Much like the constant rules changes surrounding the annual Advance Auto Parts Clash in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Daytona International Speedway, the regulations around who’s allowed to race in the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck series continue to morph each year, and 2020 will be no different.
What’s that, you say? You just got used to the newest field regulations in the Xfinity Series, from how many races a Cup driver can enter each year to how many can qualify for a given event? Hell, you’re still not even sure what either allotment is?
On Wednesday (Aug. 21), multiple changes to the genetic makeup of NASCAR’s lower two national series were announced, pretty much in all cases relating to a decrease in some way — less cars on track, less Cup drivers, whatever.
Let’s work through each of them now. Get a head start, you know? Maybe you’ll be an expert by February.
Change 1: Smaller Xfinity Series fields
For 2019, NASCAR struck the Xfinity field size from 40 to 38 cars, a move that put the series’ car count closer to that of the heyday of the Truck Series (see: prior to its own field count slashing). The move wasn’t necessarily met with a ton of shock; after all, weekly car counts had sometimes dropped below 40, occasionally necessitating a post-entry or two from one of the already-entered teams who’d enter a start-and-park backup car. Long gone are the days where 43 teams showed up to fill the 43 spots that used to make up an Xfinity field; 38 didn’t seem that odd of a concept for the state of the series in 2019.
Hope you didn’t get used to a 38-car field, because now the series really will look like the Truck Series used to, with NASCAR announcing 36 entries for all Xfinity races in 2020.
To editorialize for a bit here, it’s an … interesting move. The Xfinity Series generally has not had issues meeting its car count in 2019; in fact, many times it’s exceeded it, doing something the Cup Series rarely has to do these days: send teams home. Barring a few teams dropping off the face of the earth after 2019, chances are Xfinity will see even more organizations failing to qualify next year.
The idea here is to allocate the race winnings that would go toward 37th- and 38th-place finishes to the rest of the field, putting more money in the pockets of the teams (at least, those who make the race at all).
As a result of the change in field sizes, the way in which one qualifies for an Xfinity race has changed as well. Now, the top 31 in qualifying are guaranteed spots in the field, with the next four chosen by provisionals. The final spot, as usual, goes to a past champion if they need it.
Change 2: Less Cup drivers in Xfinity and Truck races
Limiting the amount of Cup racers that can compete in Xfinity and Truck series events is something that NASCAR’s been implementing for the past few years, the end result meant to promote series identity rather than, say, the Xfinity Series continuing to be the Saturday playground for Cup veterans it had been for years.
The past few years saw Cup limitations that kept drivers with more than five years of full-time Cup experience from driving more than seven Xfinity races and five Truck events each season. In addition, drivers declared for Cup points could not compete at all in each series’ playoffs or in the Dash 4 Cash (Xfinity) or Triple Truck Challenge (Truck).
The change for 2020, for starters, aligns the Xfinity limitations with the Truck Series, with the Cup veterans allowed just five starts in each.
Then there’s the amount of years one can have driven in the Cup Series. Instead of five years of experience, NASCAR is now limiting drivers with more than three years of experience in the premier series.
One more thing: Those who’ve declared for Xfinity points can’t race in the Truck Series’ Triple Truck Challenge or in its season finale.
Who’s that gonna effect? Starting in 2020, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto and Austin Dillon, as far as I can tell. Not that, of course, any of them have really been constant competitors in the lower series in 2019 anyway; Buescher hasn’t even competed anywhere except for the Cup Series.
William Byron, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, Daniel Hemric, Ryan Preece, Bubba Wallace, Corey LaJoie and Matt Tifft, meanwhile, will remain OK to race in lower series with no restrictions outside of those placed on all Cup points declarers, though a few will no longer be eligible in 2021, assuming the restrictions remain the same.
And since someone always asks: This wouldn’t affect, say, DiBenedetto if he opted to compete for Xfinity Series points in 2020, in the same way it hadn’t affected Elliott Sadler prior to his retirement from full-time racing when he was a longtime Xfinity competitor. It’s all contingent on the points eligibility you declare. And as seen with Landon Cassill in 2020, there’s a workaround there that involves changing your points declaration mid-season. It isn’t like, after all, there’s a limitation on drivers moving up in the national series hierarchy, just down. Additionally, in a scenario where, let’s say, Buescher loses his ride pre-Cup playoffs and says, “Hell with it, I’m gonna run Xfinity” and moves his points affiliation there in time for that series’ playoffs, that’s totally fine.
Whew. OK. Not too bad, right?
Just, uh, knowing how NASCAR’s been operating lately, don’t get used to it.
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