Race Weekend Central

Eyes on Xfinity: Looking Back at Hottest Starts in Series History

Austin Hill has been on a tear, having won two out of the first three races in the young 2023 season.

Hill currently sits atop what is shaping up to be a top-heavy NASCAR Xfinity Series garage this season, and that got me thinking: When is the last time someone started this hot?

This week’s installment of EoX will look at three of the hottest starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series history and examine exactly how those seasons went for the drivers in question. Let’s ride.

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2012 Nationwide Series – Elliott Sadler/Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Over the first six races of the 2012 season, these two drivers won more than half of them. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in particular started the year off on rocky footing with a 19th-place finish in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. But a top five at Phoenix Raceway followed by his first trip to victory lane on the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway quickly righted the ship.

After winning at Phoenix and Bristol Motor Speedway in weeks two and four, respectively, Elliott Sadler was in the conversation for the series championship yet again. The wily veteran was after some hardware, and had no plans on letting the young Stenhouse stand in his way for a second year in a row.

Sadler’s Richard Childress Racing No. 2 Chevrolet was bad fast that season, and as the lead driver on a four-car Xfinity team, it should be. Stenhouse and Roush Fenway Racing had the perfect answer, though: the same one they had the year before.

Stenhouse went on to win his second series championship in a row as he beat Sadler, yet again. The next season, he was elevated to the NASCAR Cup Series to drive for Roush Fenway, where he remained until 2019. He only won two races in his seven years with the team, both coming at super speedways.

On the flip side, it would be Sadler’s last season at RCR before joining Joe Gibbs Racing for a two-year stint, Roush Fenway for one year and JR Motorsports for three. Sadler didn’t finish below sixth in the driver’s points a single time in full-time action until he stepped away from the sport at the end of the 2018 season.

1997 Busch Series – Randy LaJoie

If you didn’t already guess it, Randy LaJoie is the father of Cup Series racer Corey LaJoie, and his start to the 1997 series was one of the hotter ones on record.

Much like Hill, LaJoie started the year off with a bang by winning at Daytona and rode that momentum on into the season. He followed that win up with a third-place finish at Rockingham Speedway and another win in week six at Darlington Raceway.

LaJoie went on to win the title that year with five race wins and 10 more top fives to boot.

LaJoie won in style, too, in his no. 74 FINA Chevrolet. Blue = fast, I don’t make the rules.

The Norwalk, Connecticut-native won the series championship in convincing fashion, too.

He beat out Todd Bodine for the hardware by more than 200 points. If you want to get a sense of just how long the aforementioned Elliott Sadler spent in the Xfinity Series, by the way, just think about the fact that he finished fifth in that year’s points standings, and was still racing for the championship 15 years later against Stenhouse.

LaJoie went on to race for BACE Motorsports full-time for one more year before joining Phoenix Racing, where he’d be until after the 2000 season. After that, LaJoie bounced around in plenty of seats during the early 2000’s before finally calling it quits in 2006 to focus on Corey’s career.

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2016 – Kyle Busch

I really tried to keep this to strictly full-time Xfinity drivers, but Kyle Busch‘s 2016 season cannot be ignored.

Busch won 10 races over the course of the 2016 Xfinity season, including four out of the first six (and he didn’t even race in the first one).

Fans will remember this as the year that Daniel Suarez won the title (can you guess who he finished ahead of? That’s right, it all comes back to Elliott Sadler), but I’ll remember this season as the one that actually made me bored to watch Busch just dominate week-in and week-out.

To top it all off, even in the races he wasn’t winning, he probably beat your current favorite driver, as he added another four top fives to his 10 wins. Busch lived at the front of the pack that season, and I don’t believe we’ll see anything else quite like it.

Hill is on the right track, though, and with plenty of opportunity ahead, who’s to say? Maybe the history books get rewritten — it’s only week four after all.

About the author

Tanner Marlar is a staff writer for On3 Sports' Maroon and White Daily covering Mississippi State Athletics, an AP Wire reporter, an award-winning sports columnist and talk show host and master's student at Mississippi State University. Soon, Tanner will be pursuing a PhD. in Communicative Research.

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