While Jesse Love got most of the love in the ARCA Menards Series this season (pun intended), Joe Gibbs Racing’s 16-year-old prospect, William Sawalich, made quite the name for himself as well. He won the ARCA Menards East Series Championship with four wins and no finish worse than fourth, and he compiled four ARCA Menards Series wins as well, with two of those in ARCA East Combo races.
Of all the ARCA races he competed in this year, he finished outside of the top 10 only once and outside of the top 5 only twice. He also recorded three top-10s in six Craftsman Truck Series starts.
He has put on quite an impressive show in the lower series. Could William Sawalich be the next big star at Joe Gibbs Racing? Could he be the driver they are building their future around?
Sawalich’s Immediate Future
For now, Sawalich may not be making any major full-time changes to his driving plans. This is because Sawalich is only 17 years old, and he will not be 18 until October 3, 2024. The age of 18 is a very significant one for race car drivers.
Drivers cannot compete full-time in any series of NASCAR until they turn 18 years old. Drivers can compete as young as 16 in the Craftsman Truck Series, such as Sawalich did this year, but they can only compete on road courses and tracks less than 1.25 miles in length. This means that next year, Sawalich would only be eligible to compete in 11 Truck Series races in 2024 including all short track races and any race after October 3rd. He could also technically compete in any of the final six Xfinity Series races too, but, that is during the Playoffs.
Overall, Sawalich may take some stabs at the Truck Series in 2024, but the Xfinity Series may be a tougher sell. Especially given that he cannot compete in the series until late in the season when Gibbs will likely be focused on Playoff drivers. ARCA has not released their 2024 schedule yet, so, it’s uncertain what his schedule could look like for ARCA, but, that is probably where the lion’s share of his starts could be.
The Impact of Jesse Love Leaving
Jesse Love moving on to Richard Childress Racing’s Xfinity Series program has moved Sawalich up the pecking order at Toyota at least on paper. It’s entirely possible that Sawalich was always higher on the light for Toyota because he already drives for JGR in ARCA. Love drove for Venturini in ARCA, and his lack of Gibbs connection may be what kept him out of the running for rides up the ladder at Toyota.
Regardless, Sawalich could become the undisputed number 1 JGR/Toyota prospect in ARCA because of his move. He is also young, so Toyota can allow drivers like Corey Heim to develop in Trucks while Sawalich waits to be old enough to compete full-time. That may be part of why Toyota and JGR would rather keep Sawalich aside from his impressive resume on the race track.
What Does the Future Hold for Sawalich?
Sawalich may not appear on everyone’s radar in 2024, but 2025 could be very interesting. Next Silly Season could see some major shifting at Toyota because of Martin Truex Jr. If he ends up retiring, which may happen, someone in the Toyota camp may move up to take that spot.
That could allow someone like Corey Heim to move up to the Xfinity Series, which opens the door for Sawalich to move up to the Truck Series. It’s also not out of the question that Sawalich could skip Trucks. Jesse Love is doing it, and Sammy Smith did so right when he turned 18.
It’s also worth noting that Gibbs does not have a Truck Series team. Therefore, in order to keep him directly under the Gibbs umbrella, Sawalich would likely have to move directly up to Xfinity. He will be a driver to watch some Silly Season 2025.