(Photo: Mike Neff)

Eyes on XFINITY: It’s Time for Change & Here’s How to Do It

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.

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About Joseph Wolkin

Joseph Wolkin
Joseph started with Fronstretch in Aug. 2014 and worked his way up to become an editor in less than a year. A native of Whitestone, New York, Joseph writes for NASCAR Pole Position magazine as a weekly contributor, along with being a former intern at Newsday and the Times Beacon Record Newspapers, each on Long Island. With a focus on NASCAR, he runs our social media pages and writes the NASCAR Mailbox column, along with other features for the site.

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10 comments

  1. Avatar

    I can’t decide whether this is pure delusion, or just the usual spin. Consider this. Every competitive endeavor known to man has classes. The Xfinity series is a graphic example of why this is so. An alleged racing series that functions purely as a Cup practice/vanity run Xfinity so lacks any semblance of competition that it is a stretch to call even call it racing. Classes also exist so that skills can be developed and confidence can be gained. Getting battered week in and week out does neither. It is akin to a professional boxer calling a sparring session a fight. Check the stands. There is NO ONE there. The TV ratings are equally dismal. People do not have to watch any form of entertainment that is, well, not entertaining. The racing press can keep telling us how exciting this all is but the hard facts indicate otherwise. There isn’t a tarp big enough to cover the Xfinity series. While it is probably too late to save the series articles like this do little but hasten its demise.

  2. Avatar

    I guess my sentiments fall somewhere between the Joseph Wolkin’s and JohnQ’s. While my preference is that no cup drivers be allowed to compete in the Xfinity Series, I can accept limited cup driver participation if it’s in the best interest of the series. I do think Wolkin’s proposed rules are too easy to circumvent and in my opinion leave too many cup drivers racing in the Xfinity series. My idea… I call it the 6-3 Rule… is simple. Allow cup drivers to particpate in no more than six Xfinity races per season, and only allow three qualifying spots in every Xfinity race to cup drivers. You still get some marquee drivers, but you won’t have the same cup drivers stinking up the Xfinity races week after week, and in most cases you won’t have as many cup drivers racing in any one Xfinity race. It’s not new idea, but it’s a good one.

    What’s a bad idea is to let the sponsors dictate the rules. Naturally, they are more concerned with brand exposure than the overall health of the sport. That’s supposed to be Brian France’s job, but we all know how well that’s working out. Sadly, I don’t expect anything to change as long as he’s running the show.

    • Avatar

      I’ve said for a long time that the problem isn’t Cup drivers. It’s Cup drivers with Cup teams, just like Wolkin said. I would add the absence of strong Xfinity-only teams. All of the top-three series have seen many of their middle-class teams (the kind that don’t dominate, but are sure to be a force on occasion) disappear, leaving only the super-teams, the handful of teams that the superteams deign to have “alliances” with, and a sea of start-and-parks or rolling chicanes.

      I don’t have a solution, but I know that no matter how many Busch races Mark Martin won (in old, heavy cars without all-Cup crews), Jeff Green in the NesQuik car was not afraid of him. Even the Cup-owned Busch teams didn’t have bottomless budgets in those days.

      Whether it’s the schedules, the cars, or the teams, lack of variety is what’s killing NASCAR.

  3. Avatar

    The real issue is, the product is unwatchable. There is no racing, no semblance of competition for the most part. Strung out fields, Harvick/Joey/Brad/Kyle dominating races. Let’s face it the only reason Reed won Daytona is because half the field was eliminated and Kyle broke his leg. Two muscle cars and a Camry….looks normal. Younger drivers aren’t learning anything because they’re largely back markers with the exception of the Roush drivers; not sure how one learns anything getting lapped every 20 minutes. It’s a combination of Cup teams and drivers coupled with Cup engineering outclassing cars that have to fit a narrow template with low horsepower.

