It is time to, once again put out my pre-season picks for the Xfinity Series for 2017. At the end of the season it is always interesting to look back to this post to see how close I was in picking a pre-season champion and Rookie of The Year. Sometimes I have been right on in my pre-season picks and then there have been times that I was not even close!
This year the rookie field is relatively small, just three drivers are running for that award.
The first driver to talk about is Stewart-Haas Racing’s young gun, Cole Custer. Last season Custer was piloting a truck out of the stables of JR Motorsports. Looking back Cole was somewhat handicapped racing for a team that focuses on the Xfinity Series. Additionally his race team was not housed on the JR Motorosports campus, rather it was off site in a building that also houses JRM’s Late Model efforts. Nevertheless, Custer had a relatively modest 2016 season, although not living up to some of his expectations, logging just 1 top five and 2 top ten finishes.
Another candidate to review is Daniel Hemric. Hemric competed in the CWTS for the last two years accumulating some nice credentials. For those two years, 2015 and 2016, he raced in a total of 46 CWTS races gathering up 15 top fives and 30 top ten finishes! Additionally, Daniel led 147 laps in those two years.
Lastly, William Byron may be the driver that is most visible on everyone’s radar scope, and the highest profile driver of 2016! This 19 year old young gun had an unbelievable rookie season in the Truck Series. While running all 23 races Byron accumulated 7 wins, the most of any driver in that series, 11 top fives, 16 top ten finishes and leading 727 of the 3254 total laps.
After reviewing the resumes of these three young men it is extremely hard to overlook the credentials of William Byron and his meteoric rise in NASCAR. Therefore, my choice comes straight from my good friend, Captain Obvious! My choice for the NXS Rookie of The Year award is William Byron!
Now trying to select a champion for the NXS requires a little more homework.
The first driver on my radar screen is the ol wily veteran, Elliott Sadler. Sadler returns again this year to the JR Motorsports stable of drivers. Even though Sadler finished on a strong note last year, there was turmoil midseason when his sponsor, One Main Financial, first signaled that they were leaving the series at the end of 2016. But by the end of the summer months One Financial had a change of heart and re-signed with JRM to continue to support that team for 20 races this year. I am inclined to think that Elliott is most likely past his prime for winning a championship at the age of 41 years old.
Could a young gun, and rookie, like Cole Custer have a shot at the hardware at Homestead? There is a remote possibility that it could happen. He has “come home” to Stewart-Haas Racing, but he is in the midst of a start-up NXS team there. Even though Kevin Harvick has stated that he is very involved in this start-up team, it is just that-a start-up team. I think that picking Cole Custer to explode onto the NXS scene and win the championship would be a huge dark-horse pick. More importantly that would be a great feel good story like the 1980 US Hockey team beating the Soviet Union in the Olympics, a miracle!
The two Roush Fenway Racing drivers, Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Ryan Reed will not be a factor this year. That whole organization, RFR, has much work to do to reclaim their once prowess in racing!
The spotlight now shines on the one Joe Gibbs Racing driver that is the only full time driver announced so far in the NXS, Matt Tifft. As you well may remember the feel good story about Matt Tifft last year. That young man had brain surgery in July to remove a brain tumor and climbed back into a race car in late September! Tifft has talent, no doubt, and he is with the JGR No. 19 team that won the NXS championship in 2016, however, I am not so sure that he can pull off a championship run at this particular stage of his career.
Daniel Hemric moves over to Richard Childress Racing this season from a season with Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series. Hemric is a very talented driver with a lot of potential, but is RCR up for the challenge in the NXS arena? Therein lies a very question and a very key part of the puzzle that may be missing presently. Therefore, I do not think that RCR is a strong enough organization, at this point, to make a certified run for the trophy with this driver or any of their five race teams this year.
So with that in mind I have put all my marbles into one bag this year. I think that William Byron is with a team and in a position to walk away with both the ROTY trophy as well as hoisting the big hardware, the championship trophy, at Homestead! My pick for the 2017 NXS champion is William Byron.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!