By Dustin Albino

Since BJ McLeod started his own Xfinity Series operation in 2016, it‘s a team that has continued to power on. This year, it‘s taken the next step to be more competitive. 

In January, McLeod signed Anthony Alfredo to pilot the team‘s flagship No. 78 Chevrolet for the 2023 season. Alfredo was coming off a 15th-place finish in the 2022 Xfinity standings for Our Motorsports. Veteran crew chief Pat Tryson and a few members from the Our team transitioned to BJ McLeod Motorsports with Alfredo in a seamless effort. 

After Garrett Smithley failed to qualify for two of the opening three races in the No. 99 car, McLeod scaled back his Xfinity efforts to just one car, focusing solely on Alfredo. That‘s a move that proved to pan out with speed, though the results haven’t indicated immediate success. 

“From a speed standpoint, we‘re faster this year than we‘ve ever been,” McLeod said. “There‘s no doubt, but we have things this year that we‘ve never had before.” 

What BJMM has is leased engines in a deal with ECR. That creates more speed, and is a necessity to run competitively on a given weekend. Alfredo has stood out on superspeedways this season, as he qualified sixth at Talladega Superspeedway and was leading by lap 3. He also cracked the top 10 in qualifying in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. 

While Alfredo has had impressive qualifying efforts, the team has been through its fair share of adversity during races. McLeod can recount 14 consecutive races where the No. 78 car had some sort of damage to it. Only one issue was due to a team failure, when Alfredo lost his brakes in practice at Sonoma Raceway. 

“I‘m disappointed in the results, but it hasn‘t been anybody‘s doing,” Alfredo said. “It‘s just been racing. I‘m sure there are people in history that have had worse years or tougher years, but what‘s aggravating about it is we’ve had good speed. We came out of the gate swinging. We turned this program around.”

Alfredo doesn‘t believe the team should run worse than 20th on a given week. For the first time in team history, it has top-20 speed weekly. On a well-executed day, it should realistically reach 15th, McLeod believes. 

Through 21 races, Alfredo is still looking for his first top-10 finish of the season and has an average finish south of 24th. Most weeks, it‘s been top 20 or bust, as the No. 78 team has nine such results, including three straight heading into this weekend, and seven finishes below 30th. 

“We‘re not going to give up,” Alfredo said. “I know we‘re going to have a breakthrough. The hard part is the points and what we‘re racing for as a small team. Those two or three spots matter for us. When you have a mechanical failure and you don‘t finish a race, now you finish 15 spots worse than you should have and that buys us tires, fuel.

“The only thing you can do is what BJ said, every week is a new week.”

Spending the previous two seasons at smaller race teams in Our and in 2021 at the Cup Series level with Front Row Motorsports prepared Alfredo for the hardships that could occur during the season. Last season, he narrowly missed the postseason. 

This year, he‘s been tested. 

“We‘re no doubt a top-20 team; we just have to finish and put races together,” Alfredo mentioned. “I feel like we have been, but even at Atlanta, we were racing up there with the big dogs and got caught up in a crash. Talladega, I took the lead and never looked back until the end of the stage when we got caught up in something.

“It‘s hard to sit here because there‘s nothing we could do better. We‘ve tried to look at everything and you know you could always be better; we‘re not perfect. For some reason, we‘ve had this string of, if you name it, it‘s happened.”

Expectations have been raised at BJMM. The budget has doubled,  McLeod explained. Gone are the days of using scuffed tires and still having a chance to crack the top 20. The competition in the series has improved greatly in the last couple of years alone. 

“I don‘t even know how to put it on a scale because if I tried to start our team this year, we would have never made it,” McLeod said. “It‘s that much different. If you don‘t buy all sticker tires every week, unless it‘s a superspeedway, you can get away with it there, you‘re going to run last.”

Alfredo reflects back 12 months ago, when he was telling everybody that the series had never been more challenging. He takes that back now, as multiple organizations have upped their performance in 2023, making it even more difficult for smaller teams. 

Another element is chasing sponsorship, though Alfredo is represented by Team Dillon Management. That‘s a battle that he continues to hunt, despite being listed as the only NASCAR driver to have more than 30 endorsements. That dedication to building his persona is rewarding, but it also affects his ability to drive a racecar.

“At the end of the day, you cannot be 100% focused on driving because you have to dedicate time to finding the money to go race,” Alfredo stated. “It‘s not that you‘re not focused, but you‘re trying to build your brand.”

Over the final 12 races of the season, Alfredo believes the No. 78 team can continue to improve its finishing results. He knows it will be difficult, but believes he can win at Daytona later this month because he‘s excelled on superspeedways. 

“If you look at where we were running when stuff happened, it shows we‘ve had speed,” Alfredo said optimistically. “By no means am I unhappy with the performance we‘ve had, but the racing gods, the man upstairs has a plan for us and we‘re going to have to be patient and keep working hard.”

Currently, Alfredo ranks 21st in the drivers standings, with the No. 78 team sitting 24th in the owners standings, which is an 11-spot improvement on 2022 when the team finished 35th.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *