If you thought the first five races of the NASCAR Cup playoffs were intense, you haven’t seen nothing yet.
As the 10-race playoffs move into their second half, the final five races will likely be more competitive than the first five.
That’s particularly true in Sunday’s cut-off race at Kansas, where the current field of 12 remaining playoff contenders will be cut to eight after the checkered flag falls.
And then there will be the Round of 8 cut-off race at Phoenix in four weeks that will set the four-driver field for the championship race in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Thanks to our friends at RacingInsights.com, here’s some of the top playoff insights that will help fans better understand where we are in the playoffs heading into Kansas:
Playoff drivers have won all five races in the 2017 playoffs.
The last time a driver who didn’t make it into the playoffs won a playoff race was Denny Hamlin at Homestead in 2013.
The last playoff race won by a playoff driver who was previously eliminated from the playoffs was Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Phoenix in 2015.
Tony Stewart in 2005 is the only driver to go on to win the championship without winning a race during the playoffs.
Four of five playoff races so far this season have been won from a qualifying position of sixth or better.
Brad Keselowski won at Talladega driving a Ford, ending a four-race playoff winning streak by Toyotas. Also, prior to Talladega, Toyota drivers had won all four poles and all four races in the 2017 playoffs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the pole at Talladega, but finished seventh.
Brad Keselowski won at Talladega with a last lap pass for the win, it was the eighth playoff race won with a last lap pass and the only one in the last 29 races.
There were 11 cautions at Talladega, the most cautions in the last 18 playoff races.
There were a combined 21 cautions in the last two playoff races, the same number as the previous four playoff races combined.
Talladega last week: 14 cars running at the finish, 26 total DNFs (including 24 DNFs due to wrecks), three red flags and only two playoff drivers finished in the top 10 – all records for a playoff race.
A Chevrolet driver has finished runner-up in each of this season’s first five playoff races.
Chase Elliott has finished runner-up three times so far in the playoffs. The record for most runner-up finishes in the playoffs in a season was four by Jeff Gordon in 2014 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006. Elliott has also finished runner-up at both 1.5-mile tracks so far, with three more 1.5-mile tracks still left in the final five races (Kansas, Texas and Homestead-Miami).
Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are the only drivers still playoff-eligible that have scored stage points in every playoff race.
The best average finish by a driver in all 10 races of the playoffs is 4.9 by Carl Edwards in 2011. Edwards tied Tony Stewart for the championship, but Stewart won on the first tiebreaker – more wins (five to Edwards’ one).
Martin Truex Jr. has led the playoff standings through the first five races of the playoffs, tying Matt Kenseth in 2013 for the most races led by a driver to start the playoffs. Truex also won at Kansas in May.
Three drivers have won races during the playoffs in all three years of the elimination format entering 2017: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson all three drivers have yet to win in 2017.
Only two of the 135 playoff races were won by drivers getting their first NASCAR Cup win: Clint Bowyer in 2007 at New Hampshire and Brian Vickers in 2006 at Talladega.
Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to win a race in every season of the playoffs entering 2017. Entering Kansas, Johnson remains winless in the 2017 playoffs.
Wood Brothers’ lifeline started with a phone call: ‘I’m going to fix that’
DOVER, Delaware — Shortly after the Coca-Cola 600 ran without the Wood Brothers for the only time in the event’s history, co-owner Eddie Wood’s cell phone rang.
On the other end was Edsel Ford II, great-grandson of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, a longtime supporter of the Wood Brothers.
Edsel Ford called for other reasons, but the conversation turned to the team’s struggles. Although it was late May, the 2008 season already had been difficult for the team.
The Wood Brothers failed to qualify for the Daytona 500, marking the first time since 1962 the family didn’t have a car in NASCAR’s most prestigious race.
The team failed to make the races at Las Vegas, Atlanta and Bristol in consecutive weekends. The Woods had the most wins among any team in NASCAR history at Atlanta at that time. They also didn’t qualify at Richmond before failing to make the 43-car field at Charlotte.
All that hung over Wood when he answered his phone in the Pocono Raceway garage during a test two days after the 600.
“Why haven’t we talked lately?’’ Edsel Ford asked Wood.
“Mr. Ford, we’ve run so bad and I’m so ashamed,’’ Wood said. “I’m ashamed to call you.’’
