At the onset of the 2017 season, NASCAR placed limits on how many events Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars could compete in. Depending the driver’s experience the number of races varied.
The goal? To finally make the slogan “names are made here” meaningful as Cup drivers have dominated the XFINITY Series for the better part of the 21st century. Yes, I know, the past four XFINITY champions have full-time rides at the Cup level, so the slogan has some value to it.
However, looking at 2017 as a whole, it’s been yet again dominated by Cup drivers, with some exceptions. For instance, William Byron won three out of five races during the summer, spanning from Iowa Speedway through the Brickyard, but outside of that, winning has been hard to come by.
Byron’s JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier also visited Victory Lane on two separate occasions, including a dominating performance at Phoenix International Raceway in the spring. In September at his home track of Chicagoland, the No. 7 car picked up its second triumph of the season, marking it the first time in his eight-year XFINITY career that the Illinois native visited the Winner’s Circle twice in the same season.
Add in Ryan Reed‘s victory at Daytona in the longest-ever XFINITY race and Jeremy Clements upset victory at Road America, and that makes up all the checkered flags for XFINITY Series drivers this season. Seven total.
Sure, part-time Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Ryan Preece and Christopher Bell picked up their first career victories, but neither are fighting for the title (though Bell will be in 2018). Some could argue that it’s more impressive that they won, only competing in a handful of races, but then we remember — they drove for Joe Gibbs Racing. Also add Sam Hornish Jr. to the mix with his thrilling victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, putting a stomping on the field with Team Penske.
Put together all of those drivers (excluding Larosn) and that’s a grand total of 12 different winners coming from outside the Cup Series. What does that mean? There have still been 19 checkered flags that have gone to the more experienced drivers.
In what was once the Kyle Busch series, the 2009 series champion has won five out of 10 races he’s competed in this season. In the past two races Erik Jones has put on a clinic, though he is still getting used to the Cup Series. His total this season? Three victories. Denny Hamlin also has two victories in four races this season.
Then there are the trio of Team Penske Cup drivers, all of whom have visited Victory Lane in the XFINITY Series in 2017. Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski have a pair of victories this season, while Joey Logano won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
At Talladega Superspeedway, Aric Almirola picked up his second restrictor plate victory in the XFINITY Series with Biagi DenBeste Racing. In short, those numbers total 31.
What to do?
On Aug 1., NASCAR announced the participation guidelines for 2018. Beginning next season, drivers with more than five years of experience in the Cup Series will be limited to seven races in the XFINITY Series, down from the 10-race maximum established for this season. Regardless of experience, drivers who are earning Cup points will be ineligible to compete in any of the seven XFINITY playoff races.
“Any time we implement a change, we’re going to monitor it closely and make sure we’re measuring the level of success or making sure that if there’s an opportunity to make it even better, then we will,” Jim Cassidy, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations said at the time. “In this case, we really like what we’ve seen and in talking with all the other stakeholders that we would normally talk to, this has been a very popular subject over a long period of time.”
Obviously, NASCAR is in a tough position. They want the lower series, yes, I’m also talking about the Camping World Truck Series to be competitive between its regular participants, but to sell the series it needs established veterans. Kyle Busch mentioned over the summer that if it comes a time where he can’t compete in the Truck Series at all, the team will likely shut down.
As far as the XFINITY Series goes, no Cup driver owns a team besides Dale Earnhardt Jr. However, the 14-time most popular driver has been committed to giving younger talent the edge, propelling the careers of Keselowski, Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and many others.
Jeremy Clements, who won his first career race in August may have stated it best: “There needs to be more done. It’s not fair. We’re bringing a knife to a gun fight. I don’t know what they [NASCAR] can do, but I say if you’re a Cup driver and you want to run in XFINITY or the Truck Series, you need to run for a non-Cup affiliated team. That’s the only way I see that they can make it fair. I’ve never got a chance because these owners put Cup drivers in the car. How are we ever supposed to get any sort of opportunity?”
Though it’s tough to see NASCAR ever going in that direction, it would be nice to see XFINITY drivers actually battling for victories during the playoffs. In the five playoff races thus far in 2017, none of the playoff drivers has driven themselves to Victory Lane. That’s the sad reality.
We may have to wait until next season as the eligibility is changing, but in all competitive sports, it’s nice to see the frontrunners get rewarded and that’s been a rarity for XFINITY regulars in 2017.
- The penultimate race of the season happens on Saturday at Phoenix and Elliott Sadler, William Byron and Justin Allgaier are in all comfortable positions, sitting at least 20 points above the cut line. Brennan Poole currently holds on to the coveted four position, five points ahead of Matt Tifft. Cole Custer enters the race 13 points back with Daniel Hemric 18 markers off the pace. Ryan Reed is 33 points back, and is in a must-win situation.
- Cup Series regulars Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon and Ryan Blaney are on the entry list for the race at Phoenix. Kyle Busch is the defending winner of the event, but is ineligible to compete this weekend.
- Florida native Ceaser Bacarella is scheduled to make his XFINITY Series debut in the No. 8 machine for BJ McLeod Motorsports on Saturday. He has competed in two ARCA races this season, finishing a season-high 25th at Talladega.
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