Before the start of the 2022 season, Josh Williams declared he would further his career by moving to BJ McLeod Motorsports for the full Xfinity Series schedule. He knew there would be critics.
“I want to race on Sundays, and (BJ McLeod Motorsports) was an avenue to have that opportunity to get some seat time off and on,” Williams told NASCAR.com last week. “I thought it was a good idea for us.”
For the previous five seasons, Williams contributed to the growth of DGM Racing, a similar team to BJMM in the Xfinity Series. There, he piled up eight top-10 results, six of which came during his standout 2020 season.
This past Sunday, Williams made his Cup Series debut, piloting the No. 78 Ford for Live Fast Motorsports. When the checkered flag flew, the Florida native earned a respectable 25th-place finish.
His Cup debut has been the only bright spot thus far in 2022. His primary focus, driving the No. 78 car in the Xfinity Series, is having a rugged start to the year, failing to qualify in three of the eight races.
“It’s just part of motorsports, it’s part of racing,” Williams said. “I’ve had good years before and I’ve had really, really bad years before. We’re making gains to make it better and get back to where we need to be. It might take a little longer than we expected, but we’ll be back up where we need to be.”
After finishing 31st and 21st in the opening two races of the season, respectively, Williams missed his first race at Las Vegas. During the 20-minute practice session, the No. 78 car blew an engine and was unable to make a qualifying lap.
In the first road course of the season at Circuit of The Americas, Williams’ team missed the setup, thus resulting in him watching from the sidelines. And most recently at Martinsville, it was another instance of not being able to fix an issue from practice, when the No. 78 car had a broken seal in the right front brake caliper. Though still turning a qualifying lap — essentially with just left front brakes — Williams missed the show.
Team owner BJ McLeod was worried something like what’s happened to the No. 78 team could happen this year, especially if a team that is high in the owners standings has a problem and can just take a provisional position.
“I knew that it would be a problem with having some failures in practice and you can’t get it fixed,” McLeod said. “It’s hurt us more than others because we’re down in the points. Of the three races we got sent home, two of them are because of problems we couldn’t fix before qualifying. I’m fine with that.
“We need to do a good job of cleaning that up, get ourselves further up in points, that way if we do have a common problem that happens when you go practice then we aren’t shoved out of the race because somebody else has already taken a provisional.”
In signing Williams, McLeod knew he was getting a racer’s racer, someone he believes can run inside the top 10 weekly given the right opportunity. The entire No. 78 team was overhauled during the offseason, too, when the duo made a collaborative effort of who they wanted to work on the car. McLeod also purchased a multitude of updated chassis, hoping to step up his Xfinity efforts.
Getting everything to mesh has been a challenge.
“(This) isn’t the BJMM that you saw in 2021 or 2020,” McLeod said. “We were trying to put together a whole new program and it hasn’t worked out as quickly as we wanted it to. But we’re working hard to get that turned around and get it to where we can get in the direction we want it to go.”
Williams just boils the tough luck at the start of the season down to growing pains that most teams have.
“It’s one of those things where everybody is getting used to everybody,” he said. “I’m trying to learn what everyone wants and how to react to different people. I’m excited to get it back to where it needs to be and show everybody that the (No.) 78 car is going to be a threat every week.”
Despite the troubling start, McLeod does see light at the end of the tunnel. On paper, he said, the entire organization has seen an uptick in speed. Richmond, in particular, sticks out because Williams was second in the practice session while Stefan Parsons was right behind in third.
In addition, Parsons led his first laps in the Xfinity Series at Martinsville, as Matt Mills was running inside the top 10 before getting turned by Riley Herbst.
“We definitely have more speed than we’ve had, but we’ve had small mistakes with Josh that have cost us big,” McLeod added. “We’ve got to clean them up and do a better job in the future.”
Both the driver and owner believe the team can salvage the 2022 season. Besides, there’s still three-quarters of the year remaining, with a bunch of tracks Williams has performed well at in the past coming up.
“I’ve raced my entire life, it’s the only thing I’ve ever done,” Williams stated. “You can’t get down on yourself, can’t get down on your guys, your team. You’ve got to keep a positive attitude to try to be better. If everyone is getting upset at the shop, it’s not going to benefit your program.
“We try to keep a positive attitude and make the best of the situation and build off of it.”
Surely, McLeod, who has seen many peaks and valleys of BJMM’s seven years in the series, isn’t going to give up.
“There’s no doubt I’m not happy with what we’ve done on our side,” he said. “I’m not at peace with it, but I can also say that my guys have done a good job, too. It’s not any one person’s problem or any one thing that’s hurt us, it’s a combination of things that we have to get better and we’re all working towards that.”
The first goal is to qualify Williams into Talladega on Saturday, as the team enters the weekend 35th in the owners standings after swapping points with the No. 99 car earlier this week, which will now be a part-time entry. In the series’ first superspeedway race at Daytona, the No. 78 Chevrolet qualified solidly into the show in 24th.
Then, the racer in Williams can come out.
“The biggest thing for us is to go to Talladega and finish the race,” he said. “Try to have a good points day and then we can go to places like Dover and Darlington and race. I’ve had pretty good success there with decent finishes, so I think we’ll be good once we get back into the swing of things and get our momentum back.”