There is no doubt that winning races is a big part of NASCAR’s elimination-style Chase format. A win during the regular season practically locks a driver in to the postseason. Furthermore, wins during the Chase allow drivers to advance automatically through the different rounds.
However, the value of wins has not been on full display during the inaugural XFINITY Series Chase. Both Elliott Sadler and Daniel Suarez were able to win during the Round of 12, but no XFINITY regular has visited victory lane in the Round of 8. In fact, Sadler, Suarez, and Erik Jones are the only NXS drivers who have won races all season. Unless a different XFINITY regular wins this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, there will be at least one winless driver competing for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Of the five winless drivers left in the Chase, Justin Allgaier probably has the best chance to advance. Going into Phoenix, he is actually outside the Chase cutoff, trailing underdog Blake Koch by a single point. Even with a goose egg in the win column, Allgaier has racked up 12 top fives and 25 top 10s this year. Compared to Koch’s zero wins, zero top fives, and four top 10s, it is safe to say that Allgaier will have a better performance on a typical race weekend.
Having a winless champion would likely cause some consternation among XFINITY Series fans. Austin Dillon captured the 2013 NXS title by three points over Sam Hornish Jr., despite the fact that Hornish Jr. had won during the year and Dillon had not. Dillon’s lack of wins (along with a strangely long caution period near the end of the race) left a lot of fans dissatisfied with how the championship battle finished. The Chase guards against a winless champion to some degree, but the fact that Allgaier, Koch, and Ryan Reed can still reach the championship race, without having reached victory lane first, proves that the system is not foolproof.
In fairness to the winless drivers, wins are hard to come by when racing against Sprint Cup drivers supported by Sprint Cup teams. Victories by premier series drivers and part-time competitors like Hornish Jr. and Justin Marks have siphoned off wins from NXS regulars. If we were to ignore drivers who are not eligible for the XFINITY title and award “wins” to the highest finishing series regular, the number in the win column would look quite different for several drivers.
|Driver||Wins||“Wins” Agaisnt XFINITY Regulars|
|Darrell Wallace Jr.||0||1|
In this scenario, Jones has lost the most wins to XFINITY outsiders. He also loses out on automatic advancement to Homestead by virtue of “winning” at Texas last week. The same goes for Sadler after “winning” at Kansas. Yet beyond Jones, Allgaier has been hurt by non-regulars the most, missing out on four potential wins compared to three for Sadler, Suarez, and Ty Dillon. It is fair to say that Allgaier has not been as strong as the drivers who have managed to actually record wins in 2016. Yet when looking at the performance of XFINITY drivers relative to each other, the gulf between Allgaier, Ty Dillon, and the drivers with wins does not appear to be so wide.
NASCAR’s restrictions on Sprint Cup drivers participating in the XFINITY Series could lead to more wins by NXS regulars in 2017, at least that is part of the intent. In the meantime, championship hopefuls will have to contend with double-duty drivers and each other at Phoenix. Instead of being guaranteed a place at Homestead, Jones is only seven points above the Chase cutoff and needs to stay out of trouble. Suarez and Sadler are 17 and 16 points above the cutoff respectively. They only need a decent finish to advance. Darrell Wallace Jr. and Brendan Gaughan will likely need a win to advance, while Allgaier, Koch, and Reed will all try to points race their way to Homestead.
There is still a big opportunity for an XFINITY driver to steal a win. Allgaier came close at Daytona in July, and probably would have a win to his name of NASCAR had thrown the race-ending caution flag a second or two later. The way things are shaping up, the eventual XFINITY champion probably will have won in 2016. If not, Allgaier’s case reflects how a winless champion could result more from rules than performance.
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