NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Eyes on Xfinity: Fire Up That Pressure Cooker

In all of NASCAR, the flames of hope do not burn much brighter than in the days leading up to Daytona.

To borrow an overused phrase on the annual NASCAR media tour, everyone is “excited.”

Up and down the garage, every team feels that whatever its goal is — be it winning races, championships or taking a step forward overall — is highly attainable.

The Xfinity Series is hardly an exception leading into Saturday afternoon’s season opener at Daytona.

In the midst of all of that, the series is hardly short on drivers with the most to prove in 2021.

Austin Cindric You can argue that last year was the easy part for Cindric, who captured the title. Now comes the tougher part, thriving under the expectations and showing his team can still match if not exceed 2020 with all of the eyes of the garage watching. It’s one thing to sneak up and surprise to win a championship. If Cindric can do it again, it may make this year all the more sweeter.

Jeb Burton In part-time efforts within the Xfinity Series, he has shown flashes. Last year in 11 races with JR Motorsports, he took a good first step in finishing eight races, but he ended up doing more than that with a pair of top fives in his final four races. Now, he’ll go full-time with Kaulig Racing, which showed a year ago that it can win races. Kaulig Racing has a belief that it can win, and Burton is on board to help carry that forward.

Harrison Burton Staying in the Burton family, another young hotshoe may have the most expected of him after the way last year ended. Harrison Burton was by far the best driver not in the championship 4 to end last season, winning back-to-back races at Martinsville and Texas. It was one thing for Burton to win, but even more impressive to do it at two very different layouts. Burton was one of the best over a short stretch as last year ended. Now the challenge is to do it for the whole year.

Ty Dillon To whom much is given, much is expected. One allure of the Xfinity Series is that while there are some drivers keyed in on a championship drive, there are other drivers aiming to make the most of what could be the best opportunity of their career. That’s where Ty Dillon comes in. Without a ride with Germain Racing after it shut down at the end of 2020, the next step of his career will now entail a mixture of rides. It’s Dillon’s time to show that he can perform if given the right situation. It does not get much better than what Dillon has in front of him this year for a limited amount of races, with Joe Gibbs Racing for at least four events.

 

Noah Gragson He has already shown that he can win races. The task for Gragson now becomes this: take that next step ahead and win races later in the season. He won twice in the first seven races last year, but his JR Motorsports team would not win again after that. If Gragson can get on a run similar to Cindric and Chase Briscoe‘s last year, it could spell championship for the Las Vegas native.

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