Xfinity driver deals drag on despite Playoff launch

Xfinity driver deals drag on despite Playoff launch
HHP/Alan Marler

CHARLOTTE—Considering that it took nine months to determine where Kyle Busch was going to land in 2023, it’s not surprising there are a lot of unknowns among the current crop of Xfinity Series Playoff drivers.

While Austin Hill, Josh Berry, and defending NXS champion Daniel Hemric appear happy with their current teams, as of Tuesday their deals weren’t signed for next year.

Perhaps the best bargaining chip for these young racers is to stay the course and continue the level of performance that carried their teams to the postseason.

“I’ve kind of been told not to worry about it—whatever that means,” Hemric said. “It’s encouraging because I’ve been told a lot, lot worse. I’ve been in a lot worse situations. I’m thankful to Matt (Kaulig, owner). He runs the race team. He owns it. He races out of his own pocket and he loves it. He tells me not to worry about it. What am I going to do? I’m not going to worry about it.

“I wish I ran better. I wish I finished better in order to force his hand to tell me something in general, but in the grand scheme of things I know he brought me here for a reason, and I’m just sticking true to that.”

Of the three drivers, Hemric, 32, has yet to win in 2022—his first year in the No. 11 Kaulig Chevy but his fifth full year on the tour. He’s currently 10th in the standings entering the NXS Playoffs with just two top fives in 26 starts. If Kaulig Racing is indeed a player in the Kyle Busch Motorsports sweepstakes, there should be plenty of seats to go around in 2023.

Since 2014, Berry has been under the JR Motorsports banner. In 2017, he won the CARS Late Model Stock title with support from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Berry dabbled in the Xfinity Series for four seasons until he earned a full-time shot in 2021. He won at Martinsville Speedway in his 13th career start.

In 22 starts last season, Berry has won twice. This year, he scored victories at Dover and Charlotte and is currently fifth in the standings in his first full season on the tour. Many believe the 31-year-old from Hendersonville, Tenn., could be a sleeper in the Playoffs. Given his close-knit relationship with Junior, it’s likely just a matter of time before he inks a new contract.

“We're still working on that,” Berry said. “Hopefully we figure that out in the next couple of weeks. But you know, it's all a work in progress.”

Hill, 28, is seeded right behind Berry in the standings. In August at Michigan Speedway he made his Cup debut with Richard Childress Racing. At the time, many believed he could be auditioning as Tyler Reddick’s replacement. For an Xfinity Series rookie, an 18th-place result in NASCAR’s top tour was respectable. But earlier this month, RCR announced the signing of Kyle Busch for the No. 8 ride. Hill sees that as a win-win for the organization—and himself.

“I think it’s going to be huge,” Hill said. “I’m still working on my end of things, just trying to make sure I’m still at RCR for next year. If I’m still able to run in the Xfinity Series with this 21 bunch, I think it’s going to elevate RCR, I do. Looking at a guy like Kyle Busch and all of his wins and championships, everything he’s done in the Xfinity Series, I can really lean on him.

“He can open up a lot of doors for myself, and even Sheldon (Creed), if he’s around too, to make us better race car drivers. I think someone like Kyle can make the whole organization better—even on the Cup side.I think next year, Kyle and RCR on the Cup side can be pretty dangerous.”

RCR is currently running two full-time NXS teams with Hill and Creed. However, Ty Dillon is rumored to be returning to the fold. Whether that means Childress will expand to three Xfinity teams next year remains to be seen. The team owner has said he will provide a third-chartered Cup car for Reddick next year.

“I still think I want to be at RCR,” Hill said. “RCR has been a great organization to be with. Everything we’ve done this season—we’ve just gotten better throughout the year. We’ve won races. We’ve run up front. We’ve run consistent.

“My goal is to stay at RCR for a number of years. With the charter talks, with them having a third charter, who knows, maybe next year or in ‘24, Sheldon (Creed) or I could get into that third car with that third charter and be Kyle’s teammate or Austin’s teammate.”

Once Reddick moves on, Hill would like to be considered for the third Cup ride.

“At a young age, I wanted to race in NASCAR,” Hill said. “I wanted to win races and compete for championships. Now, that I’ve gotten to the point where I’m at the Xfinity Series level, as long as I can make a career out of this, I’m going to be happy.

“If that means running in the Xfinity Series for five to 10 years, and making a career out of running the Xfinity Series, I’m going to be OK with that. If an opportunity presents itself, and I think I can get into an RCR Cup car, contend for wins and run up front and have fun, I would love to give it a shot.”

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