“So you’re telling me my 21 is broke?’’
“Yes sir. It’s broken. Really bad.’’
“I’m going to fix that.’’
When Ryan Blaney held off 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick to win at Pocono in June, he gave the Wood Brothers their 99th career Cup victory and qualified them for the playoffs for the first time.
For as storied as Wood Brothers history is — nine NASCAR Hall of Famers have run at least one race for the team — the organization has only one championship. The team won the 1963 car owner’s title less than three weeks before President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
Blaney enters Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway in position to advance to the next round. That the Wood Brothers are competing for a championship is remarkable considering what they overcame to remain in a sport that left many contemporaries behind.
More than 30 teams that competed in the Daytona 500 at one time or another between 2006-16 have faded away. They ranged from powerhouses to low-budget endeavors put together on a hope and a prayer.
Those teams relegated to history include Dale Earnhardt Inc., Petty Enterprises, Yates Racing, Evernham Motorsports, Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull Racing. They combined for 10 Cup titles and 16 Daytona 500 victories.
While they are gone, the Wood Brothers remain.
Edsel Ford II calls the No. 21 Wood Brothers car Ford’s “company car.’’
He’s not exaggerating. The Wood Brothers always have run Fords, starting with Glen Wood. He and a friend paid $50 for a 1938 Ford Coupe to race in 1950.
In Glen Wood’s first race, contact in his heat bent the rear-end housing. It didn’t seem major until afterward when they towed the car back to Stuart, Virginia. The axle broke. Gas spilled and ignited from the sparks as the car’s rear end scraped the ground. Flames shot from the back of the car and spread.
The fire eventually burned out and the damage was minimal to the engine. So a few weeks later, Glen Wood again was racing that car, beginning a legacy with Ford.
For as much loyalty as the Wood Brothers have shown Ford Motor Company, Edsel Ford II felt the same way with the team.
“We were dedicated to them, and they were dedicated to us,’’ Ford told NBC Sports.
Loyalty, though, doesn’t pay the bills and can’t always prop a team back up when it has fallen.
The Wood Brothers’ falloff was gradual, more like water dripping from a faucet instead of flowing.
Elliott Sadler led them to a 20th-place finish in the points in 2001, but the team’s performance yo-yoed through Sadler and Ricky Rudd before declining with a series of other drivers.
The organization expanded, adding a Truck team, but that didn’t prove effective. Decisions didn’t work out as hoped, and soon the Wood Brothers fell further behind the leading teams.
While they attempted to run every race in 2007, the Wood Brothers failed to qualify for two races. At Talladega, they were among nine teams that didn’t make the field. That included Red Bull Racing (AJ Allmendinger and Brian Vickers), Bill Davis Racing (Dave Blaney) and Michael Waltrip Racing (Michael Waltrip).
Then came the woes of 2008. The team failed to qualify for eight of 36 races.
“As far as racing goes, that’s about as bad a spot as you can be in, going to a race track and not being fast enough to qualify and race,’’ Eddie Wood said.
He and brother Len stayed at the track for the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400 (they also would miss that race that year) without a car competing.
“That’s the hardest part,’’ Len said. “You have no hauler, nowhere to go, no car to show anybody, nowhere to sit down.’’
Said Eddie: “You have nowhere to be.’’
The day after Edsel Ford’s call to Eddie Wood, another call came. Eddie and Len were told to fly to Detroit that day to meet with a Ford executive. Four hours later, they were in the air, but there was a problem. Neither had proper clothes for an executive meeting since they had been at a race. So after landing, they went to a Dillard’s department store for proper clothes.
Their meeting was postponed a day, but when it was held, it began a process for the Wood Brothers to become more competitive.
“They’re such an important part of our family, they’re an important part of our sport, Ford Motorsports,’’ Edsel Ford II said. “To lose them would have been inconceivable to me.’’
More engineering help was added. Later, another idea emerged from Edsel Ford II.
Maybe the team should not run a full season beginning in 2009.
“Eddie and Len knew that the future was going to be there, now it was just a question of hanging on and how do we get there,’’ Ford said. “I think the three of us spent a lot of time strategizing, what does the long-term look like, so we’ll have to make some short-term sacrifices in order to get to the long-term. We all knew that some of these half-seasons were not what they wanted, certainly not what we wanted, but it was going to get us there.’’
