As the NASCAR Xfinity Series new year rolls around, SS-Green Light Racing is doing some preseason shuffling. On Friday and Saturday, the team announced they have moved Joe Graf Jr. from the #08 to the #07 Chevrolet Camaro, followed by renumbering the former to #17 as part of a continued partnership with Rick Ware Racing.
After racing in ARCA and sporadically in the Xfinity Series, Graf moved to a full-time schedule in the latter with SSGLR in 2020. Driving the #08, he finished twenty-second in points with a best race finish of thirteenth thrice (Bristol, Homestead 2, Kentucky). A New York University business media and sports management major, he has also worked as a communications major for Richard Childress Racing, for whom he made his Xfinity début in 2019.
“I can’t wait for the NASCAR Xfinity season to start,” Graf stated in a press release. “2020 was a surreal learning experience. Racing so many tracks for the first time without getting any practice due to COVID-19 was tough. However, I believe conquering those challenges last season will allow us to have a more productive and competitive sophomore season.”
The 2020 season began with Ray Black Jr. as the #07’s driver for his second year with SSGLR. Despite scoring his maiden top ten in the opener at Daytona, he vacated his seat after the first five races to focus on his family business in the wake of the pandemic. To fill the void, the team forged an alliance with RWR, a regular face in the Xfinity Series until 2017 and had partnered with Mike Harmon Racing in 2019, in which the latter’s Cup Series drivers took over the car. Garrett Smithley, J.J. Yeley, Gray Gaulding, David Starr, and Joey Gase would race for both RWR’s Cup stable and the #07, while Ware’s son Carson and road course ringers Jade Buford and R.C. Enerson also made starts. The #07 finish eighteenth in the owners’ standings with a highest race finish of second with Gaulding at Daytona in August; the car enjoyed four more top tens during the year, all of which were interestingly eighth-place finishes.
“We are excited to continue this alliance with RWR,” said SSGLR owner Bobby Dotter in a joint statement. “Rick was able to step in last year at a time when we found ourselves at a crossroads, and it proved to be a very good thing for both Green Light, RWR and all the drivers and team members involved. The way things played out last season certainly made this a very easy decision as we look to the 2021 season and the beyond.
Later in 2020, RWR revived their Xfinity programme with the #17, which Cody Ware piloted to a seventh-place finish on the Charlotte Roval. The team had planned to field two full-time Xfinity cars in 2021, but the alliance with SSGLR will alleviate some weight on their shoulders as they also field teams in IMSA and the IndyCar Series in addition to their Cup responsibilities. The IMSA team, known as RWR Eurasia in co-operation with Eurasia Motorsport, débuted in last weekend’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona as Cody Ware, fellow NASCAR driver Austin Dillon, Salih Yoluç, and Sven Müller finished tenth overall and fourth in the LMP2 class. RWR’s IndyCar group, which first appeared at the 2020 Indianapolis 500 with part-time Cup driver James Davison, will ally with Dale Coyne Racing in a two-car effort; ex-Formula One driver Romain Grosjean is the only confirmed name for the team as a road and street circuit specialist.
“Originally, we were going to run two [Xfinity cars], and we thought we were going to be able to acquire some points to be able to have no issues at Daytona,” Ware told Dustin Albino of Jayski’s Silly Season Site. “We’re just trying to make sure everything is done right like it needs to be.”
The #17, which will race as both a Camaro and Ford Mustang, will have multiple drivers behind the wheel. A driver for the opener at Daytona and a full rotation were not immediately released, but Cody Ware will run the Daytona road course event while Yeley returns at Homestead the following week. The team’s other Cup drivers—Davison, Gase, Smithley, and Josh Bilicki—are likely candidates to also fill the seat.
“We had a couple options for RWR’s involvement in the Xfinity Series in 2021, but at the end of the day, it made sense to further our releationship with Bobby and the team at SS-Green Light Racing,” Ware said in the joint statement. “The personnel that Bobby put into place proved to be a hardworking group, who helped our drivers put their best foot forward and have a good bit of success, coming close to parking our car in Victory Lane on a couple of different occasions.”
The renumbering means SSGLR will not field the #08, a number that Dotter has long used for his team as an owner and driver. Dotter added in the team release, “While the 08 number holds a very special place in my family’s history in racing, we are excited to write a new chapter with the 17.” Conversely, #07, also a staple of SSGLR, was used by Graf during his early career and was his father’s number during his own driving days.