Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Chandler Smith to Kaulig Further Shifts TRD’s 2023 Landscape

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On Wednesday (Oct. 5) Kaulig Racing announced that AJ Allmendinger would move to full-time NASCAR Cup Series racing, leaving the No. 16 Xfinity Series car open. Replacing him will be Chandler Smith, arguably the hottest driver in the Camping World Truck Series right now.

The move not only signifies a well-deserved move to the Xfinity Series for Smith, but also further creates a hole for Toyota, as Kyle Busch’s move to Richard Childress Racing means that Toyota is losing its best – and really only – feeder team in the Truck Series.

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, had expressed that he intended to keep all of Kyle Busch Motorsports’ current drivers within the Toyota family – Smith, Corey Heim, and John Hunter Nemechek. Smith’s move to Kaulig threw a wrench in that.

See also
Kaulig Announces AJ Allmendinger to Cup, Chandler Smith to Xfinity

Nemechek, more than likely, will fill one of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity Series seats, as there will be at least one seat open – the No. 19, which Brandon Jones will be vacating at season’s end to join JR Motorsports.

Heim will more than likely stay in the Truck Series another season, but if TRD intends to keep him, they need to find a team that will develop him to move up in the coming seasons, and right now, there are no teams to do that, unless a team switches manufacturers (ThorSport Racing and Halmar Friesen Racing are Toyota teams, but both are not true development teams).

There are reports that David Gilliland Racing will switch back to Toyota and Heim will join for the 2023 season. That would be best case scenario for Toyota – to get a multi-truck team to switch manufacturers and get one of its drivers to stay by switching teams. Because other than that, TRD drivers who wish to move up will either switch manufacturers or will make the bold leap straight to the Xfinity Series.

Although the former seems like the more likely option if that were the case. Smith is another soon-to-be former Toyota driver to switch to Chevrolet. Drivers like Noah Gragson, William Byron, and now Jones are all drivers who jumped to Chevy from Toyota (and look where they are now). Toyota has had a serious issue with finding spots in higher series for its talent pool, and now its number one feeder team in the Truck Series is on its way out too.

See also
Eyes on Xfinity: Chandler Smith & the Kaulig Racing Mold

The question then becomes: Who will replace Smith in the No. 18 truck? Will TRD let yet another driver get away? KBM is now at a crossroads with finding new drivers. The team could try to pull two-time ARCA Menards Series East champion Sammy Smith over to Chevy too, but aside from Ty Gibbs, Smith is a driver TRD will fight anyone and everyone to keep at this juncture.

Then, what about Chevy development? In ARCA, drivers such as Nick Sanchez, Daniel Dye and Rajah Caruth are tearing up the track (they are top three in ARCA points heading into the finale this weekend at Toledo), but all will probably stay another year to develop even more. The closest person to moving up would probably be Dye, but GMS Racing would sooner put him in a truck than letting KBM lure him away.

Not only is Toyota fighting to keep its drivers from switching manufacturers, KBM now has to find a TRD driver who can either jump ship with the team, or now needs to, in essence, scramble to find a Chevy driver to put in the No. 18 next season.

2023 is going to be a big year for Toyota, as it needs to find drivers and teams, preferably sooner rather than later. And we all thought silly season was calming down following the Kyle Busch to RCR announcement.

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TCinAZ

With only 2 cup teams this will continue until TRD writes a check bigger than it would have taken to keep KFB

Christopher

I’d say the biggest question is whether Toyota will even be in the sport in 5 years.

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