Last season did not end the way Justin Allgaier or Austin Hill wanted, but 2024 provides an opportunity for the new lineups at JR Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing to take over the Xfinity Series.
“I look at the teammates that we have, I’m excited about 2024,” Allgaier told media members ahead of the season. “I think we’ve got a lot of really good, good things on the docket.”
The JR Motorsports lineup changed over the offseason. Josh Berry moved to Cup and Stewart-Haas Racing. Sammy Smith left Joe Gibbs Racing to replace Berry in the No. 8. Smith joined a lineup that includes Championship 4 drivers in Allgaier and Sam Mayer, as well as Brandon Jones, who looks to rebound after missing last year’s playoffs.
Allgaier has moved into the “Elliott Sadler role” at JR Motorsports. He is the veteran who watched Mayer “blossom” last season while celebrating four wins and contending for the Xfinity title, just as Sadler watched drivers do the same things at JRM from 2016-18.
Allgaier watched Smith grow up and become a racer who can win at the Xfinity level. Allgaier expects Smith to mesh well at JR Motorsports while contending for more wins.
Jones enters his second season at JR Motorsports in a different situation. He has extensive experience racing against Allgaier from his time at Joe Gibbs Racing and has five Xfinity wins. Jones struggled to contend for wins after taking over the No. 9 Chevrolet last season.
Allgaier saw his teammate go through these growing pains, especially as Jones searched for a different feel in the race car. The template the team used in the past for other drivers didn’t fit, so Jones and JR Motorsports had to put in extra work. This process included extensive note taking on Jones’s part along with numerous conversations with Allgaier.
“They’re trying to exhaust what they can to make sure that when we come out in Daytona, that Brandon is exactly where he wants to feel like he needs to be at,” Allgaier said.
“And I believe just based on what we’ve seen so far, I think that the (No. 9) team is gonna have a banner year.”
Richard Childress Racing has a much smaller Xfinity lineup than JR Motorsports. Hill is the returning veteran as he enters his third season as the full-time driver of the No.21 Chevrolet.
Hill has six wins and two playoff appearances in two seasons. His expectation is that he can contend for even more as he works with a new teammate.
Sheldon Creed, Hill’s teammate the past two seasons, is at Joe Gibbs Racing. In his place is reigning ARCA champion Jesse Love, who will drive the No. 2 Chevrolet.
Love’s national series experience is limited to three Truck Series races with Tricon Garage, so Hill does not truly know how his young teammate will adapt to the Xfinity cars. Though Hill remains impressed with what Love has shown in their limited time preparing for the season.
“I think Jesse’s gonna be really, really good once he gets in the swing of things, once he figures out these Xfinity cars,” Hill told media members ahead of the season.
“Just from a little bit I’ve worked with him on the simulator stuff, it seems like he has that fire in him to go out there and work really hard at it.”
Hill has played an active role in helping Love prepare for the season. He has shared his knowledge of racing on superspeedway and intermediate tracks, as well as the differences between the vehicles in the Truck Series and Xfinity Series.
Hill has been a source of information ahead of Love’s rookie season but that is only part of the process. Hill knows that Love will still face a learning curve.
“I think it’s gonna be a pretty big jump for him, obviously, going from the ARCA Series to the Xfinity Series just because the strength of field is really deep on the Xfinity side compared to the ARCA side,” Hill said.
“So I think that’s going to be a little bit for him to get used to each and every week. You’re going to be racing with a lot of different guys that can win every week.”
The level of competition is something both Allgaier and Hill highlighted ahead of the season. Championship contender John Hunter Nemechek may be in Cup full-time after leading the Xfinity Series with seven wins last season, but he will make several series starts for Joe Gibbs Racing.
The field will include reigning champion Cole Custer, two-time regular-season champion AJ Allmendinger, Las Vegas winner Riley Herbst, Talladega winner Jeb Burton and Richmond winner Chandler Smith.
Three-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen will run the full Xfinity season while making his move to NASCAR. Three-time Cup winner Aric Almirola will run a partial Xfinity season with Joe Gibbs Racing.
This season’s Xfinity field will feature newcomers and veterans, many with cars capable of winning races. This will increase the level of difficulty for the revamped lineups at JR Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing.
“I want to win races,” Allgaier said, “but man, I’ll be honest with you, it’s going to be the toughest task we’ve seen in a long time.”