AJ Allmendinger’s return adds to loaded 2021 Xfinity Series

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AJ Allmendinger says the chance to vie for a championship is among the reasons he will run a full-time Xfinity schedule for Kaulig Racing next season.

Just getting to the 2021 Xfinity Series title race, though, could be more difficult than it has been in recent years.

Six of the top eight drivers in the points — including champion Austin Cindric — return to the Xfinity Series in 2021. Those six drivers combined to win 21 of the 33 races (63.6%) this past season.

Allmendinger, running a partial schedule, won two Xfinity races last year. He scored wins at Atlanta and in the rain at the Charlotte Roval.

Cindric acknowledged shortly after winning his championship how challenging it will be to defend his Xfinity crown.

“Next year is not going to be easy,” Cindric said last month. “Winning races is not going to be easy. There’s going to be great guys and great equipment and we’re still going to have to be able to get the job done.”

MORE: A look at who will be racing where in 2021

With some drivers publicly stating they’d rather spend another year in the Xfinity Series instead of running one season in Cup with the current car before the Next Gen car debuts in 2022, the Xfinity Series looks to have one of its deepest fields of drivers next season.

Cindric, who will move to Cup full-time in 2022, won six races with Team Penske, along with the title this past season.

Joe Gibbs Racing returns Harrison Burton (four wins this past season) and Brandon Jones (three wins), along with adding Daniel Hemric to its roster.

Allmendinger’s teammates at Kaulig Racing will be Justin Haley (three wins) and Jeb Burton.

JR Motorsports returns Justin Allgaier (three wins), Noah Gragson (two wins) and Michael Annett.

Cindric, Allgaier and Haley each raced for the championship in November at Phoenix.

The 21 wins by returning Xfinity drivers who finished this past season in the top eight in points is nearly as many wins combined by those in the top eight in points who came back for the 2018 and/or 2019 seasons.

Also returning are playoff drivers Brandon Brown and Ryan Sieg. Riley Herbst also is expected to return and has yet to announce where he’ll race in 2021. Stewart-Haas Racing has yet to announce who will take over its ride with Chase Briscoe moving to Cup.

“It’s not easy, by any means, just to run inside that top eight or nine every weekend,” Allmendinger said Tuesday. “It’s a difficult challenge. That’s what I love about it. It’s not easy. It’s our job to go out there and keep getting better.

“You look at the race teams that are involved, the Gibbs and Penskes and Stewart-Haas. You’ve got JR Motorsports that is associated with Hendrick Motorsports. RCR. It’s a lot of Cup teams that are part of this Xfinity Series. You’ve got a lot of young drivers that are really good. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s what I love about it.

“If I didn’t feel like we had an opportunity to go out there and win races and possibly get to that final four and have a shot at a championship, then I definitely wouldn’t be doing this full-time. I really believe that as we keep moving forward at Kaulig Racing that we can be one of those top-tier teams every weekend that people know when we show up — I believe that we’re close to that already — to know that when we show up every weekend we are the team to beat. That’s where we want to get.”