Heading into Friday night’s Food City 300 (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway, three of the top five drivers in the NASCAR XFINITY Series points standings are being mentioned for rides in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for 2019. But, after Thursday’s media availability with Christopher Bell, Daniel Hemric and Cole Custer, it appears that just one of them is really focusing on trying to be a part of NASCAR’s premiere series next season.
Bell, a four time winner this season, said that he’s not a candidate to move up because he’s returning to Joe Gibbs Racing on a full time basis in the No. 20 Toyota for the 2019 XFINITY Series season.
“That was all news to me,” Bell said of Kasey Kahne’s retirement and him being brought up as a potential replacement. “Right now, I’ve got a great group of people and getting to drive for all of our partners at Ruud and Rheem, GameStop and I’ve got great race cars at Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota’s support. Right now, that’s the only thing I’ve got is that I’m finishing out this year and then next year I’m going for the XFINITY championshp again with all of our same partners.”
Bell, a Toyota developmental driver, is in his rookie season in the series and that comes after spending two seasons in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. With all three of the four rides with JGR on the Cup level being accounted for and the fourth likely going to be between Daniel Suarez and Martin Truex Jr. there’s no room for Bell to move up. Toyota also isn’t interested in losing him, so coming back to JGR in an XFINITY Series ride is his best option.
Another driver in Cole Custer also said that while his name is being brought up as a potential replacement in the No. 41 Ford currently driven by Kurt Busch, he’s not focused on that ride at the moment. His goal is to win this year’s championship and he’s moving forward like he will be back in his No. 00 Ford in the XFINITY Series next season too. Right now, the ride while open because Busch is a free agent at seasons end, doesn’t necessarily mean that Busch is leaving.
So, Custer is focused on a potential third year in the series for 2019.
But, Hemric is a different story. See, he’s in his second year in the series too but he’s older than the other two. Bell is 23 and Custer 20. Hemric, well he’s 27. The shelf life for a driver in NASCAR now isn’t much past 35 anymore. Just look at the ages of some of the recent retirees. Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards weren’t even 40 yet. Danica Patrick was 35. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth in their early 40s.
Hemric, doesn’t have a lot of years to waste in the XFINITY Series. He’s in the prime of his career now and needs to move up as quickly as possible.
“It’s obviously good to be part of the conversation,” Hemric said on Thursday. “You hope in life you have opportunites to do your part and to make sure you make it tough for people to figure out what they want to do with you. I’m extremely thankful for South Point Hotel and Casino and Richard Childress for giving me a shot to wake up on the weekends and go drive a race car for a living. I try to grab this by the horns and understand that the position that I’m in is second to none and all of us are fortunate to do what we do and call it a job.
“I don’t know where it’s going to end up or how it’s all going to play out. I know Richard’s doing all he can to make sure hopefully there’s a spot for me and if there’s not, I’ll fell out any option out there because as of right now, I don’t have my name signed on any line for the following year. I’m trying to do everything I can on the race track to prove to somebody who may be willing to put me in a car and give me a shot and hopefully when that shot comes, I can take advantage of it.”
The Kannapolis, North Carolina native hasn’t won a race at the XFINITY Series level yet but he’s been close. His talent is good enough to land a Cup ride but the problem is that it has to be in the right situation. He’s not in the position to get into an underfunded team and struggle. RCR has a third charter that they get back from StarCom Racing next season but it’s unclear whether they will use it or not. Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman appear to be heading back to the team for 2019, so if Hemric is to remain with RCR and race at the Cup level with them, it’s all predicated by them finding the right amount of sponsorship to bring the third car back out again. They have a charter at their disposal if they can.
Hemric, did run in one Cup race this year and that was with RCR at Richmond back in April. He finished 32nd.