NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: Recent Xfinity Champs & How Cup is Treating Them

1. William Byron (2017)

Years in Cup: Second year in 2019
Current Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Races: 43
Wins: 0
Top 5s: 0
Top 10s: 5
Average Finish: 21.3
Best Points finish: 23rd (2018, first full season)

Byron is the hardest in this group to judge because he’s the least experienced in Cup by at least a full season. While he’s with a top organization, Hendrick Motorsports has been behind the pack for the last couple of seasons, meaning Byron was promoted in a year that was mediocre at best for his team.

The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet is also very young, just 21 this season, and has only one year each in Xfinity and Trucks, though both stints were with top organizations. The Cup Series puts a tremendous amount of pressure on him, and he struggled last year, perhaps more than he should have even with HMS’ issues.

Byron’s first top-10 finish of the year came last week at Texas, as he tied a career-best sixth, and he did win the Daytona 500 pole this spring. Still, expectations for him need to be higher for 2019. He doesn’t need to win, but he does need to show he can race in the top 10 to top 15 every week. Byron has shown talent, but his age and relative lack of experience buy him a little time.

2. Daniel Suarez (2016)

Years in Cup: Third year in 2019
Current Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
Races: 79
Wins: 0
Top 5s: 5
Top 10s: 24
Average Finish: 17.2
Best Points Finish: 20th (2017)

Suarez needs to improve this year, that’s undeniable. But while on paper it looks like he hasn’t made the most of top equipment, there are a couple of things to consider before writing Suarez off.  One, he was rushed into the Cup Series at least a year earlier than everyone, including Suarez, had planned when Carl Edwards retired. Even with an Xfinity title under his belt, Suarez, like Byron, would probably have benefitted greatly from at least one more year at that level.

Also, there have been questions on whether all things are equal at Joe Gibbs Racing, with some, including teammate Denny Hamlin, hinting that there are more eggs in some baskets than others. If that’s the case, Suarez likely had a smaller basket. That, combined with his inexperience, may have been his downfall at JGR. He wouldn’t be the first young driver to find his stride after leaving JGR for another team. After all, it seemed to work out OK for Joey Logano. Suarez was strong on Sunday in Texas, and if he can string together a few more runs like that, it won’t be long before he’s ready to find Victory Lane.

3. Chris Buescher (2015)

Years in Cup: Fourth year in 2019
Current Team: JTG Daugherty Racing
Races: 121
Wins: 1
Top 5s: 4
Top 10s: 9
Average Finish: 22.8
Best Points Finish: 16th (2016)

By the numbers, Buescher hasn’t matched most of the others in this group, but he’s also driving for a smaller team which, while it has an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports, has fewer resources to work with than the others on this list. Buescher has shown some improvement so far this season, with a top 10 at Atlanta and some solid runs at other tracks.

His team still needs to learn how to close, but it’s hard to pin it all on Buescher, who had an 11.1 average finish in NXS. He’s on the right track considering his equipment.

4. Chase Elliott (2014)

Years in Cup: Fourth year in 2019
Current Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Races: 120
Wins: 3
Top 5s: 34
Top 10s: 61
Average Finish: 13.4
Best Point Finish: 5th (2017)

Elliott is by far the most accomplished of this group. The 2018 Most Popular Driver award winner broke through in the win column last year, and once that happened, he added a couple more. He’s had strong runs to open 2019 as well, including a second-place run at Martinsville. Elliott hasn’t finished worse than 19th so far this year, and he’s been the most consistent performer overall at Hendrick Motorsports over the last couple of years, even besting Jimmie Johnson’s performance.

It’s interesting to note that of the five drivers on this list, Elliott is the only one to compete full-time in Xfinity after winning his title.  Following his 2014 championship at just 18 years old, Elliott followed it up with a second-place run in 2015, when he won once and posted 27 top-10 runs in 33 races. It may be a coincidence that he’s the only one to have that additional year because he was still only 19, hardly old enough to be a veteran, but the numbers suggest that it was a very valuable year and could be a lesson to teams and drivers about the value of more time.

5. Austin Dillon (2013)

Years in Cup: Sixth year in 2019
Current Team: Richard Childress Racing
Races: 200
Wins: 2
Top 5s: 11
Top 10s: 35
Average Finish: 18.4
Best Points Finish: 11th (2017)

Dillon brings the most lower-series experience to the table, having run two full seasons in both Xfinity and Trucks for Richard Childress Racing, winning the title in both series in his second year. He came to Cup full time just shy of his 24th birthday, slightly younger than Suarez was in his full-time debut but older than the others here were.

RCR slots in slightly behind Hendrick Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing among the Chevrolet teams, but they’re a playoff-caliber if not a championship-caliber organization. If Dillon’s stats look a little sparse considering his Cup experience and equipment, that’s probably an accurate interpretation. For a driver given the time and consideration he has, his numbers are a bit underwhelming.

Dillon still has time as he’s just shy of 29 now. He’s not under the same pressure as many others because his grandfather owns his cars and is unlikely to give him the heave-ho if he doesn’t step it up. There is a certain pressure to prove he deserves that ride. In any case, a top-10 points run seems a bit of a stretch, but a top-12 run isn’t unrealistic, and Dillon needs to show he can pick it up a bit.

Share this article

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

2 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
janice

with the graying of drivers, young guys were put in cup before they were ready. also people deciding to leave while they are still healthy has created opened seats earlier than most owners anticipated. but owners are hunting every sponsor dollar they can get.

gibbs went with suarez cause he brought youth, sponsor and diversity driver. when suarez didn’t have results they wanted, he went on auction block and moved to stewart haas to get better and be a winner by time bowyer or harvick decide to hang up the helmets.

we all know princess sparkle pony was put in the 10 cause she brought go daddy money with her, and when they stopped sponsoring, team scrambled for funding. but as we have seen it wasn’t the car or crew, it was the driver in the 10. smithfield left petty for stewart haas and i’m sure amorola being in the 10 was part of the deal.

dillon, well that ride was his cause of his grandfather. i think rcr wanted to rebrand the 3 away from the earnhardt years to dillon. sorry but as long as there are older fans, the 3 will always be earnahrdt (sr).

byron – jr deciding to retire when he did caused a panic that opened the 88 for bowman earlier than i think hendrick anticipated. bowman was obvious choice for 88 as he ran ok when he subbed for jr. interesting how all 3 of the young hendrick drivers came up through the feeder team of jrmotorsports. byron brought youth which hendrick is banking on being another gordon, running with the team for 15 yrs or so.

i think young drivers need more than 1 yr in feeder series before graduating to cup. cars are relatively close now, so seat time is important. but then you do have the cuppers who come and play in the feeder series, win and take the first place winnings with them when the regular teams in the series desperately can use that money to stay afloat.

JT

Of the drivers on that list of recent NXS champs, the pressure has to be highest on William Byron to perform this year. Hendrick put 7-time champ crew chief, Knaus with the #24 team to light a fire under Byron. Also, Axalta is a legacy, major sponsor for Hendrick, who expects championship-caliber performance.

Does Byron have to win in 2019? Given Chevy’s recent aero struggles in Cup, maybe not. But does he have to qualify for the “playoffs”? Absolutely.

I wish the kid good luck!

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com

Frontstretch