NASCAR: Toyota loses another driver for 2023

Chandler Smith is set to leave Toyota and move to Kaulig Racing and Chevrolet, replacing A.J. Allmendinger for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season.

When Kaulig Racing announced “Kaulig Racing Fan Day” last month, they confirmed that they would be making a NASCAR Cup Series driver announcement for the 2023 season on Wednesday, October 5.

In addition to confirming that Justin Haley is set to remain behind the wheel of the #31 Chevrolet for another year, they announced that A.J. Allmendinger is set to pilot the #16 Chevrolet on a full-time basis next season.

Allmendinger currently drives the car part-time, along with Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson. He competes full-time for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series behind the wheel of the #16 Chevrolet.

With his promotion to the Cup Series, a series in which he hasn’t competed full-time since he drove the #47 Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing from 2014 to 2018, one of the most competitive rides at the sport’s second highest level opened up.

Set to join Kaulig Racing as the new driver of the #16 Chevrolet is Chandler Smith.

The Toyota Racing Development driver currently competes for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series, and his confirmation by Matt Kaulig’s team means that Toyota have lost yet another driver for 2023.

Unable to reach a new deal with Joe Gibbs Racing following the departure of longtime sponsor M&M’s, Kyle Busch is set to leave the team and Toyota after 15 seasons.

Busch has signed a multi-year deal with Richard Childress Racing to drive the #8 Chevrolet, reuniting him with the manufacturer with which he started his full-time Cup Series career in 2005.

Then Xfinity Series driver Brandon Jones announced that he too would be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, ending a five-year relationship with both. He is set to replace Gragson behind the wheel of the #9 Chevrolet at JR Motorsports.

Gragson, who had once been linked to Kaulig Racing’s #16 Cup ride, is indeed set to move to the Cup Series, but as the replacement for Ty Dillon behind the wheel of the #42 Chevrolet at Petty GMS Motorsports. Gragson is a former Toyota driver himself, having competed for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2017 and 2018 before moving to JR Motorsports.

With Xfinity Series driver Ty Gibbs likely slated to replace Busch behind the wheel of the #18 Toyota and teammate Jones set to leave his own #19 Toyota for JR Motorsports, there are set to be two Joe Gibbs Racing seats open in the Xfinity Series. But Smith won’t be behind the wheel of either one next year.

And with the departure of the 20-year-old Talking Rock, Georgia native to Kaulig Racing and Chevrolet, Toyota have lost a third driver in the last month. Like Brandon Jones, Smith had been with Toyota since 2018.

These three drivers have been added to a long list of drivers whom Toyota has lost to rival manufacturers, including but not limited to current Cup Series drivers Joey Logano, Erik Jones, and Daniel Suarez.