So which driver will be hoisting the series trophy on November 19th at Homestead-Miami Speedway? Here are my predictions for the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series.
1. Ty Dillon, #3 Rheem/Bass Pro Shops Camaro, Richard Childress Racing
Dillon may not have been able to win in his sophomore season like he did in his rookie season in the Xfinity Series and led less laps but he was able to jump up two spots in the standings thanks to more consistency. He went from seven top fives to 12 top fives and he had no DNF's en route to a third place points finish. As Buescher and Chase Elliott are moving on to Cup, I think Dillon is well-positioned to follow his brother and get an Xfinity title.
2. Justin Allgaier, #7 Brandt/TaxSlayer Camaro, JR Motorsports
After a ho-hum two year stint in the Cup Series, Allgaier returns to Xfinity in a pretty good ride with JR Motorsports, replacing Regan Smith. Allgaier never finished worse than sixth in points during a full Xfinity season and I don't see that changing this year. In fact, he should be able to bag a couple of wins as well.
3. Erik Jones, #20 Reser's/GameStop Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Considering that Jones won the title in his first full season in trucks, could he do the same in Xfinity? I'm not predicting it but I don't think anybody would be surprised should it happen. After all, he showed last season in 23 starts last season with two wins, 13 top fives, 17 top tens and three poles tht he has the game to compete in tougher competition. As we all know, this kid's going to be a star sooner rather than later so you shouldn't be a surprised to see him make a splash in 2016.
4. Darrell Wallace Jr., #6 Selfeo Mustang, Roush Fenway Racing
I think that for Bubba, his second season in Xfinity could show the same sort of improvement that his second season in trucks did when he finished third in points after being eighth as a rookie. Given his team didn't have much in terms of sponsorship, a seventh place points finish was pretty solid and he closed pretty well. The sponsorship questions remain but he has got the talent to get into the championship mix.
5. Elliott Sadler, #1 OneMain Financial Camaro, JR Motorsports
Sadler finished outside the top four in points for the Xfinity action for the first time last season and only had four top fives while leading 33 laps for the season. He still finished sixth in points so it wasn't all bad but definitely was a step in the wrong direction. Sadler will still be a contender as he slides on over to JRM but maybe he won't be as in the thick of the title hunt as he has been.
6. Daniel Suarez, #19 Arris Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Suarez did not have a great start to his rookie season with a wreck at Daytona and only one top ten through six races but after Texas, he was terrific. In the final 27 races, Suarez had eight top fives, 17 top tens and three poles. He also jumped from eighth to fifth in the points with top tens in the final six races. He's getting the hang of it more and more and should be able to get a win this season.
7. Brendan Gaughan, #62 South Point Camaro, Richard Childress Racing
Gaughan may not be contending for Xfinity titles like the truck title he came so close to winning in 2003 but he has found a home here with solid, steady finishes. He wasn't able to replicate the two wins he had in 2014 but he did have more top fives and double the top tens as he had in 2015, albeit with a drop in the final points standings. This may just be his ceiling but that's okay.
8. Brandon Jones, #33 Menards/Nexteer Camaro, Richard Childress Racing
He will turn 19 by the opener and while he is raw, with only five Xfinity races and only part-time work in trucks, he has shown promise with one top five and two top tens in Xfinity and five top fives and nine top tens in the CWTS. Jones clearly has some talent and is in a good ride so he should be able to crack the top ten in points.
9. Jeb Burton, #43 Mustand, Richard Petty Motorsports
I initially did not include Burton in these predictions considering it was not certain what his status was with RPM but as per the news of today, Burton will be running full time. Burton was too raw for the Cup Series last season and it showed but he's got the talent to be a solid competitor going forward and he should show here this season.
10. Ryan Reed, #16 Drive to Stop Diabetes Mustang, Roush Fenway Racing
Reed only had one top ten last year but he did make it a good win by winning the opener at Daytona. The problem with Reed is that while he is a solid plate racer, as his only top fives have come at Daytona, and does a fine job of keeping his job out of trouble, he just doesn't have the consistent, week-in week-out speed to make him more of a contender.