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XFINITY

2017 XFINITY Season Could Be a Year-Long RCR vs. JRM Clash

Richard Childress Racing and JR Motorsports could be at the top of the heap in the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series season and dethrone Joe Gibbs Racing, which stood as the series’ most dominant organization throughout 2016.

With Carl Edwards’ unexpected leave from JGR’s No. 19 Toyota in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, defending XFINITY champion and JGR driver Daniel Suarez was summoned to be his successor and run for Rookie of the Year honors in the sport’s premier level.

11-12 November, 2016, Avondale, Arizona USA Daniel Suarez, Arris Toyota Camry and Erik Jones, Hisense Toyota Camry © 2016, Nigel Kinrade NKP
(Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade | NKP)

Erik Jones, Suarez’s XFINITY teammate and the driver of the JGR No. 20 in 2016, is also moving to Cup to pilot the No. 77 for Toyota team Furniture Row Racing and run for Rookie of the Year in the upcoming season.

The two drivers, who both were part of the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November, will turn their focus to the Cup Series. Matt Tifft will drive the No. 19 in NASCAR’s second-tier series, replacing Suarez, and the rest of the organization’s plans are yet to be announced.

According to Jayski.com, all three of JGR’s XFINITY cars will run in 2017 with Tifft going full-time and Suarez running a 10-race schedule. There is still no determination if JGR will have a second series regular.

It can be expected Kyle Busch will run a partial XFINITY schedule too, although he’ll be unable to compete in more than 10 races because of a new rule limiting the participation of Cup drivers with more than five years of full-time experience. Some of the discussions have also surrounded Kyle Busch Motorsports Camping World Truck Series driver Christopher Bell possibly getting to run some races. Dave Wilson, President of Toyota Racing Development, told the NASCAR Wire Service he has “a solid plan for Christopher” and “would like to get him into an XFINITY car for a couple races.”

15-16 July, 2016, Loudon, New Hampshire USA Ty Dillon, Alex Bowman and Austin Dillon ©2016, Russell LaBounty NKP
(Photo credit: Russell LaBounty | NKP)

RCR will run five full-time cars, three of which will be driven by series regulars. Daniel Hemric graduates from the Truck Series to drive the No. 21, Brandon Jones returns for his sophomore season in the No. 33, and Brendan Gaughan will continue to race the No. 62. RCR’s No. 2 and No. 3 cars will be driven by a variety of drivers, including Cup regulars Austin Dillon and Paul Menard, and Ty Dillon will compete in about 20 races.

Ty will also be running for Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series after being named the full-time driver of the No. 13 for Germain Racing for 2017.

18-19 November, 2016, Homestead, Florida USA Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier © 2016, Nigel Kinrade NKP
(Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade | NKP)

JRM will have four full-time drivers this year. Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier both return to race the No. 1 and No. 7, respectively, and newcomers Michael Annett and William Byron also will compete for the XFINITY championship (Annett will be in the No. 5 and Byron in the No. 9.). The No. 88 will be a fifth JRM car in four events, with team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne splitting the seat time two races apiece.

RCR and JRM, both being Chevrolet teams with Cup-level resources, will occupy nine of the 40 spots available in the XFINITY field on a weekly basis. So they can potentially win a lot of races this year … A LOT.

The 2016 season was essentially JGR versus JRM, with the Toyota team usually having the slight upper hand. The Championship 4 race attested to this — it was both JRM regulars competing against both JGR regulars, with a JGR driver, Suarez, winning the title.

The series might have a different dynamic this year with the rival-Chevy teams winning and all the other teams, including 2016-winning organizations like JGR, Team Penske, and Chip Ganassi Racing, chasing in their tracks.

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By John Haverlin

John Haverlin is currently studying Communication at Arizona State University. He has been a reporter at Phoenix International Raceway for three years and has written news stories for the track's official site. Born and raised in Long Island, N.Y., Haverlin has lived in Arizona the past three years.