Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Is Xfinity Stealing Cup Series’ Thunder?

While the NTT IndyCar Series continues to experience inexplicable viewer decline, one thing is becoming certain: The premier racing series in the United States is … the NASCAR Xfinity Series?

While it may not be eclipsing the NASCAR Cup Series in ratings, it has certainly captured the attention and support of the NASCAR community as a whole this season with great racing, stunning finishes and a myriad of personalities. What was once considered the minor leagues of motorsports has become the darling of the circle track circuit.

Is the Xfinity Series putting out a better product than the Cup Series, or are there other factors at play? This week, Steve Leffew and Vito Pugliese fly the flag for their respective series.

See also
Sam Hunt Talks Scaling Back & Working with Corey Heim

Xfinity Is Setting the Pace for Performance

In Xfinity, there are shorter races with much more unpredictability, which creates excitement and an entertaining product.

At the end of the Dover Motor Speedway race this past weekend, I was standing up holding my breath over the last few laps. Would Sheldon Creed finally win? For a moment it looked like he was going to. Was Austin Hill going to pull out another last-minute victory? Would Justin Allgaier finally get into victory lane this season? Could Carson Kvapil score the win in his second start? Here comes Ryan Truex! All of these things were possible, moment by moment, in the late laps of that race.

That phenomenon happens almost every week in Xfinity.

It’s rare for any one driver to have a clear advantage and even when they do, they often don’t win. Ask Allgaier how Texas Motor Speedway ended up for him after he led 117 laps. Speaking of Texas, Sam Mayer beat Ryan Sieg to the line by 0.002 seconds in a remarkable photo finish. The fact that Sieg was even in that position to win on a mile and a half track, driving for his family-owned team, speaks volumes about the series. Find me a comparison in Cup … I’ll wait.

The Cup Series has found the mind-bending purgatory where the parity is strong enough that the top 30 can run within four-tenths of each other, but nobody can pass anyone because of it. The parity now extends to pit road as well, where Cup pit stops have a single lug. In Xfinity, they’re still using the five-lug wheels we’ve seen for decades. The five-lug wheel wasn’t broken and Xfinity hasn’t fixed it. The single lug on the other hand…

For years Cup had a major advantage in horsepower. Cup cars were making around 900 at their peak. Today? Xfinity cars have almost as much horsepower as Cup, but less grip. The argument can be made that wheeling a Xfinity car successfully takes more skill than a Cup car.

Look at the Martinsville Speedway Cup race. Joey Logano had a 10th-place car but took two tires to inherit the lead on a pit stop and nobody could do anything with him for 83 laps. Eventually, Logano caught the tail of the field and stalled behind them. The same aerodynamic tragedy that was helping him keep the lead was preventing him from lapping the 30th-place car. Short tracks are the heart and soul of NASCAR racing and they’re a disaster in Cup right now. In Xfinity, they’re alive and well.

The Cup drivers are, in general, more experienced and proven. That does help with the star power, but with experience comes a more cautious approach to live for another lap. Cup drivers take less risk and make fewer mistakes. The truth is, that can make for less entertaining racing.

With Xfinity, most drivers are still fighting to get to the top. They are hungrier, taking more risks and making more mistakes. Crashes, hot tempers, trading paint and passing are all in abundance. Joey Gase threw a deck lid at Dawson Cram a few weeks ago. In Cup, drivers are multi-millionaires with plenty of laurels and dollars to rest on.

The star power of the Xfinity Series is diverse and rising. The series seems to have struck the right balance with their current quotas on how many times a Cup driver can run in Xfinity and which races they can’t run at all. This gives us the best of both worlds. One week Kyle Larson can win and the next a guy like Sieg can come 0.002 seconds from winning on a 1.5-mile track. You can see AJ Allmendinger, Chandler Smith, Hailie Deegan and Shane van Gisbergen running full time. You can still see Dale Earnhardt Jr. run a race or two per year. Alongside more entertaining racing, Xfinity has household names of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. – Steve Leffew

See also
Eyes on Xfinity: Justin Allgaier Lost 100 Points to Lady Luck

My Cup Runneth Over

There’s no shortage of opinions about the quality of the racing in NASCAR’s major touring divisions. Ask anyone to give a quick breakdown of their impressions of each, and it’ll usually go along the lines of the following:

ARCA Menards Series: Wow they sure crash a lot. Are you sure they’re teammates? Do these cars have brakes?

