Three young up and coming drivers have secured fulltime rides in NASCAR’s Xfinity series for 2017. Matt Tifft, Michael Annett and William Byron were announced as drivers for fulltime rides for two different top teams Friday.
Matt Tifft will race for Joe Gibbs Racing next season. It’s a year after his Xfinity season for 2016 was cut short due to a low-grade glioma in his brain found during routine evaluations for some back pain in June. Tifft returned to competition in September.
Tifft has raced 9 times in 2016 scoring a pole and a top five finish. The 20-year old has competed in a limited schedule in both the Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series over the last three seasons, making a combined 31-career starts. He has one top-five and eight top-10 finishing spots in the Camping World Tuck Series and one top-five, five top-10 finishes and a pole-qualifying position in the Xfinity Series.
“It has been an incredible year and I am honored to have the opportunity to continue working with Joe Gibbs Racing in the 2017 season,” Tifft said.”I’ve always wanted the chance to contend for a championship with the Chase for the Championship program, I am thrilled to be with JGR and know they will be instrumental in my career. Through my health challenges this year and while I have continued to learn and improve my driving skills, Coach Gibbs, the staff, and veteran drivers here have mentored me and I look forward to the opportunity to be around them now for a full season.”
Matt Beckman will move up from team engineer on the No. 11 car in the Cup series, and will serve as crew chief for Tifft and team in 2017. Beckman joined JGR in 2007 as an engineer with the race team support group and was promoted to manager of the group in 2014 before becoming race engineer on the No. 19 Sprint Cup Series Toyota team in 2015. He holds an undergraduate degree from Michigan Tech and earned his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for me and I’m excited to work with Matt (Tifft),” said Beckman. “Joe Gibbs Racing has had incredible success for many years now in the XFINITY Series and I know the organization takes immense pride in those accomplishments. You don’t have to look any further than JGR’s Cup Series crew chief lineup to realize the tradition they established at JGR and I’m honored to become a part of it starting next season.”
Later Friday, JR Motorsports announced they will expand to a full-season four-car Xfinity series operation in 2017 with Annett and Byron joining current fulltime drivers Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier.
The team will also field a fifth car in select races with Sprint Cup regulars Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr., the team’s owner, swapping time behind the wheel.
Annett leaves HScott Motorsports where he has raced the last two years in the Sprint Cup Series. He competed full-time in the Xfinity Series from 2009-13. The 30-year-old Iowa native has 103 Cup starts, with no top 10 finishes, 163 Xfinity starts with seven top five and 34 top 10 finishes, and nine starts in the Truck series with one top five and two top 10 finishes.
“I’m excited for this opportunity with JR Motorsports,” Annett said. “Dale Jr. and Kelley (Earnhardt Miller, the team’s general manager) have done a great job building this organization. They have put the right people in place and have a championship to their name. I look forward to joining them and competing for wins and a championship next season in the XFINITY Series.”
Byron, the 18-year-old breakout star of the Camping World Truck Series this year, signed with Hendrick Motorsports in August for a developmental assignment with JR Motorsports next season. The first-year Liberty University student and NASCAR Next product has six wins in his first season of truck competition.