By Robert Schloemer, NASCAR Fan Contributer – Follow on Twitter @SchloemerZ
*Editor’s note: The Schloemer Zone is a place for NASCAR fans to hear the ranting and raving of a true NASCAR fan — Robert Schloemer. Schloemer is not a trained journalist, and has no skin in the game financially, he is just a huge NASCAR fan and has agreed to bring his thoughts and opinions in a periodic column on The Final Lap.
Hold onto your hat folks. The 2019 NASCAR Xfinity season is shaping up to be a real barn burner. With Friday’s news of Ross Chastain earning a full-time ride in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro, and yesterday’s announcement of Austin Cindric in the No. 22 Penske Ford Mustang, we are seeing some big names being put into some top-notch cars!
Let’s recap these big names
Ross Chastain is the feel-good story of the year. While pointing his way into a playoff berth in the #4 JD Motorsports Chevrolet, Chastain was offered a three-race stint in Ganassi’s No. 42 car.
In his debut race for CGR at Darlington, Chastain lead a ton of laps and dominated stages 1 and 2. He then tangled with veteran driver Kevin Harvick, which unfortunately knocked the 25-year-old out of the race.
Chastain then went on to win at Las Vegas and finished runner-up in Richmond. That is a solid three race run.
John Hunter Nemechek also had a few races in the No. 42 car in 2018 and ended up scoring his first NXS win at Kansas. During Friday’s press conference announcing Chastain as the driver of the No. 42, Chip Ganassi also stated “I’d like to run John Hunter in a second car. I think we have two really, talented young guns. We’ve entrusted him with the (owner’s) championship. We really like him too.”
Could CGR run two cars next year? If so CGR could be the Xfinity powerhouse to beat.
Christopher Bell has been the man to beat all year and was the favorite to win the title, before bad luck struck at Kansas and then again at Texas. Both races were derailed after incidents on lap one.
Bell sits way below the cut line but if he can get a win at Phoenix it would put him back to the favorite to win the 2018 championship. It has been announced that Bell will run a second Xfinity season in 2019 for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Noah Gragson has taken the leap, leaving the Toyota camp to pilot the No. 1 car at JR Motorsports. Fast car, young enthusiastic driver, and sponsorship to boot, what more could a team owner ask for? I fully expect Gragson to win races in 2019.
Justin Allgaier is having a career year. The Illinois-native is making smart fast moves and is neck and neck with Bell in the win column. Look for Allgaier to continue that success in 2019 as the new veteran over at Junior Motorsports.
Cole Custer is showing success in Xfinity this year. After being booted out of the playoffs in 2017, he went on to win the final race at Homestead. This year, he won at Texas which has cemented his spot at the NXS Championship race. In doing so, Custer has become a serious heavyweight contender in the title contention for 2018.
Justin Haley: As of now, nothing has been confirmed but there are rumors that the GMS driver will be piloting the No. 11 car for Kaulig Racing. Where that puts Ryan Truex, I do not know, but even if Haley doesn’t get a seat in the 11 car, I could easily see – or would rather see — him in the GMS No. 23 Camaro next year.
The No. 23 car currently has an opening as current driver, Spencer Gallagher, has decided to step away from the driver’s seat. Haley has had a breakout year this season in the NASCAR Camping World truck series, with 3 wins (Gateway, Canadian Tire, and Texas). He is now locked into the championship round at Homestead in that series.
Though it could be said that Haley’s true claim to fame moment came at the summer Daytona Xfinity race, where on the last turn he dove to the bottom under a clash between Elliott Sadler and Kyle Larson. Haley crossed the finish line first, but the win was given to Larson as Haley crossed over the out of bounds lines.
The No. 9 car: With Tyler Reddick departing JR Motorsports, the No. 9 car has an open seat, we still have no clue who will be piloting the car, but a talented driver could also make the storied No. 9 car into a championship contender as Chase Elliott and William Byron were able to do in it over the last few seasons.
With all of these big names running the NASCAR Xfinity Series next year, coupled with an updated Camaro body and an all new Supra from Toyota, I expect the 2019 XFINITY series to be a stellar show all year long. And who knows, maybe some other driver no one has heard from gets his/her big break?
Photo: Sam Wasson/Getty Images