It’s been a busy week in NASCAR, from the will-he-won’t-he news of Kurt Busch‘s Stewart-Haas Racing tenure to the usual Wednesday penalty report that this time bit Erik Jones following last weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway to the move of the overtime line to the start/finish line.
But the talk of the town has undoubtedly been NASCAR’s newest change to the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series for 2018, something that got pundits, fans and drivers alike talking all over TV, radio and social media.
In 2018, the participation guidelines for entry in either national series have been altered to reflect continued complaints about the presence of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars in the lower series. Drivers who have more than five years of full-time experience in the Cup Series will be allowed to run no more than seven XFINITY races and five Truck events in 2018 if they’ve declared for points in the Cup Series, down from 10 and seven races in 2017, respectively. No Cup regulars will also be able to run the Dash 4 Cash races in XFINITY and in any playoff events in either series if they have declared for Cup points, regardless of how long they have been in the series.
The move shifts even more of a focus to the series’ regulars than ever before, putting an emphasis on both as feeder series to Cup that highlight up-and-comers or lower series lifers looking to battle for a series championship, not Cup drivers looking to run an extra race on the weekend.
In practice, the guidelines may not change much in either series in 2018. A dip of three and two races, respectively, could still allow, say, Kyle Busch to win all seven races he enters, for instance. And when he’s not in the series, someone else like Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano might be. Plus, the rule still allows someone like Kyle Larson, who is in the midst of his fourth full-time season in Cup, to run as many races as he chooses, and in eight 2017 starts entering Watkins Glen International this weekend, he’s finished in the top 10 for all of them, the top five for all but one, and has won three races.
Regardless, it stands to reason that the change would help XFINITY Series regulars the most. In 19 races this season, a non-Cup driver has won six times, and four of those have come in the last six races. Meanwhile, throughout 12 races in the Truck Series this year, drivers not competing for series points have won just three races, and all of those came in the first five events of 2017.
Let’s break it down a bit. Assuming all 2017 Cup regulars return to the series in 2018 (which is unlikely to happen, but bear with me here), here are the drivers who would be affected by this change.
Drivers with More Than Five Years of Experience in the Cup Series As of 2018
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Martin Truex Jr.
The bolded drivers in this case are those who graduate to this level in 2018, having five years of Cup experience to their names by the close of 2017.
Meanwhile, the others:
Drivers with Less Than Six Years of Experience in the Cup Series As of 2018
In this case, the drivers in bold are those who would be in their last season of eligibility as Cup drivers able to race in the lower series uninhibited, as Austin Dillon, Larson and Cole Whitt are currently in their fourth full-time seasons. A wildcard here is Trevor Bayne, who’s been running anywhere between a third and a half of a season starting in 2011 before he began running Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 full-time in 2015.
Meaning, basically, that even as the restrictions on Cup drivers in lower series tighten, the crop of competitors who can the vast majority of the races remains formidable. Of the above 15-driver group, nine have competed in the XFINITY or Truck series at some point in 2017. Six of the 19 XFINITY races have been won by these drivers, plus one of the 12 Truck events.
And many of these drivers compete for teams who could very possibly up their schedules in 2018 to account for the loss of events for Busch, Keselowski, Logano, those types. You’ve got Ryan Blaney running for Team Penske full-time in 2018, and it’s easy to see his schedule in the XFINITY Series No. 22 bump up a bit. The Dillon brothers can still fill out the brunt of the schedule in Richard Childress Racing’s Nos. 2 and 3. Erik Jones’ Joe Gibbs Racing Cup tenure begins next year, and he’s already driving quite a few races for the team in XFINITY, as is Daniel Suarez. Larson will still have the ability to run a good chunk of events in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42.
In other words, don’t expect some massive sea change in 2018. You can bet Busch will still run his seven XFINITY races, and he’ll be a threat at each and every one of them. When he’s not there, drivers like Blaney, the Dillons, Jones, Suarez and Larson will still be there to lock up many of the races during which the series run at the same track on a given weekend.
Unless, of course, the restrictions cause teams to plan for the future and opt to slide XFINITY regulars into their cars for 2018. Unlikely, but could you imagine a full-time competitor in Penske’s No. 22? Or in Gibbs’ No. 18?
For now, especially with the large crop of drivers still able to run in the lower series without much restriction (before the playoffs begin, at least), it seems likely that the genetic makeup of those series won’t change too much for 2018 and beyond. And once the current youngsters graduate to the seven- or five-race cap, chances are up-and-comers like William Byron, Christopher Bell and more will have taken their place. There will always be drivers with less than six years of Cup experience who can rout the lower series without a problem. It’s happened before, it happens now and it’ll continue to happen.
At the same time, if the XFINITY Series — a place where names are made, according to a certain marketing campaign — can slide its regulars into Victory Lane a few more times a year than it is now, it’s doubtful you’ll hear much complaining.
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