HAMPTON, Ga. — The NASCAR XFINITY Series and The Simpsons have something in common: They’re both husks of their former glory and only occasionally produce something serviceable to good, but nothing spectacular.
Once upon a time, the XFINITY Series was a NASCAR touring series that put on decent racing, ran separate from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series many weekends and had a good mix of battle-tested veterans and rookies seeking to make a name for themselves. Only occasionally did it have the Cup interloper when the series was a companion event to the Cup race.
Minus the number of standalone events, this description fits mostly well on the current NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
The series I see now is nothing more than a contradiction that’s dominated by Cup drivers and runs an almost identical schedule to the Cup Series. The quality of racing ranges from mediocre at best to abysmal most weekends. During standalone weekends, the quality is hit or miss.
A textbook example of how bad the racing is now is this past weekend’s XFINITY race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Cup drivers led from start to finish. Brad Keselowski won the first stage, Kevin Harvick won the second stage and Kyle Busch won the race. There was also a two-car wreck at the start with Ty Dillon and Blake Koch.
That was the race in only 40 words.
Oh a few other things happened as well, but those are the events that mattered in it. It doesn’t matter in the slightest that Elliott Sadler left with a three-point lead over William Byron. Those will just reset prior to the start of the Chase, I’m mean “playoffs,” in September.
Let’s not forget the apologists for Cup drivers in XFINITY “hand waving” the lousy driving by saying the rookies gain “valuable experience” learning from the veteran Cup drivers. Take this line from Michael Waltrip in yesterday’s broadcast of the Rinnai 250 on FS1.
“How lucky are we in 2017 these kids mixing it up with these veterans?!”
I don’t know what race Waltrip was watching, but it wasn’t the same XFINITY race that was led start to finish by all Cup drivers. They were in a different time zone all day long.
Oh and to top off yesterday, Busch’s car failed post-race inspection. But he keeps the win, so any penalty that results means absolutely nothing. The owners titles? That means nothing to anybody other than the owners. And even then, it’s small fry compared to the drivers title. It’s a discussion for another article, but NASCAR has incentivized teams with drivers not running for a drivers title in the XFINITY Series, and the Camping World Truck Series by extension, to run illegal race cars/trucks in order to win the race. You keep the win, pay a fine and lose a crew chief for a few weeks.
Expect to see more of this same scenario, minus a car failing post-race inspection, week after week this season.
And this isn’t an isolated race. This has been the trend for years. Last season, XFINITY drivers won only 12 of the 33 races. Only five different XFINITY drivers won and only three of them were full-time XFINITY drivers. Nine full-time Cup drivers — Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola, Joey Logano and Michael McDowell — won the other 21.
Compare this to the 1982 XFINITY Series season, the inaugural season of the then NASCAR Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series. Seven primarily Cup drivers — Dale Earnhardt, Geoffrey Bodine, Morgan Shepherd, Joe Ruttman and Darrell Waltrip — won just nine of the 29 races. Granted, only five drivers ran all 29 races, but these were drivers who primarily ran XFINITY in their career.
The only saving grace this season might be that NASCAR has put a cap on the number of races a Cup driver can run in the lower divisions, with the caveat of not applying to drivers with less than five years of full-time Cup experience.
And just so I don’t come off as “too cynical,” I’ll offer some solutions to bring some respect back to the XFINITY Series.
FIRST: NASCAR must acknowledge that the XFINITY Series in its current state is garbage.
Nothing will change until the NASCAR executives in Daytona Beach accept the reality that the “No. 2 auto racing series in the United States” rings hollow with the NASCAR nation when the quality of its racing is so atrocious.
1.5: Acknowledge that the XFINITY Series is nothing more than Cup-Lite.
Matt Weaver of Autoweek sums up the argument in his piece A broken NASCAR Xfinity Series: Can it be fixed?.
“Many will respond, ‘Just enjoy the racing,’ but that’s a tall task given the current schedule and on-track product. More than ever before, Xfinity is simply a carbon copy of its Sprint Cup older brother.
“Like a clone, it has no soul, no personality and no purpose other than to add another event to a track’s Sprint Cup race ticket.
“All told, the Xfinity Series just isn’t a lot of fun right now.
“At the height of the sport’s popularity, the old Busch Series was an exciting alternative to the Cup Series. It spent months at a time apart from the premier division, visiting tracks like Indianapolis Raceway Park, Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, Gateway and Myrtle Beach.”
Weaver is right on the money. The series is just weekend filler. In fact, these are some of the same arguments lobbed towards The Simpsons. But whereas The Simpsons will still produce an episode that shows a spark of their former greatness, there’s hardly any of that with the XFINITY Series.
It’s hard to “enjoy the racing” when the race for the lead is between Cup drivers who won’t fight for the title in the XFINITY Series and the current arrangement of the schedule favors the downforce-heavy 1.5 mile tracks of the Cup Series over the short track-centric schedule that once defined the XFINITY Series.
This leads me to my next point.
SECOND: DIVERSIFY THE SCHEDULE!!!
While there’s hardly any spark of greatness with the modern XFINITY Series, I did see some of it this past season during a five-race stretch that lasted from Iowa in July to Road America in August. During that stretch, the XFINITY Series visited the short track of Iowa Speedway, the road course of Watkins Glen International, the road course of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the short track of Bristol Motor Speedway and the road course of Road America. Only two of those events, Watkins Glen and Bristol, were companion events to Cup.
I watched that Bristol XFINITY race from the press box in the middle of Turns 3 and 4 and never found myself once disinterested in what was going on, even though a Cup driver won the race.
And that leads me to my final point.
THIRD: Cup drivers have to go.
To those who say we need Cup drivers to bring in more fans, I’ll take that argument seriously when NASCAR requires tracks to publish attendance figures again. Why should I, or anyone else, care if Cup drivers are necessary for drawing crowds when this sport isn’t transparent about their own attendance figures, except when its a “sellout?” You can just look at the stands yourself on any raceday and see the crowds are abysmal. The Cup drivers aren’t drawing a crowd that legitimizes the argument.
The only argument that has any merit is Cup drivers bring in sponsorship. But it’s kind of a self-defeating argument because it shows just how little the series can sustain on its own merits. It also begs the question, why does NASCAR continue using the tagline “Names are made here” when we’re told tracks need Cup drivers to draw a crowd?
This is a classic case of having your cake and eating it too. NASCAR, you can’t continue having Cup drivers in XFINITY whilst promoting as the series where names are made, at least if you want people to take it seriously.
Alas, it’s probably too little too late for the XFINITY Series.
We beg and plead with people to pack the standalone races at tracks such as Iowa and Kentucky to the nosebleeds to show NASCAR that people want more standalone races, but it doesn’t work.
At this point, the XFINITY Series is damned to being a shell of its former self that only once in a while puts on a decent race.
Again, maybe the cap NASCAR put on Cup participation this season will prove me wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.