Chandler Smith will move up to the Xfinity Series for the 2023 season after finishing third in the Camping World Truck Series championship standings in 2022. He will run the full schedule while potentially being on the fast track to another award.
The Georgia native will take on his rookie season while driving for Kaulig Racing, which means that he will be a name to watch in the Rookie of the Year battle. NASCAR determines which drivers are eligible for the prestigious award on a case-by-case basis, but Smith only has three Xfinity Series starts on his resume. He should be on the list of those that can battle for Rookie of the Year.
Smith’s career has already featured one Rookie of the Year Award. He captured this during the 2021 Camping World Truck Series season while driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He posted nine top-10 finishes and six top-fives during the 22-race season while reaching the playoffs. He also won two races, which helped him lock up the award over Niece Motorsports driver Carson Hocevar.
Smith Will Take Over a Winning Race Car
The reason why Smith will be one of the names to watch is the organization that he is joining. He will take over the No. 16 Chevrolet Camaro at Kaulig Racing.
The team has only competed in the Xfinity Series since the 2016 season, but it has turned into a powerhouse with 19 wins. The No. 16, in particular, has reached Victory Lane 13 times in the Xfinity Series with AJ Allmendinger behind the wheel. This includes five wins in 2021 and five more in 2022.
Going from Allmendinger and his more than 400 starts across the three national series to Smith and his three Xfinity Series starts will be a significant change. Still, Smith has achieved success in NASCAR, and he already has one top-10 finish in the Xfinity Series on his resume.
There will be multiple factors that benefit Smith. Having some experience is on this list, as is driving a winning entry from the Kaulig Racing stable. He will also have veteran teammates in Landon Cassill, 2021 Xfinity Series champion Daniel Hemric, Allmendinger, and four-time winner Justin Haley that can all provide some guidance.
Another Intriguing Name Will Likely Battle Smith
Smith will not be the only driver with a prime opportunity to contend for Rookie of the Year. There is another driver that will bear watching. Though he is not yet officially a full-time driver in the Xfinity Series.
Sammy Smith spent the 2022 season focusing on the ARCA Menards Series and the ARCA Menards Series East. He drove for Kyle Busch Motorsports and won six races in 16 starts in the main series. This includes three straight to close out the season. Sammy also won the ARCA Menards Series East championship in both 2021 and 2022.
While Sammy focused on ARCA, he also made his debut in the Xfinity Series. He took over the No. 18 for nine events, starting with the July trip to Road America. He posted three top-10 finishes and one top-five — a third-place finish at Watkins Glen International behind Kyle Larson and Allmendinger.
Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to announce its driver lineup for the 2023 season. Though Smith remains the name at the top of the list of potential full-time drivers for the championship-winning organization.
If JGR chooses to move forward with Smith as one of its full-time drivers, he will automatically become one of the names to watch in the Rookie of the Year battle. Though NASCAR will first have to confirm that he is eligible for the award.