If you’re a casual follower of the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Josh Williams probably did not resonate strongly around this time a week ago.
In a series marked by NASCAR Cup Series interlopers and well-funded operations, there’s the other half of the garage where drivers like Williams reside. Whereas some drivers may define success as a win or string of top-10 finishes, the Josh Williams of the world seek to maximize all that they can with what they have to work with. It’s not a fair comparison, but for the Mario Gosselin operation, a top 15 or occasional top 10 brings a high measure of satisfaction.
The Josh Williams of the world languishes mostly in anonymity. That all changed last Saturday afternoon (Sept. 11) at Richmond Raceway, and Williams and underdog drivers of his like have the fact of a non-series regular dropping down into the series to thank for it.
Yes, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
This isn’t a piece to fawn over Earnhardt. But the fact that Dale Jr. was racing in Saturday afternoon’s matinee by default drew a few more eyeballs to the series. It’s the same reason that track promoters have zero complaints when the likes of Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott or Kevin Harvick run an Xfinity race.
That attention catapulted Williams, who ended up 23rd to the spotlight early in the race as he raced Earnhardt hard for position, refusing to give up the spot easily. Given how many were watching the race just for Dale Jr., quite a few were reminded of drivers like Williams who were there to simply race.
— Frontstretch (@Frontstretch) September 11, 2021
It was some good old-fashioned beating and banging. To Earnhardt, it was all in good fun.
“We got to beat on some of those guys and they beat back on us,” Earnhardt Jr. said following the race. “These guys have so much heart. You can tell they’re trying to prove themselves. It’s so fun to be out there with them.”
The good-natured back and forth went the other way as well, courtesy of Williams.
— Josh Williams (@Josh6williams) September 11, 2021
Williams, however, has gotten even more of a jolt outside of last Saturday’s on-track back and forth. Earlier this week, Earnhardt’s podcast “Dale Jr. Download” featured a few minutes of a time with, you guessed it, Williams, enabling fans who knew little of him a week ago to find out more about who Williams is, giving stronger legs to the stories of drivers from the other side of the garage.
Stories like these are ones that are very much worth telling. I always tell people that if you have never been to a race in person, one of the best things that you cannot see on TV is the race within race. One driver may be trying to crack the top 10 for the first time all year, another may be scratching and clawing to be in the top 15 to further show how consistent that they, despite being a lower-funded operation, can be.
It’s one of many things that makes the NASCAR Xfinity Series as exciting and great as it is.
What To Watch This Week
Who’s in, who’s out
First and foremost, this week is massive for drivers seeking the final three spots in the playoffs in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Those in the best position to do so are Jeremy Clements, Brandon Jones and Riley Herbst. All three can clinch on points alone with Clements needing 47 points, Jones 53 and Herbst 55. Who could sneak in leapfrog their way in? Count Ryan Sieg among that group alongside Brandon Brown. Bristol Motor Speedway doesn’t have the unpredictability of Daytona International Speedway, which sets the field for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, but Bristol can, however, easily cause someone to get caught up in an ill-timed wreck, something that the likes of Herbst, Clements or Jones can ill afford.
By and large, the best two drivers this season have been Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger. They’re about to enter the point of the year that separates a “pretty good” season from a championship season. A regular-season title goes a long way in starting the playoffs with momentum, and that opportunity is squarely in the hands of the driver that leads the points after Bristol.
Short tracks make for exciting racing … but spike the blood pressure of crew chiefs. That’s because of its tight quarters, Bristol has among the smallest space on pit road, meaning the odds of cars colliding on pit road are higher. In a race where the smallest mishap could impact hopes of a win or strong finish, a collision on pit road, not the track could be a big difference-maker.
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