But what races to skip? Len Wood examined the costs incurred at each track from hotel bills to tire bills and more. Eventually, the team decided it would be best to run the Daytona 500 and focus on tracks from 1.5 to 2.5 miles. That way they didn’t have to prepare cars for short tracks or road courses, saving costs there.
After having attempted to run every race from 1985-2008, the team ran 13 races in 2009 and 2010.
They met at a Steak ‘n Shake for lunch.
There sat the heirs to one of the most famous teams in NASCAR history and one of the sport’s most popular drivers. Eddie and Len Wood sat with Bill Elliott.
The Wood Brothers were aligned with Roush Fenway Racing. Through it, they acquired a couple of cars and a new crew chief when they parted ways with their crew chief late in the 2010 season. Soon after, Roush requested that Trevor Bayne drive for the Wood Brothers in the fall Texas race to be eligible for the 2011 Daytona 500. It was at that lunch the Woods told Elliott, their current driver, about the change of plans. Elliott said he’d help Bayne any way he could.
After the season, there was more talk about Bayne running for the team in 2011. He ended up in the No. 21 car for the Wood Brothers at Daytona.
Bayne’s Speedweeks did not go smoothly. A rookie, few would run with him in the tandem style of that period. Then his car was damaged in an accident on the last lap of his qualifying race. With help from Roush Fenway Racing, the team repaired the car instead of going to a backup.
The repairs were perfect. The race went beyond the scheduled 200 laps, and Bayne took the lead for the first time on Lap 203. He led the final six laps to win in just his second series start. Bayne’s victory provided one of the more memorable scenes that season when Richard Petty escorted Glen Wood to victory lane.
The feel-good moment didn’t turn into much more money. The team added a few more races in hopes of enticing sponsors to come on so it could run a full season. It didn’t happen. While the team ran 17 of 36 races that season, it would be five more seasons until there was the sponsorship and support to run a full season.
Eddie and Len Wood won’t think about the possibility that in less than two months, the Wood Brothers could be champions. When you spend your life in the sport, it is dangerous to look too far ahead. Instead, focus on the what needs to be done and worry about what’s down the road when you come upon it.
Edsel Ford II can’t contain himself. For as much as he doesn’t want to look too far ahead, he smiles and his eyes widen at the thought of the Wood Brothers and Ryan Blaney winning the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“What does nirvana look like?’’ Ford asks.
Then he answers the question.
“I think to go to Las Vegas and be with them,’’ he said of where NASCAR celebrates its champion, “it would be pretty close to nirvana for me.’’
With his health issues well in check, Brian Vickers still has the passion and desire to drive a race car, particularly in NASCAR.
And at 33 years old, he still has a good number of years ahead of him behind the wheel.
He just needs a quality ride.
And that has proven to be the tricky part.
Vickers was last in a NASCAR Cup car in 2016, when he filled in five races for Tony Stewart, who was recovering from an off-season incident while driving a sand dune buggy.
But there have been no rides since.
“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think and appreciate what the sport did for me,” Vickers said. “I do miss it.”
In a way, Vickers has kind of moved on, keeping busy with other activities, including being back on NBCSN’s NASCAR America as an analyst for several shows last week.
He’s also joined an investment group, with plans of taking a medical device company public in the next couple of months.
But more than anything, Vickers wants back on a racetrack.
“First question people ask is, ‘Do you miss it (racing)?’” Vickers told NBC Sports. “Absolutely, of course. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. If I go back and run five more years, I’m still going to miss it. And if I never race again, I’m always going to miss it.
“I’ve talked to some guys that have been retired before me. They may be retired 10 years after a 20-some year career, and they still miss it. Once it’s in your blood, that never changes.
“The question for me now is here’s the position you’re in. What do you do with your life? I don’t know if I have all the perfect, clear answers. I’ve just been following where the opportunities lie and follow what my heart and gut tell me as far as my racing career and everything else I’ve been doing.”
During his five-race stint for Stewart, Vickers showed he still has it, including a seventh-place finish at Martinsville and 13th at Fontana.
He’s had several opportunities to return to NASCAR since, but they just haven’t been a good fit.
