Rule change hasn’t kept Cup drivers from dominating Xfinity Series – yet

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A rule change intended to help Xfinity Series drivers compete for more wins, particularly in the playoffs, has not diminished the domination of Cup drivers so far this season.

Twelve of the first 16 Xfinity races have been won by Cup regulars — the most since 2011 when they won 13 of the first 16 races. 

But they aren’t just taking the checkered flag.

Full-time Cup drivers have collected 48 top-five finishes this season — a 25 percent increase from this point last year and a 33 percent increase from this point in 2015.  The top six finishers in the Kentucky Xfinity race were all full-time Cup drivers.

A key reason for the sharp increase is NASCAR’s rule limiting Cup driver participation.

NASCAR announced last year that Cup drivers with more than five full-time seasons in that series would be limited to 10 Xfinity races this year.

NASCAR stated that those drivers— Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, among others — cannot compete in the final eight Xfinity races of the season and the four Dash 4 Cash races.

That means of the 33 Xfinity races, veteran Cup drivers are not allowed to compete in 12 events. That leaves 21 races for them to compete in up to 10.

With fewer opportunities, veteran Cup drivers have been running — and excelling — in more of the same Xfinity races this season. That’s left Xfinity drivers with limited chances to score a top-five finish.

That trend likely will continue.

Logano (six Xfinity starts this year) and Busch (five) both are scheduled to run 10 series races each. Keselowski (six starts) is scheduled to run three more races. Kevin Harvick (four starts) is set to run two more races.

They cannot compete in the Xfinity Series after the Sept. 8 race at Richmond International Raceway, giving Xfinity regulars a better chance to win in the playoffs. But those Xfintiy drivers still will have to beat some Cup competitors.

Cup drivers with less than five full-time seasons in that series are allowed to race in the Xfinity playoffs. That means that Kyle Larson (three wins this year), Erik Jones (two), Ryan Blaney (one), Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, and Daniel Suarez will be able to race until the finale in Miami.

The Xfinity Rule Book states that any driver who scores points in the Cup series is not eligible to run in the Xfinity championship race in Miami.

Even with the Cup veterans limited, Xfinity rookies William Byron and Cole Custer say they are learning when they race them.

“We have a great opportunities to go out there and succeed,’’ Byron said. “I’ve got good race cars, everyone is in good equipment, so when you have that you have to make the most of it and be around some veteran guys and not make mistakes and make a fool out of yourself. Just try to do the most and … learn from all the guys out there.’’

Byron has won two races, scoring victories at Iowa Speedway, a standalone race that did not have any Cup drivers in the field, and at Daytona International Speedway, which had four Cup regulars in the field.

Custer seeks his first win but has finished 11th or better in five of the last seven races.

“We all have really unbelievable opportunities to try to run good and make a name for ourselves,’’ he said. “You’re just trying to learn every single weekend, learn from the veteran guys.’’

Those lessons should prove helpful in the Xfinity playoffs, which begin Sept. 23 at Kentucky Speedway.

With Busch, (two wins this year), Logano (one), Keselowski (one), Denny Hamlin (one) and Aric Almirola (one) all among those ineligible to run in the playoffs, there could be more chances for Xfinity regulars to win.

Suarez won the season finale and the championship last year with many Cup drivers ineligible to compete.

“We talked about it for a long time,’’ NASCAR Chairman Brian France said last year of limiting Cup drivers in Xfinity races. “I’m glad we did it. It got a very worthy champion in Daniel Suarez.’’

 

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NASCAR America: Tony Stewart on Stewart-Haas Racing, Danica Patrick’s future, Cole Custer (video)

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Tony Stewart was our special in-studio guest during Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

The former three-time NASCAR Cup champ spent the entire hour with Carolyn Manno, Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton, giving his unique take on all things NASCAR.

Among the things Stewart talked about were:

The future of Stewart-Haas Racing: “We don’t know exactly who’s going to be in the 10 car, but we’re working on it. We’re excited about the partnership with Smithfield. The 41 car is still up in the air. We fully intend on having (Kurt Busch) there next year, but it’s dictated on sponsorship. We need to make sponsorship for that car before we commit to him next year.”

What will Danica Patrick do after she leaves SHR: “I see a lot of options, really. Danica is one of the few people that has the ability to stay in NASCAR if she wants, go back to IndyCar, or go road racing. There’s not a lot of drivers that have been released this year that have the option to go do so many things. It shows how versatile and talented she is, to have that many options. It’s a matter of  what does she want to do, where her heart and mind is and what does she want to do for the next five, 10, 15 years.”

The potential of SHR Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer: “I’m really proud of Cole. For the first two years I knew Cole, he never spoke to me. For about 75 percent of the time he was in front of me, he couldn’t look me in the eyes, that’s how shy of a kid he is. When he puts that helmet on, it’s amazing the transformation. This kid is a talented race car driver.”

Check out the full video above to get more of Stewart’s observations.

 

 

 

NASCAR America: Josef Newgarden celebrates IndyCar championship (video)

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On Tuesday’s NASCAR America, we checked in with the new king of IndyCar racing, 2017 season Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden.

Among the things the Knoxville, Tennessee native spoke about was the help he got in his amazing first season with Team Penske from all his teammates.

