If you happened to miss Saturday’s action-packed barn-burner XFINITY Series race at Iowa Speedway, go through some archives and find it. Unreal.
While sitting in the Pocono Raceway media center, everyone was on the edges of their seats throughout the entire race, but more so for the finale. Phrases such as ‘holy shit” and “that was the best race I’ve seen in a while” echoed off the thin walls as Ryan Preece grabbed his first career NASCAR victory.
It’s not the fact that Preece had never won a race in 37 prior starts; it was the action that was filled from the bottom groove to the outer wall. The racing was incredible, even though there were only four leaders, mostly dominated by the 26-year-old (141 laps led) and Justin Allgaier, who led 106 circuits.
And when Cup Series stars are not in the field, it seems as most XFINITY races come down to the final laps. The only other stand alone event this season also came at Iowa, in which rookie sensation William Byron added his name to the list of winners in the series. But do you remember how he got there?
After getting caught in a pileup during the final round of green flag pit stops, Christopher Bell, who dominated the event leading 152 laps, opened the floodgates to the rest of the field. It also caught a bunch of the series top drivers a lap off the pace.
Underfunded drivers such as Ryan Sieg, Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain and Dakoda Armstrong filled positions in the top five, at the time all posting career-high finishes. The victor wasn’t declared until the last lap and it brought uncertainty to the finishing order.
When Cup drivers are in the field, they tend to dominate events, especially this season. Outside of the two restrictor plate races at Daytona and the coveted race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, whenever a Cup driver has been in the field, they have visited the Winners Circle. There is nothing wrong with that since it allows the XFINITY drivers to race against who they hope to be racing against on Sundays, but it also stinks up the show.
Personally, I don’t feel that Cup Series drivers should be eliminated from competing in all of the XFINITY or Camping World Truck series events, but reducing the number of races the top drivers can compete in is a step in the right direction. There should never be a time when drivers shouldn’t be able to compete in any race they want, especially when it attracts fans, viewers and sponsors to the race.
While being a guest on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday, Kyle Busch, the winningest driver in XFINITY Series history put it bluntly.
“I skipped three months of racing XFINITY [between March, 2017 and June, 2017]. “There were nine races in that time. You had one race won by an XFINITY regular, so it didn’t change a damn thing by eliminating the races that Cup drivers can run. We all get together this off-season and pick and choose our races around each other’s schedules, we can still screw it up as much as we want to screw it up and piss everybody off. So I wouldn’t be too certain that that might not happen.”
There is no need to have Cup Series drivers eliminated from participating completely, but adding more stand alone races would be better for the sport and damn sure put on a better show.
Think back to the last stand alone race of 2016 at Kentucky Speedway, also kicking off the inaugural playoffs for the XFINITY Series. Sure, it was a crash fest, 64 of the race’s 200 laps were run under the yellow flag, but it was entertaining. Erik Jones led half the race, but was caught up in a late race incident. Ty Dillon, who led 47 circuits, was involved in that same incident, and it was just a case of two drivers going for the victory, hoping to clinch a spot into the next round.
Unfortunately for them, Elliott Sadler captured the checkered flag.
Compare that race to this years first race at Kentucky, which was filled with Cup Series stars, seeing Busch pick up his second victory of the season. All 200 laps were paced by Cup drivers.
As the 2017 season progresses and with the playoffs around the corner, the XFINITY Series is set to go to two additional stand alone races in the coming month. The first is next weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and thinking back to last year the race was insane, mostly because it was run in the rain.
Justin Marks picked up his first-career victory, leading 43 of 75 laps. The Cup Series had an off week, so only Ryan Blaney was in the field, and the Ohio native brought the No. 22 car home third.
Two weeks later, and the final road course of the year, Michael McDowell won his first NASCAR event at Road America. The Cup Series regular led half the event, but was highly contested by XFINITY Series regulars, despite being a road course veteran.
Ultimately, in order for the XFINITY Series to branch out and have more than a handful of stand alone races each year, it’s going to take certain venues to take a risk on the series. It’s hard to compel the audience and bring them to the track if they don’t have a driver to cheer on. But being that this is the series where “names are made,” something is going right. It would probably make even more stars if they doubled the stand alone events.
- This weekend’s race at Watkins Glen International is slated to have some of the best Cup Series drivers in the field. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Paul Menard, Erik Jones and Ty Dillon are scheduled to take a shot at the twist and turns.
- On Tuesday, Chip Ganassi Racing announced it hired Justin Marks to defend his race victory at Mid-Ohio. Last season, Marks conquered the rain, edging out Sam Hornish Jr. In 2016, the No. 42 car was involved in an incident at Road America, finishing 32nd.
- NASCAR announced on Tuesday that going forward Cup Series drivers with more than five years of experience can only compete in a handful of XFINITY races. Tagged as the Kyle Busch rule, the former series champion was outspoken on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and admitted that the drivers can still get together and throw a wrench in NASCARs hope of having more XFINITY winners. As well as only competing in five races, any drivers that declare prior to the season for Cup Series points is disqualified from competing in the final seven XFINITY Series races of the season (the playoffs).
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.
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For me, the biggest problem with Cup teams cars driven by Cup drivers is that it makes the ‘win and you’re in’ scenario for the two lower series a joke. Cup built teams with Cup drivers get the winners purse money, which less well funded teams could certainly use, and most of the attention from TV coverage. How happy can a sponsor of a ‘regular’ Xfinity team be when they are barely getting any screen time because the Cup driver/team gets it all? That just perpetuates the problem with sponsors wanting a ‘name’ driver in the car.