For the 14th time in 2016, the NASCAR XFINITY Series paddock roared to life for a race on Sunday at Iowa Speedway. For the 10th time, that race ended without a series regular in Victory Lane.
Sure, Iowa was a little different tale than the usual – Sam Hornish, Jr. earned a redemptive victory in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 car instead of a Sprint Cup driver taking the trophy – but regardless, no series regular punched their way into the Chase with a victory.
It wasn’t for lack of effort. With only one Cup regular (Brad Keselowski) in the field on Sunday, there were high hopes that one of the stars of NASCAR’s second-tier series would make their way to Victory Lane. However, every driver that had an opportunity saw it squandered along the way.
Erik Jones experienced issues that ultimately forced him behind the wall to replace a fuel cell. Daniel Suarez’s shot at a repeat was undone by the changing pit strategy at the end. Ty Dillon closed on Hornish late, but never made it to him, and instead was forced to fend off Keselowski for second.
Such has been the tale of recent history for the XFINITY Series. For better or worse, the bright young talents in the garage have often found themselves unable to shine, hidden behind great drivers like Kyle Busch and Joey Logano that have descended to the series and dominated.
That’s not to say that Cup drivers stepping down is a bad thing. It gives the NXS field invaluable experience racing against the best of the best, and makes their occasional wins all the more memorable — see Suarez passing Busch for the victory last weekend at Michigan.
However, with the new Chase format implemented for the NXS and Camping World Truck Series, it’s made the championship battle a bit of an afterthought.
In the NCWTS, the Chase has added an extra layer of excitement. With the field made up primarily of Truck Series regulars, a group of young prospects has risen up to challenge for victories.
Four different series regulars have won in the first eight NCWTS races in 2016, compared to just three NXS regulars in 14 races. One of them, William Byron, has emerged as a certified star, winning three races in his first nine starts, including the past two events at Iowa and Texas Motor Speedway.
With several previous race winners still searching for their first trophy of the year and a wealth of new drivers showing potential, it’s likely that the series could see more than eight victors before its Chase arrives at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
For comparison, it’s unlikely that the NXS Chase grid will see more than six victors, and that’s with 12 teams making the playoffs.
The series has only seen three regulars win a combined four races to date, yielding a 28.57 percent win rate for those seeking the NXS championship. If that percentage continues through the entire 26-race regular season, then there should be 7-8 wins by NXS regulars.
The odds are strong that among those wins, if they are to come, a few could be attributed to Joe Gibbs Racing. The organization has been the best in the series through the first half of the regular season with nine wins in 14 events, including three of the four races won by regulars with Suarez and Erik Jones.
There are others who’ve shown the ability to win if opportunity arises. Elliott Sadler made his way to victory lane for JR Motorsports in Talladega, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s organization has been a fixture in the top 10 in recent weeks. Roush Fenway Racing has shown promise with Darrell Wallace, Jr., as has Richard Childress Racing with Ty Dillon and Brandon Jones. Occasional drives from prospects like rookie Brennan Poole offer hope at a future triumph, however fleeting it may be.
Still, the overall feeling of the XFINITY Series is often one of little excitement, where fans watching predict which Cup driver will triumph while hoping for a top five from their favorite regular.
That’s not going to change anytime soon. The XFINITY Series has operated in its current state since its creation, and save for the potential addition of a caution clock and/or some body modifications based on improvements to the Cup product, there likely aren’t many alterations coming to the series in the next couple years.
The XFINITY Series will continue to soldier on as it has for the foreseeable future. It just may do so at the expense of much excitement — championship or otherwise — throughout the year.