Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Beware the Invasion

Cue the Jaws music. An invasion is on the horizon.

No, it is not the Vikings, Gauls or Huns. And sorry, Leonides, this is not Sparta either (it is actually Sonoma), and as Paul Revere forcefully said …

THE CUP DRIVERS ARE COMING. THE CUP DRIVERS ARE COMING.”

As the NASCAR Xfinity Series treks to wine country for the first time ever this weekend, it will have some company. A robust legion of NASCAR Cup Series combatants will invade the inaugural DoorDash 250 on the twists and turns of the famed Sonoma Raceway road course.

Those eight drivers (including part-timer Josh Bilicki) on the Xfinity entry list this weekend represent the largest squadron of Cup competitors since the 2019 implementation of a rule limiting the number of Xfinity starts a points-earning Cup drivers can make per season to just five.

But why is this significant?

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Well, this weekend’s Cup invasion on Xfinity is part of a growing trend this season. So far, Xfinity races in 2023 including this weekend’s race in Sonoma have averaged over two Cup drivers in each field. This includes the four Dash 4 Cash events where full-time Cup drivers are banned from competing and the standalone race at Portland International Raceway.

This year has been a big jump from the prior three seasons, which averaged about one Cup driver per Xfinity contest.

Sure, it is a far cry from the 2000s when lax eligibility rules allowed for 20 Cup drivers or more to compete in any given Xfinity race, but the pendulum is starting to swing back.

Road races like this weekend at Sonoma have been especially popular for these types of invasions as more and more Cup owners elect to put in their drivers to gain experience.

This has been aided by a recent practice of major Cup teams purchasing rides from mid-tier Xfinity programs to ensure that their Cup driver makes the field each week, which often comes at the expense of a lower team being bumped from the show.

This is the case this weekend as Trackhouse Racing supports an SS-Green Light Racing entry for Daniel Suarez and RSS Racing lends out its No. 28 for Stewart-Haas Racing and Aric Almirola.

Then there are organizations like Kaulig Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing that have thoroughly embraced the popular concept of an all-star car. This is an additional entry that is fielded for a slate of part-time drivers that mixes an array of the team’s full-time Cup drivers and varying prospects.

While the strict start limits still exist, these all-star cars allow for a larger number of Cup drivers to drop down and cherry pick in the developmental series. For example, the Kaulig No. 10 has already featured five Cup drivers this season.

Finally, there are drivers like Ty Dillon and Ross Chastain who have voluntarily landed rides without their Cup team’s support in lesser Xfinity equipment to again garner seat time.

It is for these reasons and more that 12 full-time Cup drivers have already made an Xfinity start across the first 14 races of the season after Sonoma. Comparatively, there were only 14 Cup invaders across all 33 races in 2022, 13 in 2021, four in 2020 (a COVID-19-interrupted season, mind you) and 10 in 2019.

See also
Eyes on Xfinity: Have Jeb Burton's Fists Talked Too Much?

With eight drivers in the field, how will fans respond? In a rather controversial move, race limits were put in place after many complained about seeing the same drivers on Saturdays AND Sundays.

Or do fans even notice?

The frequency of a Cup driver invading may be significantly less, but the percentage of Cup drivers invading is steadily on the rise.

So, once again, there is an invasion upon us, it just may look a little different this time.

About the author

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

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Bill B

Fans will respond by not watching.

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