As Daniel Suarez moves up to replace Carl Edwards, his XFINITY ride has suddenly opened up. Who will take over for the upcoming season?
Carl Edwards shocked the NASCAR world this week by announcing his sudden retirement from the sport. While Edwards left the door open to return to the sport in the future, in all likelihood we’ve seen the last of Cousin Carl. Many of Edwards’ fans are disappointed and angry at the 37-year old driver’s decision. However, there is a lot for Joe Gibbs Racing fans to be excited about. The team has a strong stable of young drivers ready to rise through NASCAR’s ranks. Daniel Suarez, the Mexican driver who won the 2016 XFINITY championship, will replace Edwards in 2017.
Suarez was originally slated to again drive the #19 Toyota in the XFINITY series in 2017. So far, Joe Gibbs Racing has not announced who will be replacing Suarez in the car. We do know that the #19 team won’t have a full-time driver. Matt Tifft, driving the #20 Toyota, will be the only Gibbs driver racing the full XFINITY season. ESPN’s Bob Pockrass reported that Suarez will drive about 10 races in the car next season. This move will ensure that Suarez gets more seat time and more experience needed to succeed in the Monster Energy Cup Series.
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However, the team has not announced who will race in the other 23 XFINITY races. Because Carl Edwards announced his retirement so late (he didn’t tell the team he was considering stepping away until Christmas), Joe Gibbs lost out on signing William Byron to run in the XFINITY series. The young driver won 7 races in the Truck Series last year while driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Byron, who wasn’t offered a second-series ride by Joe Gibbs, jumped ship to Hendrick Motorsports. Dale Earnhardt Jr poached one of Gibbs’ star drivers, signing Byron to his XFINITY team.
Erik Jones, Gibbs’ other star prospect, will drive for JGR affiliate Furniture Row Racing in 2017. Thus, we’ll likely see the #19 car raced by multiple drivers next year. Joe Gibbs’ two best talents will be starting their rookie years in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. However, the team does have a solid stable of drivers both young and old to fill in for the #19 team.
As far as established drivers go, expect to see Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, and Denny Hamlin to see a few races each in the #19 machine. Joe Gibbs Racing has had Kenseth and Hamlin race several second-series races each year. These races help the drivers prepare for the main event the next day. They also help Gibbs compete for the XFINITY owner’s championship. With Jones making the jump to NASCAR’s premier series, expect to see him work in with the other two drivers to prepare for his races.
While many fans will be excited to see these marquee names in the XFINITY series, the young drivers in the car will be just as intriguing. There are three names we’re likely to see get exposure in the #19 Toyota: Christopher Bell, Cody Coughlin and Drew Herring. Bell and Coughlin are in similar situations. Both drove for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the truck series last year. Coughlin ran a partial 10 race schedule, failing to finish higher than 12th. Meanwhile, Bell excelled, winning one race and finishing 3rd overall in his rookie year.
While neither driver has ever raced in the XFINITY series, they’re both prime candidates to get their first starts in NASCAR’s second level. As Bell has shown more promise, expect him to get more time in the #19 car. Gibbs could possibly bring him up for a full-time ride in 2018. Any remaining starts will probably be taken by Drew Herring. Herring, a 29-year old dirt track racer, has made a few starts a year for Gibbs’ XFINITY team since 2012. He doesn’t bring the sponsorship that other drivers have to the table. However, he has shown potential in his limited races. Herring has run strong at Iowa and other shorter tracks. Don’t be surprised to see the unheralded racer make 1 or 2 starts in the Gibbs Toyota.
As Suarez moves up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, his XFINITY ride will be shared by a platoon of drivers. While the team competes for the owner’s championship, Bell, Coughlin, and Herring will be auditioning for future rides in the sport. Don’t be surprised to see one of those three take over the car full-time in 2018.