Wednesday, July 21, 2021

OPINION: Don’t hate the drivers for it, but Cup regulars in Xfinity still do more harm than good

PHOTO: @NewsFromThePits

by Ben Schneider Guest Contributor

EDITOR'S NOTE: I am pleased to introduce Ben Schneider as the newest member of the team! Ben, who hails from Delaware, is a contributor to the Global Racing Index Database, where he also appears on a racing podcast. He also has a YouTube channel where he discusses the history of both NASCAR and of game shows, which can be found at this link. Most importantly, like myself and William Soquet, he shares a passion for supporting racing's smaller teams, as you will see in his features on this site. Today's article is his first for 

On Saturday, for the third consecutive race and fifth time in the last six races, a NASCAR Cup Series regular stepped down into the Xfinity Series and took the victory away from an Xfinity driver. In his first series start since 2019, Christopher Bell drove the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The No. 54 car has also been to Victory Lane five other times this season with Kyle Busch, who has easily been the most prominent Cup driver in NASCAR’s second-tier series in recent years. Busch did something this season that he’s never done before, winning every single one of his allotted Xfinity starts for the season. His career wins total now stands at 102, a record that, like Richard Petty’s 200 wins in the Cup Series, will almost certainly never be broken.

With Busch reaching his 100-win milestone and Bell following it up with a win of his own, the topic of Cup drivers competing in NASCAR’s lower divisions is again a timely debate. My longtime social media followers will know that I have never personally been a fan of seeing Cup drivers race in the Xfinity and Truck Series. My belief is that it takes the spotlight away from the series regulars, which in turn hurts their development.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the 2007-12 Cup seasons saw some of the weakest rookie classes in history. In those years, when NASCAR allowed its drivers to score points in all three series, it was not uncommon to see more than 10 or 15 Cup regulars in an Xfinity race. The 2007 Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas alone had 26 Cup drivers in the field. If the Xfinity Series’ own slogan is to be believed, that’s 26 more “names” that could have been “made here” that weren’t, all because an already established name took that seat away.

Think of it this way: of Busch’s 102 series wins, only five came before he entered the Cup Series full-time in 2005. Theoretically, that’s 97 race wins that could have gone to a series regular, whether it be an up-and-coming young talent searching for a big break, an independent on a shoestring budget, or a former Cup veteran enjoying a career revival with an Xfinity team.

This isn’t a “big name” stepping into a one-off local late model charity race to help bring attention to it. It’s a big name stepping into a nationally televised series with a defined purpose to take attention away from it. How often do we see Scott Dixon competing in an Indy Lights race? It would be as absurd as seeing Lewis Hamilton on a Formula 3 grid. Should Shohei Ohtani go pitch and hit home runs for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate on his off days? It would be as preposterous as Giannis Antetokounmpo playing G League basketball for the Wisconsin Herd. 

The NASCAR Xfinity Series already has its own stars of the show, and with that, its own purpose. It is promoted as a proving ground for drivers (and, given Kaulig Racing’s recent charter acquisitions, even teams) wishing to one day compete with NASCAR’s superstars on Sundays. But the “Names Are Made Here” slogan rings especially hollow when a name that was already made there steals all the glory.

Now to be fair, I want to avoid placing the blame on the drivers here. There is always a lot of criticism (and unfortunately even ad hominem attacks) thrown Busch’s way whenever he (or anyone else) steps into an Xfinity car. But Busch has the freedom to race per NASCAR’s rules and regulations. 

Busch claimed he would retire from the series once he reached win No. 100. If we take him at his word (it’s worth noting he said in his post-race interview at Atlanta “never say never”), we now have an opportunity to reflect on his accomplishment. To score 100 career wins in a NASCAR national touring series is no small feat. It requires talent, longevity, and an undeterred drive and passion for the sport. Busch has all of those, and it’s important to give him credit where it’s due for what he has done. Jumping into a car that drives completely differently from his Cup car - often with no practice or qualifying - and driving it to a win is still impressive, and to say it isn’t would be an insult to the Xfinity regulars. 

Still, I believe it is possible to both appreciate Busch’s achievement while also criticizing the rule that allowed him to reach it. They say when you’re frustrated with a flawed system not to hate the player, but to hate the game. So while I commend Kyle Busch for reaching his personal goal, I also hope NASCAR reconsiders whether it’s worth seeing their Xfinity teams and drivers continue to race for second.

Otherwise, “Names Are Made Here” will continue to ring a bit hollow.


Sally said...

If the Cup drivers who run in the Xfinity series were sitting in 'underdog' cars, or running for teams not affiliated with Cup teams building their cars, I don't think it would be so galling. Ty Gibbs winning in that car doesn't bother me...he's a rookie, lucky enough to drive for a top team. If Cup drivers just want the 'track time' help out a lower tier team by evaluating their equipment during a race. They still get the seat time, maybe give a team a boost with a best ever finish, and don't rob the full timers of a chance for wins.

Unknown said...

Get the Cup owners out of the Xfinity would a good place to start. Gibbs/Busch, Penske/Keselowski and Earnhardt/Hendrick...however you chose to call them, we all know whos money and technology is behind them.

Racefan707 said...

Totally agree. You especially emphasized my main argument about pros stepping down to minor leagues on their off day. Wouldn't be so bad if they ran there own team, not a satellite of their well financed Cup teams. Having a more diverse schedule with more separate race weekends would also help. Trucks/Xfinity at another track, while Cup cars race with IMSA, Indycar, or Trans Am.

MarshallDog said...

I'm less annoyed by Cup drivers driving in the Xfinity series than I am with the Xfinity series being dominated by Cup owners like Gibbs and Penske. I'm not sure how to deal with that though because even if you did ban Joe Gibbs from owning an Xfinity team there could still be alliances where someone else owned the team but was still part of the Gibbs organization.

I'm honestly not impressed or awed by Kyle Busch's 102 wins in the lower series. It's one thing to dominate the highest level of a sport like Lewis Hamilton is doing or Richard Petty did back in his day. It's another thing to beat up on a lower level of competition driving the best equipment supported by a championship winning team from a higher division. What the hell did Kyle Busch prove by racking up wins in a lower series that he didn't already prove by being a 2-time* champion in the Cup series?

Unknown said...

Not only do the cup drivers take the glory, but also the money and may be a championship slot from a Xfinity regular. In Busch's case, it is usually one of his teammates no less. His 102 victories has taken 102 1st place money from the Xfinity pot and that translates down the finish order. It is all ego on his part. 102 victories against lower tier teams and drivers is a legacy to be proud of.

Unknown said...

Let us remember that Busch's 102nd win came at the expense of his teammate, Daniel Hemric. Here is a guy who has never won a race in any of NASCAR's top three series and could surely use a win more than most drivers.

But his latest mistake, through no fault of his own, was lining up ahead of Busch near the end of the Xfinity race in Atlanta. I say that because when the race re-started, Busch, who was determined to win that race and especially five in a row, knocked Hemric out of the way and into the wall so he could achieve his mission. Not only did he knock an Xfiniti driver out of his first win but it was his own teammate. But yet Busch got the trophy and the big check and Hemric got to look at a wrecked racecar. Busch's day is coming.

Joshua said...

And what did Mark Martin do in the 90s? Let them race. It's not Kyle's fault he is a beast.

MarshallDog said...

Nobody here is defending Mark Martin. In fact the point of the article is that Cup drivers dominating the Xfinity series is a blight on the sport. And claiming Kyle Busch is a beast for dominating the Xfinity series is like that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer claimed he was "dominating" his children's karate class. It's technically true, but not terribly impressive to be a beast against weaker competition.