“I stay in touch with all the owners, people in the industry, agents and all my relationships to find out what’s going on in the sport and where,” he said. “There just hasn’t been a situation that’s made sense for me. At this place in my life and career, would I love to be in a winning car? Absolutely.
“Do I want to get into a situation or car where I’m going to the racetrack and don’t feel like I can win when I show up? No.
“There’s opportunities with really good cars that have been presented to me but it was contingent on sponsorship or manufacturer, various things, and that’s been out of my control to a certain extent.
“But if something good comes along tomorrow, I’m in.”
One thing Vickers wants to make very clear is the health problems – including blood clots and heart issues – he’s endured over the years are all fully under control.
“My health is good,” he said. “I found a way to race safely and not have to worry about blood clots. Nothing has really changed from that end.”
Vickers keeps his phone close in case an opportunity arises that would put him back in a top-level ride.
“I’ve got my NASCAR gold Cup license, have done all my medical and drug tests and everything I’ve had to do to get your license, impact tests, head tests, medical clearance, you name it,” Vickers said. “I could come back and race next weekend if someone wants.”
But Vickers is also a realist. He knows there are team owners that are reluctant to hire him because of his past health issues.
“I get it, for a car owner or sponsor it’s a hard sell, they’re worried that I’ll have another health issue like in the past,” Vickers said. “I feel I proved last year in the 14 car that that’s not a concern, I’m clear, I can race safely without blood clots.
“My doctor worked really, really hard to find a perfect regimen to keep me safe from clots and has allowed me to race. That hasn’t changed.”
Vickers would prefer to race again in NASCAR, but is open to anything on four wheels, including sports cars, endurance racing and even IndyCar.
“I’m open for all of it,” Vickers said. “I really enjoyed the (World Endurance Championship) series, racing the 24 Hours of LeMans, racing in Europe, racing all over the world and in the U.S. If that opportunity presented itself, I’d be all over it.”
But Vickers has also come to grips that his racing future may never be.
“I’m basically saying to myself that I’m comfortable with the fact I may never race again,” he said. “It’s not a question of desire, want or health, it’s just a matter of finding the right situation.
“To have 15 years of experience and I’m only 33, I’ve learned and grown a lot as a person and learned more than you can ever learn going through the trials and tribulations I have. I had to overcome adversity and all these attributes going through the near-death experience that I had.
“There’s no question in my mind that I’m the best driver today than I’ve ever been in my entire career, even though I’ve been out of the car for a year.”
Vickers and wife Sarah have lived in the Miami area for more than a decade. When his racing days are over, he’s considering one opportunity that may be surprising.
“Politics has always intrigued me,” Vickers said. “I love the subject, I’m passionate about it. It started in history class when I was a kid.
“I have a bunch of people that know me well say that I should (pursue politics), but I haven’t made any decision. I don’t know if I ever will or if I may. It’s certainly an option but not anytime soon.”
Vickers admits that all the adversity he’s gone through in his career has made him a better and more aware person.
“When you’re laying on your death bed or going through a situation where you may not come out the other side, or you have a massive embolism that forms when you’re going in for open-heart surgery with not-so-great odds of coming out on the other side, you think about a lot of things,” he said. “What I learned through that experience is I loved racing more than I thought at the time. When you do some things long enough, you tend to take them for granted, whether it’s your racing career, your significant other or your friends. It’s human nature.
“It also made me realize there’s a whole other world out there, there’s a lot of things that I never could do because I was so 100 percent focused on racing. I’m very happy, I miss racing, would love to be in a race car. I think I’m a better driver today than I’ve ever been in my life. I think I can go win a championship.
“But if that opportunity doesn’t present itself, I’m still going to be a happy person and go work hard to accomplish other things and check off other boxes.”
Tony Stewart denied turning up the track toward Kevin Ward Jr. in a 171-page deposition that was released this week as part of court documents in the Ward family’s lawsuit against Stewart.
The Ward family filed a wrongful death lawsuit Aug. 7, 2015, nearly a year after the 20-year-old Ward was struck and killed by Stewart during an Empire Super Sprints race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York. A grand jury ruled Sept. 24, 2014, that Stewart would not face criminal charges.
