Every week, I have a considerable amount of comments on each article I write pertaining to the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Usually, it pertains to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers running in NASCAR’s version of baseball’s Triple-A.
Well, I think it is time to attack this growing concern from NASCAR fans.
First off, the XFINITY Series is stronger than it has been in quite some time. There are approximately 12 full-time drivers with a chance to win on a weekly basis, which is the product of a year-over-year increase since 2010, when the Cup Series racers were still running for the XFINITY Series title.
But a lot of things have changed since 2010, too. The cost of a top XFINITY Series ride has inflated in between $6 and $7 million, and sponsors are thrilled to get a taste at NASCAR with a quality organization. However, a new sponsor also often wants a Cup Series driver as part of its lineup.
Let’s fast forward to 2015. There are seven drivers with a realistic shot at winning a championship, yet none have won a race nine events into the season (not including Ryan Reed, who has rapidly dropped in the standings since a season-opening win). Ty Dillon leads the points and has multiple sponsors featured on his No. 3 car throughout the year, rather than a sponsor like NAPA, which has invested a full season to be on Chase Elliott’s car.
This division can create future partnerships in the Cup Series with young drivers, which was the hope for NAPA and Elliott – and as of Wednesday morning, that was exactly what occurred. NAPA signed a three-year deal starting in 2016 to sponsor Elliott’s Cup efforts after two seasons in the XFINITY Series. That is what this division is all about.
However, the Cup Series drivers are racing for their Cup teams, with the addition of a top quality pit crew from their Cup cars. Team Penske fields the No. 22 Ford for multiple drivers – two of their Cup drivers, Ryan Blaney and the occasional one-off deal – and it excels with Discount Tire providing a full season’s worth of funding. Not only does the company fund the car, but it also pays a higher price thanks to having the stardom of 2013 Cup champion Brad Keselowski and 2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano at the helm of the racecar.
This was not a problem until teams such as Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing began forming XFINITY programs. Originally, it started as driver development deals, but then the teams came to a realization that they would benefit financially by having their Cup stars in the car on Saturday afternoons. It introduces multiple sponsors to the sport, along with giving drivers extra seat time. What’s not to like about it?
But in the process, it has taken away the development part of the XFINITY Series.
Drivers now struggle to get full-time rides, especially when they are young and are in dire need of seat time. Brennan Poole struggled for multiple years to advance out of the ARCA Series, but after a while, he finally signed a sponsor to put him in a top quality ride in NASCAR’s second-tier division. His story is one that is rare in this era of racing, where money is increasingly more important than talent, because he persevered and brought a new company into the sport, even though he is splitting a ride with a Cup Series driver.
So how does NASCAR maximize the opportunity for XFINITY Series regulars to win on a weekly basis? It is actually not too difficult.
It is time to go back into the past. Cup teams should be limited to running a Cup driver, or a combination of drivers, in its XFINITY Series cars for half of the schedule. This would give a company the opportunity to have the exposure of having a Cup racer in its stable, and also enables a young driver gain publicity and seat time.
Next up is another simple change. The Cup Series teams should not be able to use Cup pit crew members for more than half the season. It is good to give some crew members extra time to practice their skills in a race setting. However, doing so on a weekly basis prevents the possibility of more up-and-comers getting the opportunity to showcase their talents outside of pit practice.
Then, there is the biggest change that needs to be made: NASCAR needs to influence drivers to start their own teams, similar to Kyle Busch Motorsports and Brad Keselowski Racing. These two drivers have created successful organizations in the Truck Series and would be just as competitive in the XFINITY Series with the star power of the owners, along with their Cup Series teammates. They could then run the majority of the season since it is their own equipment, and the sponsors that they currently work with could join with them for maximum exposure.
Think about this: if Kyle Busch Motorsports was able to stay in the XFINITY Series, it could have become a championship-caliber organization. When Dale Earnhardt started Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated, it won championships right away thanks to an alliance with Richard Childress Racing. As long as the equipment is being put together in a separate shop away from the Cup teams without the same crew members, it would create a leveled playing field for the younger drivers, which is what the division needs.
Along with the team changes, NASCAR also needs to go back to its grassroots way of operating the division. Short tracks needs to be brought back into the schedule, and they need to be stand-alone events. This will maximize the amount of drivers able to win events, and it would enable younger ones to transition at a quicker rate from Late Models and the K&N Pro Series/ARCA.
It will be difficult to convince teams of these changes, and it is highly unlikely, especially trying to convince Cup drivers to start their own XFINITY teams. However, never say never. Stranger things have happened in NASCAR, and there have been murmurings of doing something along these lines for quite some time, but they have just never gotten further than the preliminary stages.