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Late last fall, Stefan Parsons was announced as the full-time driver of the No. 99 car for BJ McLeod Motorsports in the Xfinity Series for the 2022 season. Just over a half year later, he found himself in a familiar position: Not running the entire schedule.
With a stout Xfinity field, Parsons failed to qualify for the 2022 season opener at Daytona International Speedway. After that, he showed flashes of speed, but the results were hard to come by. It was a frustrating start to the campaign despite seeing internal improvements within the team.
“BJ [McLeod, team owner] has put a lot into the Xfinity Series and a lot into his team to try to be better,” Parsons said recently. “This stuff is hard, and we‘ve certainly been trying our best to get there. Everybody else has stepped up their game, too.”
In Parsons‘ first race of the season at Auto Club Speedway, he was involved in a late-race incident with Sheldon Creed, who ironically is married to Parsons‘ sister, Cami. While running in the back half of the top 20 the next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he got caught up in another multi-car incident.
The results started to turn for Parsons at Phoenix Raceway, earning a 21st-place finish. He backed that up at Circuit of The Americas with another 21st. And at Martinsville Speedway in early April, the No. 99 team made a strategy call to get Parsons the lead for the first time in his career.
“For the majority of races, we‘ve had speed, Parsons said, “and the stuff that‘s happened to us hasn‘t been self-inflicted.”
While Parsons was beginning to see positive finishes, BJMM‘s Nos. 5 and 78 teams struggled. Josh Williams, a popular underdog, failed to qualify for three of the opening eight races. Matt Mills, the primary driver of the No. 5 car, has an average finish of 28.2 in 10 starts this season. With the struggles, McLeod knew something needed to be done. So he opted to scale back to just two full-time teams, running the No. 99 sparingly for the remainder of the season.
“It just felt like with the competitiveness of the series and some of the things we‘ve had happen — I hate to say luck, but we‘ve had some bad luck — I felt like it was better to go back to two full-time and run a third when we need to and see if it didn‘t help the product on track for the rest of the year,” McLeod said.
Though it appeared Parsons would be the odd-man out, he had kept his name circling the garage and spoke with Tommy Joe Martins around Martinsville in early April. Knowing the No. 99 team was scaling back, another opportunity arose for Parsons when he announced he was joining Alpha Prime Racing for approximately 12 races total in 2022.
RELATED: 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule
“The opportunity with Tommy Joe came up and it was an opportunity that was hard to pass up,” Parsons said of joining Alpha Prime. “I just felt like it was the right thing to do at the right time. “Thankfully, I still have some races with the 99 crew because this team is really like family to me, and we have some work to do.”
Parsons added the McLeods have treated him like family, which made the decision to move teams that much harder. BJMM gave him his first shot in the Xfinity Series in 2019. Back then, Parsons worked at the race shop and traveled as a mechanic to the races. If an opportunity to race came up, perfect.
Since then, Parsons has been embedded with BJMM. McLeod believes shipping him off to Alpha Prime could be a big career swing for the 24-year-old.
“I don‘t look at it as a loss to Alpha Prime, but I feel like we‘re helping Stefan and letting him explore other opportunities,” McLeod stated. “I‘m still going to be there to help Stefan anytime he needs it and believe in his ability to be successful in this sport. The raw speed the kid has is what you need to be able to make it and work your way up the ladder.”
Now three starts into the pairing, Parsons has earned his best finish of the season at Texas Motor Speedway, placing 17th. And at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the No. 45 team had a solid run going but was in the middle of a five-car pileup during the Final Stage.
Alpha Prime team owners Martins and Caesar Bacarella, both formerly competing for BJMM, are thrilled to have Parsons on board.
“The kid has a lot of talent, you‘ve seen what he‘s done in BJ‘s equipment,” Caesar Bacarella, co-owner of Alpha Prime Racing, said. “He‘s good, just has to keep his head on his shoulders a little bit. I think he‘s going to shine now.”
For Parsons, it‘s a full-circle moment to drive for Martins, as he “basically begged” Martins to run one of his trucks in 2017 at Martinsville. At that time, he had zero NASCAR national series experience.
Parsons will return to BJMM to run three races this season: Pocono Raceway, the Charlotte ROVAL and Martinsville. But his goal has shifted to being a top-15 threat on a weekly basis with Alpha Prime.
“I like the vision that Tommy Joe and Caesar have for their program and where they want to take it,” Parsons said. “I would certainly like to be a part of that. I certainly have high expectations for Alpha Prime and feel like we can go have some good runs.”
Parsons will make his fourth start with Alpha Prime at Nashville Superspeedway this weekend in the Tennesee Lottery 250 (Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).