Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Spade Racing’s 2017 Nascar Xfinity Series Preview: The X Factors

With much of the focus on the newly-renamed Monster Energy Nascar Cup Series, you might not be sure what’s going on in the oldly-renamed Nascar Xfinity Series for 2017.  Thankfully Spade Racing is here to show YOU what’s going on, team-by-team, in a series that combines none of the stories of the Truck Series with none of the excitement of the Cup Series.

# Driver (Major Sponsors)—Preview

RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING—A whopping FIVE Xfinity Series cars will be on the track for RCR for most (if not all) of the year, proving that if you can’t beat ‘em in Cup, join ‘em at a lower level (aka The Roush Method).
2 Austin Dillon/Paul Menard (Menards)—Expect to see this car in victory lane a time or two this year, and for it to be ONLY visit to victory lane in a car for either of these drivers in any series.  X-FACTOR: Why does RCR run the #2 in Xfinity and Penske does not?  The world may never know.
3 Ty Dillon/? (?)—Ty Dillon will run “most of the schedule”, but the car will run full-time with assorted other drivers not lucky enough to be related to a Childress or a multi-millionaire.  Well, unless Brian Scott makes a comeback.  X-FACTOR: Ty is NOT affected by the new restrictions on Cup drivers in Xfinity, because he has less than five years Cup experience—even though he has the equivalency of more than a full Cup season, and somehow can run for Rookie of the Year there.
21 Daniel Hemric (?)—After an impressive run in the Truck Series, Hemric moves up to Xfinity full-time with RCR.  X-FACTOR: How’d he get a ride with RCR with no sponsorship (that we know of) or familiar relations?
33 Brandon Jones (?)—Brandon Jones is back to tell the world, “No, I’m NOT related to Buckshot).  X-FACTOR: Let me know when they run a Skoal Bandit throwback scheme at Darlington.
62 Brendan Gaughan (South Point)—Despite rumors to the contrary, everybody’s favorite affable legacy driver returns to hunt an elusive Xfinity Championship.  X-FACTOR: Now that Tony Stewart’s retired, Brendan officially takes over the mantle of “Chubby Driver The Media Loves to Tease”.

JR MOTORSPORTS—Its FOUR full-time teams for Hendrick Motorsports’ #2 developmental team (Ganassi being #1 of course).
1 Elliott Sadler (OneMain)—The Xfinity Series’ favorite veteran returns after nearly losing his sponsor (and his ride) due to a change in management.  X-FACTOR: Ironically driving the car #1 hasn’t led to first-place results since, well, ever (sorry, Rick Mast
5 Michael Annett (Pilot/Flying J)—People wondered if HScott Motorsports’ lack of performance was due to substandard equipment, since they rarely had top-flight drivers.  Then Clint Bowyer came over and yes, yes it was.  X-FACTOR: The owner of Pilot/Flying J also owns the Cleveland Browns.  Having the Browns Stank on you NEVER helps.
7 Jushin “Thunder” Allgaier (Brandt)—The Little Gator is OK with his nickname, but with a year of top-level equipment experience under his belt, I’m guessing he’d rather be known as “The Little Champion”.  X-FACTOR: The “Hey, he designs his own paint schemes!” story that runs every single year must be wearing thin on him.
9 William Byron (Liberty University)—After dominating the win column of the Truck Series last year, he’ll be under pressure to perform on the track in the car and off the track in lame commercials.  X-FACTOR: How will he react to driving for a team owner that people actually LIKE?
88 Dale Earnhardt/Kasey Kahne (the usual suspects)—The “All-Star Car” returns on a part-time basis to sell diecast and promote one of these drivers’ 47 different sponsors.  X-FACTOR: With Harvick gone, they’ll be left with tons of Vienna Sausages to get rid of.

