Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Corey Heim, Taylor Gray Proving Worthy of Promotion

Last week, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series had an off-week, and as usual, some Truck Series regulars took the opportunity to compete in other series. This ranged anywhere from local short tracks to the NASCAR Xfinity Series, which competed at Richmond Raceway.

Two drivers in particular put together noteworthy performances that ought to have Xfinity team owners considering them for any open vacancies in 2025.

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For Corey Heim, it should be no surprise. Returning to Sam Hunt Racing on a part-time basis this season, Heim scored a top 10 in his four-race slate with SHR in 2023, on top of his insane performance in the Truck Series. Heim was the regular season champion despite missing a race at World Wide Technology Raceway due to an undisclosed illness.

Heim was the odds on favorite to win the Truck Series championship at Phoenix Raceway before he was spun by Carson Hocevar, igniting a farce of an ending to the championship race.

To the surprise of many, Heim returned to his TRICON Garage No. 11 in 2024 for another season. Heim was seen as the favorite to take over Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 in Xfinity, as its driver John Hunter Nemechek was promoted to Cup competition, but Heim stayed in the Truck Series, a move that arguably caused Toyota to lose Jesse Love to Richard Childress Racing and Chevrolet.

This season, Heim has started his revenge tour relatively hot, winning the most recent Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas. The Xfinity race at Richmond marked Heim’s third start of the season. He currently has an average starting position of 8.3 this season in the Xfinity Series, including his sixth place starting spot at Richmond.

Heim brought his No. 26 home fourth at Richmond, the final part of a 1-2-3-4 finish for Toyota, his second Xfinity top 10 in seven total starts so far. It’s his best career Xfinity finish thus far with plenty of season left.

Finishing one spot ahead of him was TRICON teammate Taylor Gray, making his Xfinity Series debut driving the No. 19 for Joe Gibbs Racing.

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Gray hasn’t had as much hype around him throughout his career as Heim has, but he arguably is close, if not level with Heim talent-wise. Gray has found variable levels of success in the ARCA Menards Series, winning several ARCA Menards Series East, ARCA Menards Series West, and Main races.

TRICON gave Gray a part-time opportunity in the Truck Series in 2021 and 2022, where he earned two top 10s and almost won at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2022 before a late tangle with Nemechek.

Gray had a somewhat forgettable rookie season in 2023 that started by missing the first three races of the year due to age restrictions. He ended the year with two top fives in the final five races and has since carried the momentum into this season.

In his first official full-time Truck Series season in 2024, Gray has four top-10s in five races. He should be riding a top-10 streak to start the season but was turned from second place at Daytona International Speedway and flipped into a 19th-place finish.

But the point remains Gray has finally found his footing in the Truck Series, and has backed that up nicely in his Xfinity debut. Gray is running part-time for JGR in Xfinity this season, and if third is what he can do in his debut, one can only imagine what he might do in the starts he makes later this season, wherever they may be.

As mentioned, Gray finished third at Richmond as part of not only Toyota’s 1-2-3-4 finish, but also a JGR 1-2-3, as teammates Chandler Smith and Aric Almirola bested the 19-year-old.

For Gray, it’s safe to say that he’ll have a ride next season no matter what, as TRICON Garage is part-owned by his grandfather Johnny Gray, a former NHRA racer, much like Taylor’s brother Tanner, who began in NHRA before transitioning to stock cars.

So whether Gray gets promoted or not, his seat at TRICON is there as long as he needs or wants it. While Heim isn’t in the same boat, there’s reason to believe TRICON and Toyota don’t want to lose one of their top prospects.

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But where would they go? Well, Heim has a connection with SHR, so it wouldn’t surprise me if it chose him for a full-time ride should JGR’s Xfinity seats be full in 2025. Heim is also a reserve and sim driver for both JGR and Legacy Motor Club. There are several paths for promotion for Heim that he can take advantage of.

As for Gray, the part-time Xfinity ride at JGR might be the way to go for now, as JGR has several lower series prospects in its stable right now. But with Martin Truex Jr. on his way out as soon as season’s end, with Denny Hamlin likely following suit not too long after, a full-time ride might be open for Gray sooner than imagined.

Last year, the talk of the Truck Series garage was about Hocevar and Zane Smith, who both earned Cup Series rides this season after their performances in the Truck Series.

By season’s end, don’t be surprised to hear the names of Corey Heim and Taylor Gray get thrown around in the context of promotion.

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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