NASCAR driver lands best career opportunity with new team

Joe Graf Jr., SS-Green Light Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Graf Jr., SS-Green Light Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Joe Gibbs Racing’s most recent announcement gives Joe Graf Jr. the best opportunity he has had in his NASCAR career thus far.

Joe Gibbs Racing announced a second driver for the No. 19 Toyota for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, confirming that Joe Graf Jr. is set to drive the car in five races on the 33-race schedule.

The 24-year-old Mahwah, New Jersey native is set to compete at Auto Club Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and Kansas Speedway.

Joe Gibbs Racing, which replaced the Cup Series-bound Ty Gibbs and the JR Motorsports-bound Brandon Jones with Sammy Smith and John Hunter Nemechek, still needed to fill the No. 19 Toyota for 27 races in 2023. Prior to the addition of Graf, only Ryan Truex had been confirmed as a driver. He is set to run six races this year after running five last year.

While it’s only a five-race schedule, Graf is in a great position heading into the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season.

Graf is still set to run the full schedule, as he had previously been confirmed for 28 races behind the wheel of the No. 38 Ford at RSS Racing, and his five-race deal with Joe Gibbs Racing gives him the best opportunity he has ever had to demonstrate what he can do behind the wheel.

Including Smith and Nemechek, Joe Gibbs Racing’s three most recent full-time additions all spent time competing part-time for the team first.

Smith and Nemechek were two of seven non-Cup Series drivers who drove the team’s third Xfinity Series entry in select races last year, and while neither one won in 2022, both landed full-time promotions for 2023. An impressive run for Graf in his five-race stint this year could make things interesting for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2024.

Joe Gibbs Racing are also in a position where they are going to need to make changes to their Cup Series team, likely in the near future, and this gives Graf a chance to really put himself on their radar. Both Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin are 42 years old, and both have contracts that are set to expire at the end of the 2023 season.

While Hamlin has spoken about returning and wanting to retire with the team on his terms, there is no way of knowing how much longer he will compete, and it could come down to sponsorship.

As for Truex, his future is even more of an unknown. Many believed that he would retire after the 2022 season, but he decided to return in 2023. What will he decide for 2024?

It is a bit of a longshot in that everything would need to go right in order for Graf to end up in the Cup Series, especially with Toyota’s top team, but there is no better way to put himself on the team’s radar than by performing well in what is really his first five-race deal with a top-tier organization.

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Perhaps he can turn that into something more for the 2024 season, beginning with the 2023 season’s second race at Auto Club Speedway later this month.