  4. Avatar

    This is nothing new with drivers in the “lower series”, people just don’t want to believe that Dale Sr., Mark Martin to name a few, participated in. I do believe it is a good thing, at the very least a way to gauge talent, who might have what it takes in Cup. Also, the myth of taking candy from youngsters is pure nonsense. In last weeks Talladega race Joey Logano had 6 drivers younger than him the rest of the field was older. I checked myself as I am tired of that argument considering how young he is. There are plenty of older and “career” Xfiniity drivers that make a nice living staying where they are. To think that a sponsor has no say so as to who sits in the seat is naïve and those Cup drivers are a draw to get somebody, anybody excited when you see a Eric Jones blow past a Brad Keselowski. I say this always and I will continue to say it, how am I going to know who is a standout when a Jon Wes Townley is racing a Brian Scott or a Cole Whitt? We have seen Justin Alliager for YEARS in NW, didn’t exactly light em’ up, to my surprise he is in Cup and not to my surprise is still wrecking himself and others, rookie or not. And I would think that these guys just to get to Xfinity have won their fair share and might be a tad insulted with the “little league”, “baby series” etc. The myth that all in the series are being denied their place in the sun consistently is bologna, the series is a racing series and not all are destined to be superstars, stars, a blimp on somebodies radar or to advance up. It is up to the owner and sponsor as to how they want to handle their race team, most importantly who is in the seat and who isn’t. You have Chase Elliot driving for the HMS farm team, you have Eric Jones driving for Gibbs, they are series regulars but they also have the backing of some serious money compared to other teams, that inequality to me is more of an issue that Cuppers. And I am not really concerned about inequality at all, that’s business, right or wrong.

    • Avatar

      When you can’t spell the drivers names correctly, why should I listen to you? You sound like one of the team owners who is padding your pockets. Look, we can debate it all day long but the proof is in the pudding when you see awesome rookie of the year competitions in Cup like Kevin Conway vs. no one or Jeb Burton finishing 38th in points and winning the award. I just don’t even watch the races anymore because that is the only way I can show how sick of it I am, don’t watch, don’t buy, don’t support it!

      • Avatar

        Well Aaron, sounds like offended you, yes I know I spelled two names wrong, it still doesn’t negate my argument, and more importantly nobody said you had to “listen to me”. Sorry you are emotional about it, but those are practical facts not based on emotion which clearly you are basing your rant on. You don’t have to like any of it and clearly you don’t, but as they say..”it is what it is”. And if not watching makes you feel better, good for you.

    • Avatar

      I’d have to agree with all you’ve written, KB. Some weekends the Xfinity series has the best racing. Sometimes it’s Cup and other times it’s the trucks. I would like to see the Cup drivers only allowed to compete in half the races. It would help put more focus on the full time Xfinity drivers. Also, more standalone events would be good. Indianapolis Raceway Park had tremendous racing. And then NASCAR thought they’d just have them run Indianapolis Speedway instead. Boring. Oh well. They still pull over a million viewers even if the stands are a bit empty. Having them race at Cup facilities makes the attendance look worse than say an IRP.

    • Avatar

      Your argument about Allgaier in Cup is actually supporting those that say Cup drivers don’t belong in the series. If as you say, having Cup drivers in the series is gauging competition, then why is Allgaier in Cup if he was so disappointing in Xfinity? And saying these guys help attendance is the biggest farce, but you Kool-Aid drinkers keep throwing that out when grandstands continue to be empty at these support series races. Move them to short tracks in a place that doesn’t host a Cup series and I bet you there are more people in the stands than in Kansas this weekend. People that actually like to see good racing stopped watching this series long ago. Its a waste of time to watch when you already know the outcome. I agree with the other Steve, young drivers are not learning anything getting beat on by superior equipment, crews, and drivers every week.

  5. Avatar

    I wonder if we can all agree with this as a bottom line assessment. If Cup drivers in the lower series encourage people to watch than attendance will grow, or at least stabilize. If Cup drivers encourage people to tune out than attendance will remain dismal, or continue to decline. Well?