Could the return of Hendrick Motorsports to the NASCAR Xfinity Series after 13 years have even greater ramifications than what happens this summer?
Hendrick Motorsports announced last week that they plan to return to the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the first time since Tony Stewart drove the #80 Chevrolet to victory lane at Daytona International Speedway in the 2009 Nationwide Series season opener. They plan to compete in three races, all road course races, later this season.
They plan to return with the number 17, a number that they haven’t run since Ricky Hendrick, the late son of team owner Rick Hendrick, competed full-time in the 2001 Truck Series season.
Set to drive the #17 Chevrolet are three of the team’s four Cup Series drivers. Kyle Larson is set to compete at Road America on Sunday, July 2, Alex Bowman is set to compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Sunday, July 30, and William Byron is set to compete at Watkins Glen International on Saturday, August 20.
Some called into question the idea of Hendrick Motorsports fielding this car in these three races instead of JR Motorsports doing so, given the affiliation of the teams. JR Motorsports already compete in the Xfinity Series on a full-time basis, and Hendrick is a co-owner of the team.
Could it be that this is the beginning of Hendrick, who also fields the maximum allowable total of four cars in the Cup Series, ultimately selling his stake in JR Motorsports so that JR Motorsports can finally make the long-rumored jump to NASCAR’s top level?
It could, but it could also be that this decision comes down to the simple fact that, for all three races, JR Motorsports already have plans to run a fifth car.
JR Motorsports field four full-time entries in the Xfinity Series: the #1 Chevrolet for Sam Mayer, the #7 Chevrolet for Justin Allgaier, the #8 Chevrolet for Josh Berry, and the #9 Chevrolet for Noah Gragson. Their fifth car, a part-time entry, is the #88 Chevrolet.
Miguel Paludo, who already drove the #88 Chevrolet in the road course race at Circuit of the Americas, is set to drive it again in the races at Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Larson is set to drive it in the race at Watkins Glen International.
Still, the JR Motorsports to the Cup Series rumor is an interesting one that cannot be ignored, especially when you highlight the interesting Larson/JR Motorsports vs. Byron/Hendrick Motorsports battle that is set up for the race at Watkins Glen International.