Craftsman Truck Series: Wow they sure crash a lot. He’s how young? Why are there so many Ta. Grays?

Xfinity Series: THIS SHIT IS AWESOME, WHY ISN’T THIS ON SUNDAY, THIS REMINDS ME OF DALE, RUSTY, AND MARK BACK IN THE DAY!

Cup Series: Pfff … shifting on a short track … lame. They have how much less horsepower than my Hellcat? So what happens when they leave the one lug nut loo … oh. Nevermind…

Now it’s become fashionable the last few weeks to bag on the Cup Series because of the Xfinity race ran the day before. Name your podcast, poster on X, or internet blowhard, everyone’s been getting in on it lately. It all started at Phoenix Raceway but picked up momentum at Circuit of the Americas, when van Gisbergen and Hill were beating and banging on the final lap – which was an overtime finish, courtesy of a five-car pileup coming to the final lap. The Cup race the next day left a bit to be desired in comparison.

Richmond, which has not had a great Cup race there in some time had a margin of victory of under three-tenths of a second. What some may claim as a turd at Martinsville because Logano couldn’t get through lap traffic was about a half-second margin of victory. While it may not have provided fender banging, inter-team drama like the fall Xfinity race of 2023, no amount of weird pink pig meat could get the bad taste out of the mouths of short track fans.

Speaking of Talladega Superspeedway, did you know that they spent the first 2/3 of the race riding around at part throttle saving fuel? Yeah I know, it was imprinted upon me as well after hearing people complain about it for days on end too. First two stages were … not great, but the final stage and finish was every bit what we’ve come to expect of Talladega.

While the Xfinity Series is admittedly putting on a better overall show consistently, there’s several factors here at play that are influencing that.

They aren’t Cup teams or Cup cars. Sure, there are some teams that participate in both series, but these are different cars that don’t have the same level of engineering and investment behind them – simply because the budgets of the teams and series preclude it. This is also a pretty mature platform, where as the Next Gen Cup car is two and a half years old. The Xfinity Series race time and distances are absolutely perfect for attention span and not dominating the weekend.

That’s not to say that the Cup races have been all bad – are we just going to ignore the three-wide photo finish in Atlanta? It wasn’t the .002 seconds at Texas for the Xfinity Series like Steve was roaring about above – but .003 seconds with an extra car involved is that much better.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Dover last weekend were great final stages. Much maligned TMS was shaping up for a great finish as the leaders collected each other on the backstretch on the final lap. Was Bristol not must-see TV, not knowing who was going to shred a tire when?

You wanted tire wear? Well here you go, bud.

Does that mean it’s a better race than Xfinity is putting on? Not always, but there’s also stark differences in the length of the races between the two, and the field size and parity. The gap in team performance and resources from 25th to 38th in Xfinity is about 30th-40th in Cup. There are a lot more teams that can run competitively in the Xfinity Series than the Cup Series right now.

But let’s not totally trash the Cup Series. The short tracks absolutely need to be addressed; the real issue is not even trying to touch gear ratios and why NASCAR refuses to even try an increase in horsepower, when all the teams say it’s an easy turn around. Let’s get a few more intermediate track dates under our belt on the Cup side this year, and fans may feel differently about the on-track product. – Vito Pugliese

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brian

Answer to the last area of comment for Vito, NASCAR does not want egg on their faces by proving the drivers and teams know better.
It would be a bad look to increase the horsepower and poof the racing is better.

IMO, NASCAR needs to get the gimmicks out of the cars, raise them about 6 inches off the ground (look at 80’s cars) the only aero term used was slingshot at the big tracks. Might solve many issues and make the drivers work for their results. This is also what the drivers want more control over how they do.

Share via