It’s easy to shout this from the rooftops. The NASCAR Xfinity Series needs, needs, needs, more standalone events. There’s Iowa, Road America, Mid-Ohio…and that’s really all.
Every other event is a companion event to a Cup Series event and although that’s been a given since the inception of the series, it’s nice to see a division keep its own identity like the Gander Outdoor Truck Series or the K&N Pro Series. Not every event needs a companion event, even if the times are changing.
That said, those words were eaten Saturday when Cole Custer made it past Tyler Reddick for the win in the Pocono Green 250. For the first time since the event began in 2016, a series regular won the event and in a dramatic fashion, no less. Although Custer started from the pole and led the most laps, it was until the last corner of the last lap when leader Reddick slipped up and allowed Custer to steal his third win of the season, tying him with Christopher Bell for most wins in 2019.
The race also highlighted what is now looking like the Big Three of the division for 2019, which is Bell, Reddick, and Custer. All three are regulars with multiple wins this season and all look like serious threats for the title. There’s Bell, a regular threat who is good everywhere and happens to be an 11-time race winner and ahead of him in points is Reddick, who is in the midst of a nine-race streak of top-four finishes. Then there is Custer, who has also won at Fontana and Richmond. Besides those three, there are no clear-cut favorites for the title at this point in time.
Pocono set those storylines in stone because for once at Pocono, it was all about the series regulars. The Xfinity Series was actually maintaining its own identity Saturday, which is something that it hasn’t done in a while. It was about the Big Three, but it was also about the JR Motorsports drivers. It was also Bell’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, who along with Bell, found themselves in a few spots of trouble as Brandon Jones crashed and finished last while Jeffrey Earnhardt spun along with the No. 22 of Cindric.
It wasn’t about Kyle Larson, or Brad Keselowski, or Kyle Busch, the previous three Pocono Green 250 winners. There was actual racing without the certain dread that another Cup driver was going to score another dull, drab win. It was a race that fans could actually watch and observe actual rising talent. It was almost like the old days when there was actually time invested in watching the up-and-comers of NASCAR. It was almost like a standalone event.
This is the kind of thing the Xfinity Series needs to have more often; racing among regulars. It’s been pointed out and proven many, many times that when the field is left to its own devices and its own regulars, the racing can be phenomenal. At this point, it isn’t about the track, it’s about the quality of the field.
That’s not a knock on the Xfinity Series. It’s already known that a lot of the drivers aren’t as good as the Cup Series, but they’re learning. They are hungry. NASCAR needs to cultivate that aspect of the Xfinity Series. They are hungry and they will actually race to get that glory. That’s what the Xfinity Series should be about. It isn’t about the sport’s current leaders; that’s the Monster Energy Cup Series’s concern. The Xfinity Series should instead be concerned with cultivating the Custers, Reddicks, and Bells.
They actually accomplished that Saturday when it wasn’t about the venue for once, but the personalities in the division. The sport needs to and can grow on this.