As the XFINITY Series crossed the halfway mark of its regular season last weekend at Iowa Speedway, and Ryan Sieg is in a similar situation as 2016, currently one position below the playoff cutoff.
With only a handful of employees that make up a competitive organization, Sieg and company had their best-career outing, finishing runner-up to William Byron at Iowa. It was Ryan Sieg Racing’s first top five while also his first top 10 finish of the season.
Last season, Sieg ended the year ninth in the championship standings, ahead of the likes of Darrell Wallace Jr., Brandon Jones and Brendan Gaughan. This season, on paper, the XFINITY Series is much more competitive as there are more than 20 cars that are either Cup Series teams, or affiliated with those organizations.
“It’s been a struggle, for sure,” Sieg told Frontstretch in regards to his 2017 season. “We’ve been decently close to the [playoff] cutoff, but we’ve struggled with our cars and we’ve finished most of the races. We’ve struggled with the new aerodynamic package and we’ve got a couple of new chassis that we’ve been struggling with.
“With a couple of organizations opening up new teams, it’s going to make it harder to make it in this year. Last year, we were right on the end, but it’s going to be harder. There are 23 Cup affiliated teams this year. It’s going to be tough.”
Through 14 events in 2017, Sieg has the lone top-10 finish at Iowa, the first stand alone race for the series. The No. 39 team has recorded five other top-20 finishes, and with so many Cup Series teams competing on a weekly basis, it’s respectable.
Between Sieg’s No. 39 team and No. 93 car, also owned by Sieg, the company has seven chassis, which are two-to-three years old, once used by Richard Childress Racing. Though it’s a challenge to run competitively with the resources provided, the 30-year-old won’t let having less be the reason he doesn’t perform well.
“We’ve definitely over-exceeded with where we should be running with the stuff we have,” Sieg said. “It’s pretty decent, but it’s tough. We work hard and try to do the best we can.”
This season is Sieg’s fourth full-time in the series and each year, the No. 39 team gets better and better. In its first season, the team ended up 16th in the championship standings in 2014. In 2015, it moved up to 11th and ninth last season, making the inaugural playoff for NASCAR’s top preliminary series. However, figuring out how to cooperate as a team has been one of the biggest benefits of having so few employees.
“It’s just figuring each other and a lot of hard work,” Sieg said. “It’s getting the right people in the right position at the right time. Last year helped out and we got Bruce (Cook, crew chief) this year, and he’s helped out. Getting the right people in the right spot is the biggest part of it. We make it work with the guys we have and we get all we can out of the cars.”
Sieg acknowledges that it’s an accomplishment to beat Cup Series regulars. Though the team has never had an alliance with another organization, it’s something that they have tried it the past.
“We were going to, but it was just too much,” Sieg said of an alliance. “Especially with the motor program through the alliance, there was no way we could do it with the sponsorship that we have. It’s all about sponsorship.
“All we have is my feel and what the guys think is the right direction to put in the car. [XFINITY teams with Cup alliances] have a simulator, computer system and technology, but that’s what the alliance is. We do it old school with my feel and what they think is the best setup for the situation. That’s the main thing with the communication between myself, the crew chief and the guys.”
Just like all the rule changes affect smaller teams at the Cup level, it does the same in the XFINITY Series. All of these changes, reducing the restrictor-plate opening by 1/64th of an inch to 7/8ths of an inch, mandatory use of a roof-mounted escape hatch at both Daytona and Talladega and the addition of energy-absorbing materials to strengthen the driver’s foot compartment inside the chassis, as well as the overall aerodynamic package is cost effective.
Going into 2017, there were more rule changes in the cars, hoping for better racing, but with that the smaller teams are overachieving if they can keep up, with the dollars spent at the top of the series.
“We kept getting better and better because we knew the cars more and more and what we needed to do to them,” Sieg said. “Now, [NASCAR] threw that out the window and you can’t really do any of that anymore. It’s been a struggle this year.”
In the past, Sieg has competed in the Camping World Truck Series and finished 26th in his Cup Series debut at Dover International Speedway earlier this month for BK Racing. At Michigan International Speedway, his second start of the season, he crossed the checkered flag in 33rdafter a late-race spin.
Prior to putting Sieg in the machine, BK Racing had sponsorship. But for a small organization in the XFINITY Series and not having the cash to spend, the game plan of making it to NASCAR’s premier series is different than what it once was for the Georgia native.
“Back in the day, it used to be a dream to go run up in the Cup Series, but now it’s all about money,” he said. “If you have sponsorship, you can go run over there right now. If you don’t have one, you’re pretty much stuck where you’re at. [Moving Ryan Sieg Racing up to the Cup Series is] a possibility because the purses are always bigger over there as well.”