JOE GIBBS RACING—Two cars are confirmed, with a third almost-certain to take to the track to allow Erik Jones to gain further seat-time, and Kyle Busch to inflate his ego.
18 Matt Tifft (?)—This number assignment isn’t 100%, but let’s see what this guy can do in a top-flight full-time ride while HEALTHY.  X-FACTOR: Would it take three or four weeks of sub-par performances for Kyle Busch to “take a few races on the schedule to see how the cars measure up”?
19 Daniel Suarez/Christopher Bell? (Arris)—The reigning champion is back to defend his crown!  X-FACTOR: Daniel’s future is hampered by a logjam at the Cup level at JGR—well, a logjam until Denny Hamlin breaks his spleen or needs a tonsil transplant or something.
20 Kyle Busch/Erik Jones/? (Cup Series runoff)—The JGR “All-Star Car” will likely return with the usual collection of drivers, sponsors, and crewmen nearly good enough for Cup—kinda like AAA baseball, but more irritating.  X-FACTOR: Yeah, Rowdy running Xfinity is still annoying, but any chances to see his smoking hot wife in victory lane is fine by me.

JD MOTORSPORTS WITH GARY KELLER—The series’ most-prolific low-numbered lowbuck team is expected to return with three full-time cars again.
0 Garrett Smithley (?)—While not official yet, Smithley is expected to return in the “Jack Sprague Special” single-zero car again.  X-FACTOR: What if Smithley simply runs this car because he has nothing better to do?
01 Harrison Rhodes (?)—Ryan Preece has returned to regional racing, but this team is expected to remain full-time.  X-FACTOR: This team is much like Harrison's alma mater, NC State--nobody cares.
4 Ross Chastain (Watermelons)—Another year, another watermelon board-sponsored car, another season without the Gallagher special paint scheme he so richly deserves.  X-FACTOR: Remember when it seemed like Ross had a shot at a top-level ride?  No, really, it happened for a few weeks!

TEAM PENSKE—The Captain expands to two full-time teams in 2017, which sounds cool until you realize its to clear up space at BKR’s Truck Series program for the team manager’s son.
12 ? (?)—Not much is known yet about this team, but with Roger’s midas touch you can expect to see it sponsored and with a driver on the way to victory lane pretty quickly.  X-FACTOR: How long till David Stremme shows up asking for his ride back?
22 Brad Keselowski/Joey Logano/Ryan Blaney/? (Discount Tire et al)—Penske’s “All-Star Car” returns to develop crew members and stroke driver egos.  X-FACTOR: Who will run the road courses this year?  Is hoping for Alon Day just wishful thinking?

ROUSH-FENWAY RACING—If you like a driver who deserves to have win, and a driver who doesn’t deserve to have a win but does, this is your team.
6 Darrell Wallace Jr. (Lidos?)—Bubba’s thisclose to going from being a possible Jason Keller to becoming the next Kevin Lepage.  X-FACTOR: Maybe Bubba can parlay his friendship with Ryan Blaney into a $19.99 oil change at his local QuickLane.
16 Ryan Reed (Drive to End Diabetes by Lilly)—The next time some idiot is complaining about “minorities”, “foreigners”, or “womens” getting sponsorship just because of who they are and not their ability, remind them that this team exists.  X-FACTOR: Reed could show up in a few Cup races this year, guaranteeing at least a few cautions.

CHIP GANASSI RACING—Why yes, it IS ironic that a team with a solar energy sponsor won a race in the rain last year.
42 Kyle Larson/Tyler Reddick/Justin Marks (Eneos?)—Looks like Reddick will get the lion’s share of this ride, with Larson running about a dozen races and Marks running the road courses.  X-FACTOR: Where the heck does Marks get his money from?  Is he just a damn good businessman?
48 Brennan Poole (DC Solar)—Why does a solar energy company sponsor a gas-powered car?  X-FACTOR: And why is it called “DC Solar” if its based in California?

STEWART-HAAS RACING—Smoke n’ Gene’s team enters the Xfinity Series for the first time, thanks to a manufacturer switch and a team manager who stayed loyal through some rough times.
00 Cole Custer (Haas Automation)—See, you don’t have to be the son of a millionaire to be a race car driver—you just have to be the son of a millionaire’s top employee.  X-FACTOR: I hope the main office is ready for the flood of orders for CNC machines that will result from this team taking the track.

41 Kevin Harvick/? (Hunt Brothers Pizza)—Happy will run at least four races in this part-time car in 2017.  X-FACTOR: What if Danica decides to run some Xfinity races—will they have enough cars?  No, not that she’d run the races Harvick has scheduled, just the sheer volume of wrecked race cars that would result.

