Through we’re nearly two months into the NASCAR XFINITY Series season, the young guns have joined the race for the title. Reigning champion Chase Elliott, along with Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher, are among those at the top of the standings five events into the 2015 season.
But the next set of drivers to join the XFINITY Series are approaching the sport’s second-tier division at a rapid pace.
With Elliott set to move up the ranks next year, and Dillon possibly following him to the Sprint Cup Series, there will be a few open seats with premier organizations. The next crop of XFINITY Series drivers are expected to move up within the next handful of seasons, and there are plenty that can come out of no where and rise to the top.
Sponsorship has been controlling the XFINITY Series for quite some time, but the newest generation of racers learned at a young age that money doesn’t grow on trees.
Let’s take a look at eight drivers that will likely be in the XFINITY Series within the next two years on a full-time basis:
JR Motorsports is going to be searching for a replacement for Elliott once he departs for Hendrick Motorsports in 2016. It will be tough to replace the 19-year-old champion, but going in-house is the team’s best bet.
Cole Custer is young, versatile and will be ready for the XFINITY Series before the start of next year. Custer has a win at Loudon in the Truck Series, two top 5s, six top 10s and a pair of pole awards. He would ideally have the funding to run full-time for JR Motorsports since he is backed by Gene Haas.
Running a handful of XFINITY Series events for JR Motorsports in 2014, Ben Rhodes could go full-time next year if he gathers enough funding to do so. His sponsor can’t afford to fund a car for the entire season, but his skill set should pay off this season. In four Truck Series starts, he has a top 5 and three top 10s. The reigning K&N Pro Series East champion won six events and finished in the top 10 at all but three races in his remarkable 2014 season.
The reigning ARCA Series champion is one of the most underrated drivers in the sport. He won the title for his self-owned team, and did so with limited funding. He has potential to team up with Roush Fenway Racing if one of its drivers move up to the Cup Series within the next two years, which is likely to happen with Chris Buescher. Roush is known to field cars for prospects without funding, so that will not be a problem if he can keep getting attention. In 46 ARCA Series events, he has a victory, 20 top 5s, 36 top 10s and seven poles. To end the 2014 season, Mitchell ran the season finale in the Truck Series with his team in a former Brad Keselowski Racing truck and finished 16th.
The best way to work up the ranks is by winning, and that is just what Dalton Sargeant is doing. The HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks driver won the season-opener for the K&N Pro Series West, and finished runner-up in the K&N Pro Series East race. Finishing second in the Snowball Derby to John Hunter Nemechek, Sargeant proved that going to Europe to race paid off, and now he has a perfect sponsor, Galt, to move up the rankings with him and the organization.
Jeff Gordon‘s cousin, James Bickford is set to move up the rankings sooner rather than later. He will not turn 18 until next March, but is gaining valuable experience with Sunrise Ford Racing, which is owned by Bob Bruncati. In his rookie season, Bickford won a race, and finished fifth in points with eight top 5s in 14 races. Though he doesn’t have an alliance with any teams yet, his on-track performances, along with being related to one of the greatest drivers in the sport’s history, will certainly help him. Expect him to be full-time in the XFINITY Series by 2017.
Another driver running for a team with his family, Austin Hill has excelled in the K&N Pro Series East. After winning his first race at Dover in 2013, he ran full-time last season and earned a pair of victories to conclude his rookie year. To start out 2015, he won the season opener at New Smyrna by leading all 151 laps. He made a splash in the Truck Series with two starts last season with RBR Enterprises, and ran up front at Daytona for Empire Racing to begin this season. He’s expected to move up the rankings to the XFINITY Series next year as long as he continues to impress.
John Hunter Nemechek
The son of Front Row Joe has taken off like a rocket in his limited time while racing in the Truck Series. John Hunter Nemechek, son of 1992 XFINITY Series champion Joe Nemechek, nearly won at Gateway last year until he wrecked late in the race. He won the Snowball Derby over the off-season, along with the All-American 400. Coming up steadily through the rankings, he will run the majority of the Truck Series schedule, and will fill out the schedule in the No. 8 truck once he turns 18 in June. With help from his father, expect Nemechek to make the jump to the XFINITY Series in a race or two by the end of the season. He will likely chase a championship in the Truck Series next year, with an expanded slate in the XFINITY Series. Expect him to be full-time in NASCAR’s second-tier division by 2017. In 13 Truck Series starts, he has a top 5 and six top 10s.
After speaking with Spencer Gallagher, the son of Allegiant Airlines CEO Maury Gallagher, it is clear that he has plans to move up to the XFINITY Series once he feels he has proved to himself that he can be competitive in that division. He is running full-time in the Truck Series this year for GMS Racing and sits eighth in points after three races. Gallagher won his first and only career ARCA Series race to end the year at Kansas, and is still riding high on momentum from that victory. The move to XFINITY full-time could be made in 2017, especially since he wants to take his time to do everything correctly instead of rushing through the rankings.