Stewart seeks a summary judgement. A hearing is scheduled April 28 in U.S. District Court in Utica, New York.
Stewart and Ward had been racing together when Ward spun into the wall — Stewart claimed in his deposition he did not hit Ward, while others have countered that in their depositions.
After the incident, Ward exited his car and walked down the track.
Here’s what happened next, based on court documents:
ACCIDENT RECONSTRUCTION REPORTS FILED
Both sides have submitted reports that detailed what happened.
The report on behalf of Stewart states: “When (Chuck) Hebing (who was in front of Stewart’s car) was passing by him, Mr. Ward shuffled his feet and moved about 0.7 feet up the track. But, as soon as Mr. Hebing passed him, Mr. Ward continued moving parallel to the track and also took a step about 1.5 to 2.3 feet down the track, towards and into the path of Mr. Stewart’s car.”
The report on behalf of the Ward family views the matter in a different way. It states: “Immediately prior to impact, Mr. Ward remained relatively stationary and remained outside the path where six preceding Sprint Cars had passed his location without incident. Therefore, Mr. Ward did not cause the impact with (Stewart’s car) but was rather the victim of Mr. Stewart directing his (car) toward his location.’’
The report filed on behalf of Stewart addresses Stewart’s car in the moments before and after striking Ward: “In this case, the inputs to get the car to drive around and avoid contact with Mr. Ward include steering to the left and/or applying some throttle to assist the car’s counterclockwise rotation. We know from the video stills discussed above that the car was pointed towards the infield and traveled down track while in the field of view of the camera. It would take about 1 second for the car to respond to the driver’s steering and throttle inputs.
“That would mean that the driver of the car, Mr. Stewart, had to perceive and react to the emergency of Mr. Ward’s appearance before the full appearance of Mr. Ward from behind Mr. Hebing’s #45 car. Given the typical perception-reaction time of 1.0 to 1.5 seconds for a normal driver in an emergency, and the fact that the track was under caution and the drivers were not racing, Mr. Stewart’s perception-reaction time was reasonable given the visibility, lighting, and unexpected motion of Mr. Ward prior to Mr. Stewart’s car arriving at Mr. Ward’s position.
“In summary, Mr. Stewart simply did not have enough time to react to Mr. Ward’s unpredictable actions and successfully avoid hitting him.’’
The report on behalf of the Ward family also sees that incident differently: “It is apparent Mr. Stewart intentionally caused his vehicle to move towards Mr. Ward by aggressively adding throttle input while counter steering through the turn.’’
TONY STEWART’S DEPOSITION
Stewart gave a deposition Dec. 8, 2016. The full transcript was filed earlier this week by Ward’s side in opposition of Stewart seeking a summary judgment. Ward’s father and mother attended Stewart’s deposition, which took place in Indianapolis.
In his deposition, Stewart was asked about the incident. This was how he answered questions on the matter.
Q. All right. After you saw his car, you saw him; he was on the track?
A. After I — yeah, after I saw his car, then I saw him.
Q. Okay. And —
A. Or a figure. I didn’t know that it was him but I saw —
Q. Fair enough. You saw a person on the track?
Q. When you saw the car, you knew just procedure, that your pass was to be low?
A. Yeah, he was all the way to the outside — the car was all the way to the outside of the track, so anywhere that we went was going to be below it.
Q. All right. So where were you driving your car when you entered turn 1 as on the track? Middle of the track? Low track? High part of the track?
A. I really don’t remember. I mean, typically you would run somewhere in the middle of the racetrack.
Q. Okay. When you saw Mr. — when you saw the car that was disabled at the top part of the track, did you steer your vehicle in any direction that you recall?
A. No. I was already underneath the vehicle.
Q. You were underneath it. Okay. So you did not change the line that you were on based on your realizing where the car was that was disabled was on the track; is that fair?
Q. All right. Now, in relation to the car that was on the track, where was the person that you saw on the track?
A. Initially when I saw the car, I didn’t realize there wasn’t a driver in the car.
Q. But at some point you did?
Q. All right. And when you saw that person, did you from that point on change the direction of your vehicle based on seeing that person on the track?
A. It was a split second from the time that I saw a person until I got to the person.
Q. Okay. Is that a “no”?
A. I attempted to change direction.
Q. Okay. You don’t recall — and when you say you “attempted to change direction,” you attempted to change direction to the left down the track?
