Chandler Smith, Xfinity Series Playoff contender, won’t be returning to Kaulig next year

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 26: Chandler Smith, driver of the #16 Quick Tie Products Inc. Chevrolet, stands on the grid during practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco Uniforms 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2023 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images)

For NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff driver Chandler Smith, advancing to the Championship 4 with a win next week at Martinsville and going on to win the championship is first on his mind. Second, though, are apparently his plans for next season.

On Sunday, the day after Smith’s 34th-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the second race of the Round of 8 cemented his must-win position heading into the elimination round at Martinsville, Kaulig Racing released a statement on Twitter that the driver would not be returning to the team next season.

The announcement provided no further details, just confirming that the championship finale race at Phoenix on November 4th would be Smith’s last race with the team.

“The 2024 driver lineup will be announced in the coming weeks,” the release concluded.

For Kaulig, having a set Xfinity Series lineup has been a long time coming. Besides losing Smith, team driver Daniel Hemric will be moving up to the Cup Series to replace Justin Haley, who will be jumping ship to Rick Ware Racing. That leaves plenty of seats needing to be filled.

Kaulig Racing has never really had a particularly consistent driver lineup season-to-season. Indeed, even midway through this season, Hemric was moved from his usual No. 11 car to the No. 10 to improve its chances in the owners’ points standings.

DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – MAY 12: Sammy Smith, driver of the #18 Pilot Flying J Toyota, and Chandler Smith, driver of the #16 Quick Tie Products Inc. Chevrolet, drive during practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Shriners Children’s 200 at Darlington Raceway on May 12, 2023 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

As for Chandler Smith, his future appears to be fairly bright. After one win, three poles, eight top fives, and twelve top tens this year, he is certainly something of a commodity in the Xfinity Series garage.

And, according to Matt Weaver at Sportsnaut, it’s Joe Gibbs Racing who’s snapped him up. Weaver reports that the Toyota team had been working towards an agreement to buy out Smith’s three-year contract from Kaulig and put him in one of their cars.

It would be a return to Toyota for Smith after going up through the development program with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series and Venturini Motorsports in ARCA.

It’s also a big coup for JGR against Kaulig Racing. After taking the Xfinity Series scene by storm over the past few years after languishing back in the field in their early days, the team has struggled comparatively this season. Losing one of their stronger developing talents probably won’t help matters going forward.

It’s a lot for Smith to focus on, too, as he hunts for the championship at the end of the season.

Owen Johnson