When the NASCAR Xfinity Series returns to action next Tuesday evening (May 19) at Darlington Speedway, 73 days will have passed since the last race at Phoenix Raceway on March 7. Add on two more weeks and you would essentially have a time span equivalent to a typical offseason.
But flash all the way back – over three months – to when the season kicked off at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 15. There was so much hype around the 2020 season. Joe Gibbs Racing had three young, full-time drivers. Could JR Motorsports rebound from a disappointing 2019 season? Who was going to fill the void left from Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer jumping to the Cup Series? And, oh yeah, what small teams would come to play, with the possibility of making the postseason?
The season got off to a hot start, unlike 2019, when Daytona produced, quite possibly, the worst race in NASCAR history. This time around, action was fast and furious, pack racing, with Noah Gragson securing his first Xfinity win, holding off Harrison Burton and Timmy Hill … Timmy Hill at the checkered flag.
Myatt Snider impressed in his series debut, leading 22 laps and scoring the pole for Richard Childress Racing. That was until Josh Williams took Riley Herbst out unintentionally and Snider was caught up in the incident.
Meanwhile, Gragson’s teammates showed up, as Daytona is JR Motorsports’ wheelhouse. Jeb Burton, running a partial schedule in the No. 8 car, led a race-high 26 laps and Justin Allgaier paced the field for 23 circuits before getting involved in a late incident.
Small teams, you ask? Brandon Brown ran among the top 10 throughout the day en route to a seventh-place finish. Ray Black Jr. scored his first top-10 finish for SS Green Light Racing and Alex Labbe, after leading 19 laps, finished 10th.
After Daytona, the series went west for three weeks with its first stop at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This race was … bizarre, as it took more than 24 hours to complete due to rain. Following the conclusion of the first stage, precipitation entered the desert – yes, the desert – and halted the event until the conclusion of the Cup race on Sunday.
Championship favorite Chase Briscoe dominated, leading 89 of 200 laps, and scored six playoff points with his first win of the season. Allgaier was stout early, winning stage two, though he fell to eighth by the end. Austin Cindric finished runner-up while Ryan Sieg rounded out the podium, earning a career-best result on an intermediate track.
— Stewart-Haas Racing (@StewartHaasRcng) February 24, 2020
Come the third race of the year at Auto Club Speedway, Brandon Jones was the driver to beat, sweeping the first two stages, leading 73 of 150 laps. However, contact with the wall put the No. 19 car four laps down in 30th.
It was Burton who capitalized on Jones’ misfortune to take his first series win. Chalk one on the scoreboard for the youngsters at JGR, with teammate Herbst in second. Sieg, placing fourth, also scored consecutive top fives for the first time in his career.
Anthony Alfredo kicked off the back half of the top 10 in sixth in what was his series debut. Daniel Hemric finished seventh, his only top 10 in three starts for JRM, while underdogs Jeremy Clements and Williams rounded out the top 10.
Then there’s the series’ last race at Phoenix, where Jones passed two-time Cup champion, Kyle Busch, for his second career victory. That’s two wins for JGR drivers in four races.
THAT WAS AWESOME!
I have to give it to my 19 team! We’ve been strong all year and finally got the first 2020 win under our belt. Also how awesome to make @ToyotaRacing 500th win! This team is family and I’m so happy to be apart of it. #19rollin pic.twitter.com/powi5r7Qhz
— Brandon Jones (@BrandonJonesRac) March 8, 2020
Burton finished second, his fourth top-five finish in as many starts to kick off the campaign. Justin Haley, who returned for a second season at Kaulig Racing, earned back-to-back top fives for the first time in his career with a fifth-place result. Both Allgaier and Gragson earned one playoff point each, sweeping the stages for JRM.
However, it was Brown and Dillon Bassett who stole the spotlight after the event. Following a lap 138 incident involving the two drivers that sent Bassett into the wall, he was none too pleased – nor was his father Ronnie Sr. – and approached the No. 68 car after the race, resulting in a small scrum on pit road.
Take a look at why Dillon Bassett and team approached @brandonbrown_86 on pit road following today's race. pic.twitter.com/PJv1momwoA
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) March 7, 2020
Overall, Burton has been the standout driver of the season thus far. In four starts, the No. 20 team has an average finish of 2.5 and an average running position of 6.3, only behind Briscoe and Cindric (6.0). The 19-year-old has a three-point advantage over Briscoe for the points lead.
Allgaier has led a series-high 140 laps, scoring three playoff points via stage victories. Briscoe is the only other driver to have led more than 100 laps this year (110). And yes, that list includes Busch, who led 78 in his only start thus far.
Cindric, returning to Xfinity for his third full-time season, sits third in points, ahead of Jones and Ross Chastain, who, remember, failed to qualify at Daytona. Kaulig Racing purchased the No. 38 ride from RSS Racing that day, allowing Chastain to drive to a 22nd-place finish.
Gragson, Sieg, Haley, Allgaier and Michael Annett round out the top 10 in points. Should the regular season end today, and there’s 22 scheduled races until that point, Herbst and Brown would be the final two drivers to make the postseason.
As the season progresses, keep an eye on DGM Racing, where Labbe and Williams sit 13th and 14th in points, respectively. Labbe isn’t scheduled to run the full season, though he has an average result of 15.8, the same as Allgaier.
Jesse Little sits 17th in points in his first season at JD Motorsports. Hemric ranks 24th, in what could be a make-or-break season with JRM. Clements’ team also needs to dig itself out of a hole, sitting 25th in the championship standings.
One week from now, it’s quite possible there will be a repeat winner from the series’ first four races of 2020. It’s also possible Busch stinks up the show, as he’s making up the start he had scheduled in June at Chicagoland Speedway, which was canceled late last week. There’s also a realistic possibility it will be a different full-time driver that scores the win at the track Too Tough To Tame.
Regardless, racing is back!
- With no qualifying in the immediate future, NASCAR has expanded the Xfinity Series field to a maximum of 40 cars per race. With the expanded field size, should 40 cars show up, teams which finish 36th through 40th in the race will receive one point. Forty cars have shown up to just one race this season (Daytona).
- As noted above, the race at Darlington this upcoming Tuesday has replaced the scheduled event at Chicagoland Speedway on June 20, which has been canceled.