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5 key storylines for 2021 Xfinity Series season

From familiar faces and redemption runs to Michael Jordan's brand new racing team, NASCAR on NBC takes a look at the top storylines going into the 2021 season.

As NASCAR’s number two division, the Xfinity Series annually sees some of its best drivers make the jump to racing on (mostly) Sundays in the Cup Series.

But entering 2021, many of last year’s playoff and championship contenders are back for another run.

That leads off our five key storylines for the upcoming Xfinity season...

Stiff competition

Three of last year’s Championship 4 drivers - including series champion Austin Cindric - and six of the top eight drivers in the 2020 standings return.

Among this group are Cindric, Justin Allgaier, Justin Haley, Noah Gragson, Brandon Jones, and Harrison Burton, who combined to win 21 of 33 races last year.

Besides them, several other playoff drivers return, including Michael Annett, Ryan Sieg, Brandon Brown, and Riley Herbst.

Higher stakes

Herbst is one of several drivers entering situations with higher stakes for them.

After struggling to keep up with Jones and Burton as a rookie at Joe Gibbs Racing, he has moved to Stewart-Haas Racing, where he’ll drive the No. 98 that Cup Series-bound Chase Briscoe took to a series-best nine wins last year.

Herbst’s replacement at JGR is Daniel Hemric, who returns to full-time status after running 21 races last year for JR Motorsports. Hemric believes he finally has equipment that gives him the raw speed he needs to become a regular winner in NASCAR.

An uncommon career path has led to a full-time ride for Myatt Snider with Richard Childress Racing. Snider split the 2020 season between RCR and RSS Racing after competing in the NASCAR Euro Series the previous year.

Then there’s Jeb Burton, who replaces Cup-bound Ross Chastain in the No. 10 for Kaulig Racing. Burton has competed part-time in the Xfinity Series for the past five years, most recently in 2020 with JR Motorsports (11 races).

Kaulig rising

Speaking of Kaulig Racing, they’re building off their best season to date in the Xfinity Series by expanding to a three-car lineup in 2021 with Haley, Burton, and NBC Sports analyst AJ Allmendinger, who moves to full-time status.

Haley’s run to the Championship 4 showed that Kaulig is one of the series’ top teams, alongside JR Motorsports and Cup-adjacent programs from Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

They could be even better in 2021. The team has been formidable on superspeedways, and an expanded road course schedule gives Allmendinger more chances to win.

As for Burton, he may need time to jell with his new crew. But 12 top-10 finishes in 18 starts over the past two years with JR Motorsports shows that he’s capable.

Rule the road

Going back to those road courses, the Xfinity Series will - like the Cup Series - face seven of them this coming season.

Allmendinger and Cindric, who combined to win three of the four road races in 2020, stand to be the favorites in this part of the schedule.

But keep an eye on Gragson, who earned “podium” finishes on the road courses at Indianapolis (third), Daytona (third), and Charlotte (second behind Allmendinger). In his outlier at Road America, he still finished a respectable sixth.

Dash 4 Cash

Four vastly different tracks make up this season’s Xfinity Dash 4 Cash schedule, which will see select drivers compete for cash bonuses.

NASCAR’s smallest and biggest tracks, Martinsville Speedway (Apr. 9) and Talladega Superspeedway (Apr. 24), make up the first two events on the Dash schedule.

Darlington Raceway’s 1.366-mile egg-shaped asphalt oval comes next on May 8, followed by the May 15 finale on Dover International Speedway’s concrete mile.