Rookie Spotlight: Xfinity Series
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The NASCAR Xfinity Series trophy. Five rookies will be among the field of drivers attempting to become the 2015 champion.
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
The 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series will currently have five rookies competing for the 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year title.
Of those five rookies, former Joe Gibbs Racing driver Darrell Wallace Jr. is the leading candidate to win the title. Wallace, who will now drive at least a partial schedule for Roush Fenway Racing in their No. 6 effort, has already won a pole in the Xfinity Series, and has a best finish of seventh twice behind the wheel of a Gibbs powered Toyota.
This year as a member of Roush isn’t that much of a fall-off and he will still have the best equipment among the five rookie contenders. “Bubba” will be competing for wins on a regular basis, or so I believe, and he will be one to watch at the stand-alone Xfinity races.
If Wallace can secure enough funding to run full-time, expect him to run away with Rookie of the Year honors.
The other four drivers are lesser known quantities than Wallace; Cale Conley, Ross Chastain, Harrison Rhodes, and Daniel Suarez.
Of those four, it’s going to be a battle. Ross Chastain could be a favorite to upset Wallace. He’ll be driving the 2015 season for JD Motorsports, in the No. 4 car. He has been around the top-three touring series since the 2011 season. He drove a full schedule in 2012 for SS-Greenlight Racing and had enough success to land him a partial schedule in 2013 for Brad Keselowski Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
He parlayed that performance into a part-time ride for Ricky Benton Racing, in trucks and then into the Xfinity Series with Viva Motorsports and Hattori Racing. The 2015 season will be Chastain’s first full season in the Xfinity Series, and with the way JD Motorsports cars can run, mixed with Chastain’s talent, there’s no question he’s a favorite to upset Wallace.
Chastain is the best young drivers in the sport, not linked to a Sprint Cup Series team in any way. He’ll show us all that in 2015, and if one of these smaller Cup teams is smart, he may even get some Cup races before the year is out.
Next in line I believe is Cale Conley. Conley drove the 2014 season in a partial schedule for Richard Childress Racing. But with private testing banned for the near future, Conley may have thought that a lesser ride, with more races was the route for him, and he will undoubtedly have some success driving for Tri-Star Motorsports this season.
Unlike Chastain however, Conley doesn’t have as much experience and he will be visiting a lot of these tracks for the first time. You will see Conley have strong showings at the short tracks, as he ran those for RCR last season. The road courses and plate tracks will be a challenge for him.
Don’t expect Conley to visit victory lane this season, but a few top-ten runs are certainly not out of the question, and at Tri-Star Motorsports, those are wins.
Cale Conley is one of the next rising stars in this sport. It will be interesting to see how he does at Tri-Star Motorsports.
The fourth finishing rookie will be Harrison Rhodes. Rhodes has neither the success of Conley, nor the experience of Chastain. He will run full-time in 2015 for a third, start-up entry for JD Motorsports. This could lead to trouble as JD Motorsports has never fielded three full-time entries in the series before. No crew chief has been announced for this entry yet, and Rhodes, as previously stated, doesn’t have a lot of experience.
He started running Xfinity Series races in 2013 for Rick Ware Racing. In 13 career starts, his best finish is 23rd. This is an intriguing option, and one who will still beat Suarez in points. Rhodes could have a top-15 or two, but nothing more. Don’t expect much out of his rookie season, because he’s so inexperienced.
And finally there’s Daniel Suarez. Suarez is driving full-time in 2015 for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 18 Toyota. Suarez is very inexperienced in the NASCAR ranks, with only one start in the Camping World Truck Series, and two starts in the Xfinity Series. Yet, he’s going full-time Xfinity Series racing in 2015. Suarez is going to struggle mightily in 2015.
He is extremely unproven and has cars with a lot of speed in them, which are some of the best cars in the series. He could easily over drive it. Don’t expect even a top-ten points finish for Suarez this year.
Seat time is everything, and maybe a year in trucks before going Xfinity racing would have benefitted Suarez a lot better than this whole Xfinity Series deal he’s going to have. A lot of expectations are going to be placed on him due to his team, and the car he drives. He won’t meet those, and that could hurt his confidence going forward.