“My teammates were great, letting me just being part of that group right from the beginning and trying to contribute and help me learn so I could contribute and help us be stronger overall,” Newgarden said.

He also talked about the surge in U.S. drivers in the series, much like NASCAR is enjoying with several young drivers including another teammate, Ryan Blaney, who texted Newgarden at length to offer him congratulations and compared the youth movement in both racing series.

“We’ve got a lot of young talent that’s trying to show the way and prove themselves against the already proven people in the sport,” Newgarden said. “It’s a fascinating thing to watch.”

NASCAR America: Tony Stewart on state of NASCAR, stage racing and more (video)

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It was Tony Stewart Day at the NBC Sports Group headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut on Tuesday.

The former three-time NASCAR Cup champ made the rounds of the complex, starting in the morning with an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, and wrapping up things with an hour-long visit on NASCAR America.

One of the first things Stewart talked about with Carolyn Manno, Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton was how busy he is in “retirement.” He may not be racing in the Cup series anymore, but he’s still plenty busy, including racing sprint cars, taking a bigger managerial role over the four Cup teams and one Xfinity team at Stewart-Haas Racing and even how he’s breeding white tail deer at his farm in Indiana.

“To be honest, I have more fun doing that (things like signing autographs and making appearances) now than when I was a driver,” Stewart said. “Now, walking through the garage, you’re still busy because you’ve got to get to where you go. The best part is you can kind of enjoy walking around more and have time to visit with people you don’t get a chance to see all the time.”

Stewart also sat down with the “Mayor” of NASCAR, NBC analyst Jeff Burton, to talk about the state of the sport. One thing that some may find surprising is that the old school Stewart likes some of the new things the sport has, including stage racing.

“I like the stage racing,” Stewart said. “It’s added something that’s unique, especially a third of the way through the race. Before, in the first half of the race, we didn’t worry so much about racing each other. … I like it, I think we’ve seen some unique strategies. … It’s been pretty exciting. I’m a big fan of the stage part.”

Stewart also talked with Burton about keeping up with technology, aerodynamics, track position, rules and more.

Check out the following video to hear Stewart out:

Brendan Gaughan among Xfinity playoff drivers unsure of 2018 plans

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — There’s seven races left in the NASCAR Xfinity season and Brendan Gaughan hasn’t “started thinking about it too much yet” if he’ll continue competing full-time next year.

That’s OK with Gaughan, who went on to say “I hope I’m still racing full-time.”

The 42-year-old driver for Richard Childress Racing is one of the 12 in the Xfinity playoffs, which begin at 8 p.m. ET Saturday at Kentucky Speedway on NBCSN.

“Normally we know what we’re doing by now,” Gaughan said Tuesday. “This year we probably don’t, which is a little odd for us. I told you last year, if I don’t come back, I’m happy. If I do come back, it’ll because I’m happy. It’s more just are we still having fun, are we still competitive? We’re in the playoffs, so we’re still competitive.”

Gaughan is in his fourth year with RCR since returning to the Xfinity Series full-time in 2014. He said he’s once again committed to competing in the four Cup Series restrictor-plate races next year for Beard Motorsports.

“When someone uses the word ‘retirement,’ people love to throw that out with me,” Gaughan said. “You can say that all you want. I will never be done racing. My father still races one race a year. We race because we love to race. If I don’t race full-time, I promise you’ll still find me behind the wheel.”

Gaughan’s No. 62 Chevrolet is one of five cars RCR has fielded this year, including the No. 21 driven by fellow playoff driver Daniel Hemric and the No. 33 of Brandon Jones.

“I have a feeling (Richard Childress) is not going to do five Xfinity cars probably ever again,” Gaughan said.

That possibility was further backed by Hemric, who said he’s not sure where he’ll be racing in 2018 following his rookie season.

“I don’t know how exactly it’s all going to shake out,” Hemric said. “Everybody’s constantly trying to evolve and make sure you’re making progress day-to-day and I can say that we’ve done that. It looks like I will be racing, I’m just not sure in what yet and where along those lines.”

Brennan Poole, who is nearing the end of his second full-time season with Chip Ganassi Racing, said he has some sort of indication of where he’ll be come February.

“So I don’t know what I’m going to do yet next year,” Poole said. “I have an idea of what I’m going to do. Really excited about my future and where I’m at. I’m in good spirits, I’m not worried about anything. Definitely just want to get through these playoffs and do a good job and prove that I’m capable of being a Sunday (Cup) guy.

Matt Tifft, Joe Gibbs Racing’s only full-time driver in the Xfinity Series and a rookie, also addressed his situation for 2018.

“You’re always trying to work on things for the future,” Tifft said. “We’re trying to figure those things out now. But at the same time, I’m absolutely trying to prove that I belong here. That first win is still looming. Everybody knows this sport is performance driven and I understand that. I know what we need to do. It’s just figuring out the ways of how to do that and how to get myself better. ”

When would the 21-year-old driver like to know what’s in store for him?

“I would have liked to yesterday,” Tifft said. “We’re working on that. It’ll all fall into place when it needs to. That’s not my main concern right now. My main concern is what’s coming up this weekend.”

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