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XFINITY

Rookie Outlook: XFINITY Series

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When looking at a rookie class one might wonder, how much success is possible for these drivers? Well, if the last couple of years in the XFINITY Series is any indication, the sky is the limit.

Three of the last five drivers to win the award have gone on to win the championship, and just by looking at whose eligible this year, it could be argued that it is likely to happen again in 2019.

With that said, let’s take a look at those who will be competing for the honor.

Chase Briscoe

Well, it could be argued that a lot of these drivers could be perceived as the favorite, Briscoe may have the best case for himself.

He has experience in the form of 17-race schedule last year, where he had four top-10’s and a win. Not to forget the 24-year-old will be driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, one of the best teams not only in the series but in the sport as a whole. SHR proved the strength in their program last year by winning the owner’s championship with Cole Custer behind the wheel.

The expectations will, and rightfully so, be high for Briscoe.

Noah Gragson

Speaking of high expectations, there is Gragson, who joins JR Motorsports, whose last three rookie drivers (Tyler Reddick, William Byron, and Chase Elliott) have won the championship. So, no pressure right?

However, the Las Vegas native has proven himself worthy of the ride after two full-time seasons in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, where he scored two wins, 12 top-five’s, and 30 top-10’s.

While he may not have as much XFINITY experience as some of his competitors, Gragson did have success in his three starts last season for Joe Gibbs Racing. His worst finish with the team was seventh, and he even came close to winning in his debut at Richmond Raceway in a runner-up effort.

John Hunter Nemechek

A team that has seen strong development over the last year, GMS Racing, partnered with a driver in Nemechek whose shown capable, could prove to be a lethal combo.

Nemechek comes from a season where he split time between XFINITY and trucks, where he was able to win in both. The 21-year-old showed off his talent in NASCAR’s second-tier series, where in addition his lone victory at Kansas Speedway, he was able to produce six top-five’s and 11 top-10’s in an 18-race effort for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Despite his impressive stat line though, he seemed to be overshadowed by Kyle Larson and Ganassi’s late-season addition, Ross Chastain, whom he split the No. 42 with.

With the ride at GMS all to himself, it will be interesting to see how he capitalizes on the opportunity.

Justin Haley

How about a dark horse? Haley enters the 2019 season, relatively under the radar, despite being impressive in 2018.

The 19-year-old was able to capture three wins in the truck series last year, and produced a strong enough playoff run to get himself into the series’ Championship 4. He also made three starts in XFINITY for GMS, where he was one legal pass away from winning at Daytona International Speedway.

This year though, Haley will be with a different team in Kaulig Racing, whose fielded a playoff entry in each of the last three seasons and, saw a noticeable increase in performance last year, scoring 11 top-10’s with then-driver, Ryan Truex.

Gray Gaulding

A driver who actually has more experience in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Gaulding looks to develop a much more stable schedule after spending the last few seasons jumping around multiple teams.

He joins SS-Green Light Racing to drive the No. 08 Chevrolet. The team fielded an entry for Spencer Boyd in 2018, averaging a 26.9 finish.

Seeing how Gaulding has never had one season-long ride to himself, it will be interesting to see how the 20-year-old can improve being with just the one team.

Matt Mills

Mills, who ran eight races last season in XFINITY, will join B.J. McLeod Racing in 2019 to drive the No. 8 Chevrolet.

The 22-year-old did get the chance to run two races with the team in 2018, where he was able to grab his season-best qualifying effort (25th) and matched his career-best finish (27th) at Richmond Raceway.

Part-Timers

The least experienced of all the drivers listed, Zane Smith, will join JR Motorsports for a limited schedule driving the No. 9 Chevrolet.

Despite his lack of experience, Smith is still well-accomplished, with four wins in the ARCA Racing Series and, a fifth-place finish in his truck debut last year.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Mitchell Breuer

Mitchell Breuer, is a 22-year-old Minnesota native who is currently attending Winona State University to obtain a degree in Mass Communications-Journalism. In addition to POPULAR SPEED, Mitchell is currently the sports editor at WSU's student paper, The Winonan.