Rumor has it, the folks at NASCAR are contemplating changes for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Let’s face it, can you blame the sanctioning body?
After another long year with countless headlines featuring Sprint Cup Series drivers leading nearly every lap of a race throughout the majority of the season, fans are irritated, especially the younger generation. The demographic between the ages of 18 and 24 are statistically the lowest in each of the sport’s top-three tiers. However, in Cup and the Camping World Truck series, 11 percent of fans fall into this category. Meanwhile, only nine percent of viewers closely follow the XFINITY Series.
As previously noted, NASCAR sent out a list of possible changes to the fan council, which includes a Chase format potentially coming soon to the sport’s second-tier division. Many have noted that a change in the championship format would disturb the differential between the two divisions, and it will take away a major characteristic within the XFINITY Series, which is consistency.
However, after evaluating the options, it is agreeable that it is in NASCAR’s best interest to create a playoff format for the XFINITY Series. But there is one major thing that needs to be considered: Should it be similar to the Chase in the Cup Series or different?
Since the Chase’s inception in 2004, there have been three different formats, which includes expanding it from 10 to 12 cars and then the current version of a 16-driver playoff with eliminations. While this format has had its ups and downs, the XFINITY Series would benefit greatly from adding a playoff system. However, making it similar to the original Chase format is likely to produce more action given the lack of winners by series regulars.
With only eight series regulars winning in 2015, and only one in the final eight races (Regan Smith), an elimination system would simply be based off of consistency and not wins. The lack of victories by full-time drivers would make the current Chase format rather gimmicky in XFINITY, especially since it would eliminate consistency in what is already a controversial system.
Instead, creating a 10-race playoff with no eliminations would be amazing for the XFINITY Series.
Think about it: It provides young drivers with a spotlight in a playoff environment that would usually not be there, teaching them valuable lessons of how to race in the playoffs if they make it to the Chase in Cup. In addition, the racers would understand what it is like to race to make the Chase, and then would have another addition to their resume, impressing potential team owners and sponsors.
“I’m not exactly sure what my opinion would be of it,” Kyle Busch told Frontstretch in a teleconference following his Sprint Cup Series championship victory. “Obviously with the Chase format changing over the years, I think there’s different opportunities to race in different fashions in order to score championships. But all in all, I feel like it would be more exciting in the NASCAR XFINITY Series to change to some sort of a Chase format and have more guys eligible down towards the end of the season.
“I still think you’re going to see the same championship‑caliber drivers contend for that championship when it comes down to the final race in Homestead.”
As Busch stated, the same drivers will likely be racing for the championship. However, it will tighten up a points battle that is usually not close. Chris Buescher’s 15-point gap ahead of Chase Elliott at the conclusion of the 2015 season was one of just two title battles that came down to the final race since 2008 when Clint Bowyer used a fifth-place finish at Homestead to edge race winner Carl Edwards by 21 points for the title (2013).
Adding pressure to the title contenders, the series could go through a new generation, one that adapts better to the new culture of NASCAR. It is a culture that can make the XFINITY Series stand out, considering the races are shorter in a time where short attention spans plague American sports. With a focus on winning during the final 10 events, which is nearly one-third of the season’s contests, a Chase would provide a spotlight for series regulars that would otherwise be focused on Cup drivers dominating the races.
With all of that said, Busch also noted adding a Chase format could affect the credibility of the XFINITY Series.
“I do feel as though it’s necessary to still keep some sort of integrity, and maybe that was the point of the first Chase format where you do have to average through 10 races rather than just having it come down to three races at a time.”
Keeping the format similar to the original Chase setup will be the key for the success of any possible playoff system in the XFINITY Series. It will create a key difference between the two divisions, but also allows drivers to prepare for the next level. What is the point of making the lower divisions race without a playoff format if the Cup Series has the Chase?
A Final Look Around XFINITY:
- According to a report from The Racing Experts, 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope will return to the XFINITY Series full-time next year for his self-owned team.
- Dakoda Armstrong will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2016, according to Motorsport.com. Throughout his two full seasons with the team, he had four top 10s and an average finish of approximately 20th.
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