# Driver (Major Sponsors)—Preview

OBAIKA RACING—Everybody’s favorite irrelevant team returns to the back of the pack for with two close-to-full-time teams this year.
77 Stephen Leicht (?)—You’ll likely see this car “running” in 30th most weeks.  X-FACTOR: I miss Robert Pressley.
97 ? (Vroom Brands)—You’ll likely see this car “running” in 31st most weeks.  X-FACTOR: I don’t miss Chad Little.

JGL RACING—Dakoda Armstrong & Co. return with a full-time and nearly-full-time team in 2017.
28 Dakoda Armstrong (Winfield)—Strong TRD engines with JGR equipment and steady sponsorship—what more could a team want?  Oh, right, a talented driver.  X-FACTOR: How long till Dakoda adopts the nickname “Dak” in an attempt to glom on to the success of Dallas’s quarterback?
24 “The Young Guns” (?)—JGL is expected to return with its collection of unsigned inexperienced drivers this year.  X-FACTOR: Hey—remember the “Hungry Drivers” program?  Talk about a great way for Ray Evernham to find a second wife!

RSS RACING—The Official Underdog of Nascar is back!
39 Ryan Sieg (?)—It remains to be seen if Ryan Sieg runs his own team because he’s a rebel, because he just can’t catch a break, or because he has really poor job interview skills.  X-FACTOR: Just a reminder that if he makes the Chase it’ll be “…further proof that the Chase system works” somehow.
93 ? (?)—This team is expected to run again primarily as a start-and-park operation.  X-FACTOR: Yeah, start-and-parks suck, but its the nature of the beast, the beast in THIS case being running an Xfinity Series car with no Cup level support.

ONE CAR TEAMS—What they lack in numbers they make up for in guaranteed rides.
11 Blake Koch (LeafFilter)—Kaulig Racing returns with solid (team-backed) sponsorship, solid (RCR-backed) equipment, and solid (Chase-infused) chances of contending.  X-FACTOR: Its pronounced to rhyme with “Woke”, not rhyme with “Botch”, so you can avoid the “How’m I doin?” jokes.
23 Spencer Gallagher (Allegiant)—GMS Racing continues its ascent through the racing ranks, running full-time for 2017 in Xfinity.  X-FACTOR: Now that John Wes Townley is gone, he won’t have to worry about getting into an embarrassing fight again…hopefully.
46 Brandon Gdovic (?)—PPM’s driver is light on results, but he is the son of the team owner, so he has that going for him.  X-FACTOR: This is the remnants of the old Viva Motorsports team, for all zero of you who care.
86 Brandon Brown (Coastal Carolina)—Brandonbilt Motorsports runs the OTHER team sponsored by a college this year, expected to be full-time.  X-FACTOR: This is another team owned by the driver’s daddy, so I don’t know exactly how the son “bilt” it.
78/15/99 BJ McLeod, Jeff Green et al (?)—While this team has run two or three teams in the past, and plans to do the same in 2017, their performance, distilled down, equals that of a single-car lowbuck team.  X-FACTOR: Sure we know about BJ McLeod, but what about The Bear McLeod?

TO BE ANNOUNCED—For these teams, the “X-FACTOR” is whether or not they’ll actually run in 2017.
07 Ray Black Jr. (ScubaLife)—He’s usually good for at least one pre-race story about how WACKY it is to have a scuba-licensed Nascar driver.
14/44 ? (?)—TriStar’s team situation is still up in the air, thus putting JJ Yeley in danger of having to reach into his Joe Gibbs Racing money.
13/40 ? (?)—MBM (aka Carl Long’s team) continues to not sell team-branded merchandise EVEN THOUGH the team name is my own initials!
51 Jeremy Clements (?)—Other than Jeremy Clements and his father, I doubt anybody really cares, well, besides that guy from MTV.
52 Joey Gase (?)—It would suck to see Jimmy Means Racing go away, though I’m starting to wonder if the team has a Rasputin-type quality and will never truly go out of business.
74 Mike Harmon (?)—aka Nascar’s Bowling Ball Driver.
89 Morgan Shepherd (Racing for Jesus)—How long has Morgan Shepherd been racing?  He’s been racing so long that jokes about him being old are old.
90/92 ? (?)—aka That Team Martin Roy ran for.
98 Aric Almirola (?)—No word on if double-A will migrate over to one of Stewart-Haas’s Xfinity teams, or stick with these guys and constant rumors about Jeb Burton running for them.