Q. All right. It’s your testimony that you did not at any time after seeing Mr. Ward’s car or Mr. Ward on the track steer your car up the track?
A. No, sir.
DEPOSITIONS FROM OTHER DRIVERS IN AUG. 2014 SPRINT CAR RACE
Chuck Hebing, who was in that race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park and running ahead of Stewart under caution as they approached the area where Ward wrecked, described what happened in his deposition:
“(Ward) was coming down the track. I thought he was actually coming to my car. Me and Kevin have — I might have ran him out of room in that race, so I thought he might have been mad at me. Came at my car. I gassed it, swerved away from him and said to myself that “Next guy in line was probably going to hit him.”
Jessica Zemken-Friesen, who dated Stewart in 2011, also was competing in the race and running behind Stewart under caution. In her deposition, she described what she saw:
A. I was following Tony, and I – they were saying on the radio to stay low, and I waslower on the track, and I was behind him, right directly behind him pulling into turn one and two, and they were telling us to stay low. And I started to come down a little bit, and I could see Tony’s left front wheel turn to the right, closer in the direction of where Kevin was up higher on the racetrack. Um, and then I could see, um, I was just underneath him, and I could look up and see – I could see Kevin still there in front of his car with his hands in the air. And I saw the rear of the car stand up and the – the dust come off therear tires as Tony hit the throttle.
Q. And then?
A. And then when he – when he hit thethrottle the rear of the car came around and thefront end of the car went to the left, the car got sideways, and he struck Kevin.’’
Later, Zemken-Friesen was asked:
Q. Do you think Mr. Stewart intentionally hit Mr. Ward?
A. I don’t know what he was thinking or what was going through his mind. I just was behind it and saw what I saw.’
MORE OF TONY STEWART DEPOSITION
Stewart was asked about his temper and various penalties he had been given in NASCAR for his actions, as Ward’s side seeks to show that Stewart has a history of his anger dictating his actions.
Q. All right. Would you say that you have had a — had some issues with your anger throughout the course of your life?
Q. And have you, in fact, sought any counseling or treatment for that?
A. No, sir.
Q. Never had any anger management or counseling or any formalized process to help you with anger?
Q. Have you had any physical confrontations with any other drivers or people that were related to races where there were any punches thrown or shoves gone back and forth?
A. Kurt Busch.
Q. What happened with Kurt Busch?
A. We had an altercation inside the NASCAR trailer with the officials.
Q. Did you punch Mr. Busch or shove him?
Q. And who precipitated that physical confrontation, you or Mr. Busch?
A. I did.
Q. And what was — why were you — why did you initiate a physical confrontation with Mr. Busch?
A. For lack of better terms, he initiated the — basically he was antagonizing us in front of the NASCAR officials and very inappropriately.
Q. And but with words?
Q. And you responded with physical aggression?
Q. All right. Is it a fair sum-up or not for some of the stuff we’ve just gone through to say that various times you’ve used your fists, your helmet and your car as a tool — as tools of physical force against other racers?
MR. SMIKLE: I’m going to object to the form of the question. It’s vague and ambiguous.
But go ahead and answer.
THE WITNESS: What you’ve shown is — I’ve raced for 38 years, I’ve raced over 1,500 races and what you’ve shown is less than 1 percent of the races that I participated in NASCAR. So altercations like that happen amongst drivers every week. So this is not un — this isn’t out of the ordinary for our sport.
Under the restrictions, full-time Cup drivers with at least five years of experience will be limited to 10 races annually in Xfinity and seven in the Camping World Truck Series. They also will be prevented from entering the final eight races of the season in both series, covering their championship playoffs.
The new rules would have affected three drivers this season — Kyle Busch (16 Xfinity starts for Joe Gibbs Racing), Brad Keselowski (13 Xfinity starts for Team Penske) and Joey Logano (13 Xfinity starts for Team Penske).
This is the first major rules change affecting the eligibility of Cup drivers in Xfinity since 2011 when drivers were prevented from earning points. Here is the breakdown of how often the top teams in the Xfinity Series with Sprint Cup affiliations fielded full-time Sprint Cup drivers (regardless of experience):