean Hingorani and Dean Thompson at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last season.

Now what does this have to do with the Truck Series?

Well, let’s start with the fact that the Truck Series has the same issues itself nowadays.

Lack of respect in the Truck Series has been well-documented over the years, and it all came to a head in the disastrous 2023 championship race at Phoenix Raceway, in which an embarrassing display of driving by a plethora of drivers left fans with a sour taste in their mouths about the series going into the offseason.

But the Truck Series still serves as a launch point for several drivers hoping to go Cup racing one day. Just this past offseason, Zane Smith and Carson Hocevar jumped from the Truck Series to the Cup Series; ironically, they’re teammates at Spire Motorsports.

Meanwhile, Hailie Deegan moved up the Xfinity Series like Love, driving the No. 15 for AM Racing after spending three full seasons in the Truck Series. And other drivers such as Harrison Burton, Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson ran full-time trucks before moving up higher.

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So why are more drivers skipping the series altogether?

Well, part of that could be attributed to the affiliation ARCA had with NASCAR. Up until 2018, ARCA was essentially a feeder series for NASCAR while maintaining its own independent identity as a series. Then in 2018, NASCAR bought out ARCA, and while the racing is still questionable with regard to improvement, “ARCA brakes” have become less and less mentioned, and the series found itself a little bit more like a NASCAR racing series.

If you combine that with the regression in respectful racing in the Truck Series, and the two series are almost one in the same. To an up-and-coming driver, it doesn’t matter if you compete in one series or the other (or both), whichever one you choose has the potential to springboard you to Xfinity.

Not to mention, the success drivers like Gibbs, Suarez, Stenhouse, and Logano have had in Xfinity makes it clear that some drivers don’t necessarily need the Truck Series to better their careers. Sure, it couldn’t hurt, but if you feel like you’re ready for the Xfinity Series and there’s a ride available, like there was for Love, why not make the leap?

To be clear, I believe that a year in the Truck Series couldn’t hurt (though as the site’s primary Truck Series writer, I’m a little biased). But it’s been shown time and time again that it’s possible to jump to Xfinity with the only prerequisite being one full season in ARCA or Truck, instead of ARCA and Truck.

And for ARCA drivers hoping to move up, such as Hingorani, Andres Perez de Lara, Lavar Scott and Toni Breidinger, they might be keeping a close eye on Love’s performance this year. If he maintains and does well, then the flood gates could be opened for a chaotic 2025 silly season beyond just moving up to the Truck Series.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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