21. That’s the number of cars on the grid in the season-opening XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway that were part of a Cup Series organization, or affiliated with a top-tier team.
Many smaller organizations within the XFINITY Series garage are struggling for sponsorship, struggling to stay competitive with the elite teams in NASCAR.
Jeremy Clements Racing is among those teams trying to take the next step up the ladder in the XFINITY Series. Jeremy Clements is entering his seventh full-time season in NASCAR’s secondary division, hoping to better 2016, in which he had a career-high three top-10 finishes.
But it’s far from easy.
“This year things are going to be so different with the rules changes,” Clements told Frontstretch.com “I don’t even know what we have. At the same time, finishing in the top 10 is like a win for us because the competition is so stout and there are so many Cup affiliated teams. It’s incredible. I think this is going to be the toughest year we’ve ever had.”
Clements is likely right. JR Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing are both running four full-time vehicles with a fifth car in some of the races. Add Blake Koch into the mix and RCR essentially has a sixth car. Joe Gibbs Racing started the XFINITY Series season with three full-time machines, with only Matt Tifft being an XFINITY Series regular. Chip Ganassi Racing and Roush Fenway both have two full-time rides each. Stewart-Haas Racing is jumping into the fray this season, fielding the No. 00 car for Cole Custer for the entire season with a partial schedule for Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch in a second Ford. Add Team Penske and its one or two cars a week and it adds up to be close to 20 Cup Series teams running against XFINITY Series teams on a weekly basis.
Low-budget teams such as Jeremy Clements Racing have three full-time employees and a few part-timers helping around the shop. Their resources are also limited by how many wrecked vehicles come home as the team started 2017 with just six chassis.
“We give it all we got and none of us are doing this to get rich, we’re doing it to race,” Clements said. “We give it all we have. Every year, I feel our stuff gets a little bit better and that’s all it is. Get newer cars, figure out setups and that’s when we will be able to run better.”
Clements admits that he’s a hard-nose racer, but he can’t make “stupid decisions” on the track. A crash will cause havoc back at the race shop and put even more pressure on the 32-year-old the next time he gets out on the track.
At the end of the day, what the team needs is more money.
“We’re running cars that are two to three years old from when they (bigger teams) ran them,” Clements said. “We need newer stuff to be able to run better. We build our own engines and they get better all the time, and are only going to continue to get better. We race off a budget that a big team gets for like two or three races. That’s the budget we have.”
An affiliation or alliance with another team would be beneficial. However, in order to get information from another team, they would have to pay for it because a Cup Series team isn’t going to give away its data for free.
With the new aerodynamic rules and point structure, the 2017 season looks to be one of the most competitive in recent years. That hurts teams such as JCR, which is coming off a 15th-place championship effort because they need more resources.
“There are so many changes,” he said of 2017. “I don’t even know all the rules. It’s going to be hard to keep track of them. I even saw the one about if you have too many men over the wall repairing the car, you’re done. I didn’t even know that was a rule.”
In each of the previous six seasons, Clements has finished the season between 14th and 16th in the standings. This season, there are 15 full-time XFINITY drivers that are linked to a Cup Series organization. There is also Tyler Reddick and Ben Kennedy who will compete in races for those organizations when called upon.
Though Clements feels like he is sometimes lost in a crowd, he is confident in his race team, despite not having the resources some of the other teams have.
“I’ve ran a lot of good races before and have had good finishes that I thought would be pretty respectable and it would get you something, but it hasn’t got me anything,” Clements said. “I don’t know what you have to do to get an opportunity. In racing it doesn’t matter. You need the money more than you need the talent.”
Racing since he was seven years old, Clements has seen a lot of change. In NASCAR, there is constant change in the top three touring divisions.
In 2017, NASCAR has gone away with the rule to some known as the “Kyle Busch Rule,” which limits drivers with at least five years of experience in the Cup Series to participate in a select number of XFINITY and Camping World Truck series events.
But even that rule will be hard for smaller race teams.
“It doesn’t matter they are still going to have a Cup driver,” he said. “There needs to be more done because it’s not fair. We’re bringing a knife to a gun fight. We’re racing against Cup teams. I don’t know what they can do, but I say if you’re a Cup driver and you want to run in XFINITY or Truck series, you need to run for a non-Cup affiliated team. I’ve never got a chance because these owners put Cup drivers in the car. ”
While competing against elite Cup Series teams throughout his 12-year career, Clements has one top-five finish coming at Talladega Superspeedway last spring. He’s added an additional 10 top 10s in 234 career races, leading 48 laps.
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