Five drivers to watch for 
in Xfinity this season

Photo by Brian DeGruchy/
Kyle Busch celebrates his victory in the Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway in October 2015.

By Steven Ellis
Staff Reporter
January 29, 2015

DISCALIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

The NASCAR pre-season is a perfect time to discuss and come up with crazy predictions. Most of the time, it's just a bunch of nonsense that doesn't prove to come true once the season wraps up in Homestead.

But, hey, they're still fun, aren't they?

The Xfinity Series is a fun place to start, but after a lukewarm reception last season, mixed in with the first ever Chase for the top feeder series, there will need to be something to look forward to if the series is to steal everyone's attention.

With Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski racing limited schedules, and with Chase Elliott and Chris Buescher making the jump up to Sprint Cup, there's no chance of either of those drivers grabbing a second title. Unless Jeff Green magically gets an incredible last minute ride and pays off the rest of the field, there will be a new champion in the Xfinity Series this year, and that's an exciting thing to think about. There's a great mix of young and veteran blood in the series, which can only help grow it as a whole.

According to his Wikipedia page, Ross Chastain “was not born on a watermelon farm,” so we can in fact confirm he’s a human. And despite not having much to show for yet in his young career, Chastain is a talented race car driver, too. 

Funded primarily by the National Watermelon Association throughout his career, Chastain raced in his first full Xfinity series campaign last year, just his second time ever in any of the top NASCAR ranks. 

Photo by Benjamin Palmer/
Ross Chastain waves to the crowd during driver introductions at Phoenix International Raceway in March 2015.

Driving for JD Motorsports, Chastain took a mediocre car and turned it into a solid season with five top-ten finishes, including a career-high ninth place at the season opener in Daytona. 

Chastain will return to the No. 4 Chevrolet in 2016 with crew chief Gary Cogswell, who did 31 of the 33 races with Chastain last year (working with Chastain’s teammates Harrison Rhodes and Michael Self for a race each in the summer). 

Chastain will likely be the top driver for JDM again this year, and with stability in his program for the first time since getting his feet wet in the sport, look for Chastain to improve upon a solid 15th place finish in the standings as a rookie.

A seven-year veteran of the Xfinity series, Blake Koch showed some strong flashes during the 2015 season, even leading with six laps to go at Road America before battery issues relegated a strong run. 

Photo by Benjamin Palmer/
Blake Koch leads J.J. Yeley and teammate Cale Conley during the Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter. 200 at Phoenix International Raceway in March 2015. 

It was expected that Koch would stick with TriStar Motorsports for the 2016 season, especially after announcing he would do so indeed before August’s race in Mid-Ohio.

Recently, however, TriStar decided to field just two full-time entries instead from their typical four, allowing Koch to pursue an opportunity with Kaulig Racing. 

The team, formed by Matt Kaulig, the President and owner of LeafFilter Gutter Protection, should help give Koch a bit of stability after being sponsored by LeafFilter for the past two seasons. 

Kaulig will have a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, helping boost the team’s credibility. 

Koch has yet to record a single top-ten finish in 147 career races over seven years, but a new team with full-time financial support and additional speed from an already established partner could be what he needs to finally get his career on the right track.

Brandon Jones heads into the 2016 Xfinity season as one of the favorites to compete for rookie of the year honors. Turning just 19-years-old in February, Jones impressed just about everybody last year while splitting time between the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. 

In Trucks, where he spent most of his time, Jones posted four top-five and eight top-ten finishes while piloting the No. 33 Chevy Silverado for GMS Racing. On the Xfinity side, Jones scored a top-ten in his first race for Richard Childress Racing, finishing eighth at Iowa in May.  

To help complete his full-season schedule last year, he grabbed seven top-ten finishes and five top-five finishes for Venturini Motorsports in ARCA while racing a limited schedule in a split role with legendary racer Frank Kimmel. 

Jones should be able to dominate the Rookie of the Year title thanks to a small rookie class in the Xfinity series this year, but don't count him out for a win or two with him in strong equipment.

Photo by Paul Ellis/
Ray Black Jr. practices for the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in August 2015.

With one top-five finish (coming at Daytona) during his first full-season in the Camping World Truck Series, you would think that Ray Black Jr. didn't have that great of a season. That wasn't the case. 

Racing for the underfunded SS Green Light Racing team (his current Xfinity team), Black finished 11th in points while showing tremendous speed in almost every race. While most of the drivers ahead of him seemed to have lower average finishes than starts, Black improved his position an average of four throughout the season. A 16.7 average finish isn't the strongest, of course, but it does show that he knew how to get stronger throughout the race and put his car into a position for a good finish often. 

Green Light Racing likely will struggle in their inaugural season in the Xfinity Series, but at the age of 24, Black is well on his way to proving himself as a successful NASCAR driver in the future.

Photo by Jeremy Thompson/
Justin Allgaier pre-race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November 2015.

Speaking of proving themselves, Justin Allgaier has already proven himself to be worthy of earning a Sprint Cup ride in the past. Allgaier did have a tendency to force himself inside the top-20 for a team that has had some financial issues over the past few years, earning his first career top ten last year. 

However, with nothing else to really show, the team elected to go with Clint Bowyer for the 2016 season, hoping to record their best season to date with the No. 51 HScott Motorsports. As a result, Allgaier took his craft to the Xfinity Series where he will replace Regan Smith for JR Motorsports, a team that seems to create potential champions every single season.  

Allgaier has three career Xfinity victories in 174 career races and at 29-years-old, he still has time to prove himself. But could anything outside of a championship hurt his chances of ever getting a quality ride ever again, or is this exactly what he needs to earn a spot on a competitive Cup team again in the near future? 

Look for Allgaier to grab a win or two as he looks to fight for his first championship in NASCAR's second strongest series.

Which driver will finish highest in driver points this season?
Ross Chastain
Blake Koch
Brandon Jones
Ray Black Jr.
Justin Allgaier