NASCAR: Toyota losing another young driver for 2024

Sammy Smith, Trevor Bayne, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Sammy Smith, Trevor Bayne, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Sammy Smith is set to leave Joe Gibbs Racing for JR Motorsports after the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, but he is not the first young Toyota driver to get away.

JR Motorsports solidified their driver lineup for the 2024 NASCAR Xfinity Series season on Tuesday. After having announced that Sam Mayer, Justin Allgaier, and Brandon Jones are all set to return to the team, they still had to find a replacement for the Cup Series-bound Josh Berry behind the wheel of the No. 8 Chevrolet.

One of Toyota’s top young drivers, Sammy Smith, is set to replace Berry after spending just one full season in the Xfinity Series behind the wheel of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

The 19-year-old Johnston, Iowa native has only ever competed for Toyota since his NASCAR career began in 2021. He won the 2021 and 2022 ARCA Menards Series East championships with Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports, respectively.

He also competed in select ARCA Menards Series West races for those two teams, plus one for Hattori Racing Enterprises, and made a few additional ARCA Menards Series starts with Kyle Busch Motorsports. His lone Truck Series start, which came in early 2023, was with TRICON Garage.

The move means that Toyota have lost yet another NASCAR driver to a rival manufacturer, which has been somewhat of a recurring theme.

Though he is not a young driver, Kyle Busch’s move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing after 2022 is the big one, as it was not expected heading into the 2022 season and ultimately brought an end to a 15-year partnership, one which was among the most successful in NASCAR history.

But there are certainly other examples. Busch’s move also meant that his Kyle Busch Motorsports Truck Series team switched from Toyota to Chevrolet, and it played a part in Chandler Smith ultimately signing with Kaulig Racing’s Xfinity Series team for 2023. Smith had been with Toyota since 2018.

Toyota losing drivers to JR Motorsports has been a theme in itself, with Noah Gragson leaving Toyota after the 2018 season and the aforementioned Jones having done so after last year to replace Gragson once he moved to the Cup Series in a Chevrolet entry for Legacy Motor Club. Jones too had been with Toyota since 2018.

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Other active Cup Series race winners who have left Toyota and had success elsewhere include two-time champion Joey Logano, Daniel Suarez, and Erik Jones. Jones, however, is set to reunite with Toyota next year amid Legacy Motor Club’s manufacturer change.