The 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season saw a field chock-full of talent be displayed, spanning from the season’s inception at Daytona International Speedway in February to its November culmination at Phoenix Raceway.
If such excitement from a talented 2023 field trickles over, 2024 could be even better.
One of the leaders of the Xfinity cavalcade will be Austin Hill, who returns to the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet after a banner year. 2023 saw the Georgia native tally career-highs in wins (4), top fives (16), top 10s (24), laps led (346) and poles (3) en route to a fifth-place finish in the Xfinity standings, and while the 29-year-old will be a 2024 title frontrunner, the path toward a championship crown will not be without hefty competition.
“There’s a lot of things that have happened in the offseason, obviously a lot of turnover, a lot different drivers going to different teams,” Hill said in a virtual teleconference with the media Tuesday. “Then, you also have some rookies coming in like Jesse (Love), my teammate. So, I think the field is stacked pretty deep, so winning races is gonna be tough each and every week. If you can win a race and go ahead and lock yourself in to know that you’re in the playoffs is gonna be crucial, but we could see a lot of different winners this year.”
To emphasize just how deep the field is, look no further than nine of last season’s 12 Xfinity Series Playoffs drivers returning to the full-time fold in 2024. This competition will have a different flavor to it, too, with three of those nine racing for different manufacturers and teams. Sammy Smith joins JR Motorsports, while Chandler Smith and Sheldon Creed — Hill’s former teammate — set up shop under the Joe Gibbs Racing banner. AJ Allmendinger also returns to Xfinity full-time as driver of the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevy. Then, there’s Shane van Gisbergen, who will race under the Kaulig/Trackhouse moniker on a full-time basis.
Justin Allgaier — whose 4 wins, 15 top fives and 20 top 10s went along with a runner-up result in last year’s title chase — echoed Hill’s sentiment regarding the field’s top-to-bottom length.
“I mean, I say this every year, but I feel like this is the most competitive group of cars that we’ve seen in a long time,” Allgaier said in a virtual teleconference with the media Tuesday. “I mean, I look at drivers switching teams, I look at drivers coming back to the Xfinity series, I look at drivers getting opportunities to come up to the Xfinity series. I look at the drivers that were here last year, I mean, man, I look down the list, and I’m like, you can be first or 20th in points pretty easily. And, you know, I look at the drivers that I feel like are capable of winning races. And I’m like, man, we have 15 or 20 guys, every week that I legitimately feel like have the opportunity to win races.
“I think we’ve got a really, really talented field of drivers that, you know, I want to win races. But man, I mean, honestly, it’s going to be the tallest task we’ve seen in a long time to be able to win races.”
For Hill, the opportunity to build off a strong 2023 — and simultaneously mentor the 19-year-old Love as he progresses through his first full-time Xfinity season — is one worth tackling in full force. And while the 2023 field proved to be deep in its own right, 2024 could provide newer challenges that could make itself apparent within the season’s first handful of contests.
“I think the depth of field is really deep in the Xfinity Series,” Hill said. “I thought it was last year as well in 2023, so I think that it’s gonna be just as deep, maybe even a little deeper this year, you know, with AJ coming back and a few other guys coming in, and who knows what some of the rookies that are coming in, like Jesse, what’s he gonna be able to do. Is he gonna be a contender each and every week on race wins or not? So, I think until we get, I’d say, past the superspeedway races, and we get into Vegas and Phoenix, I think after Phoenix, you’ll kind of see who the players are and how depth of field it is.”
The Xfinity Series opens its season in one week at Daytona on Feb. 17 (5 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).