By: Ashley McCubbin
Another year of NASCAR Xfinity Series competition is in the books, with Daniel Hemric hoisting the crown. Along the way, though, there were some highlights and low lights to consider from the action on-track all year.
Although I was unable to watch all of the races, let’s take a look back at some of the good and the bad.
THE BAD – Creating cautions to make for drama at the end of an event. Bayley Currey got into the wall at Darlington Raceway, but managed to keep it rolling without debris scattered onto the surface out of the way of competitors. In the past, the series has let incidents of this go, only flying the yellow flag if there was someone in harm’s way or debris to be worried about. An excuse to create drama? Debatable.
THE GOOD – The strength of JR Motorsports as witnessed by trips to victory lane by Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier, and Josh Berry. You also cannot forget Darlington where the organization was fast all day long, with Allgaier’s experience ultimately paving the way for the move at the end to win the event.
THE BAD – “The Crash Clock” gives no benefit to someone who makes it to pit road versus resulting in a caution falling. Drivers get critiqued for bringing out yellow flags with damage, so perhaps there should be a reward shown for being able to do that, like maybe an extended clock.
THE GOOD – The aggressiveness with the influx of youth in the series creates jaw-dropping entertainment sometimes.
The only worry in watching drivers on the edge all the time is wondering where they can conserve equipment on the long hauls when tires begin fading, and have another car to contend at the end. That’s where the experience of Allgaier and Austin Cindric may beat the all-out driving we’re seeing from the likes of John Hunter Nemechek, Riley Herbst, and Ty Gibbs. Actually, Gragson may be the best example with his checkers or wreckers mentality. Can that attitude be sustained over the time when you have a bunch of bent sheet metal to look at?
This aggressive nature may be simply due to the package, though. The Xfinity Series rules have been touted as one of the best in the premiere divisions – sturdy cars with the composite bodies, combined with having to drive them on the edge. Combined with drivers willing do that, and boom – this is becoming the series to watch.
THE BAD – Pit road rules at a standalone event with NASCAR electing to mix up the pit road rules to match those utilized by ARCA officials. Teams were not allowed to change tires and fuel the car at the same time, and would not lose their position in relation to those who pitted with them. However, if someone chose to stay out, you start behind them. Also, you could not take on new rubber under green flag conditions.
The other kicker – if you chose to elect for service under green, you must be on pit road for 50 seconds total, from when you enter, to stopping in your box, and leaving.
The rules were meant to allow for teams to cheapen on budget by bringing in “professionals,” utilizing those who work in the shop with bare training. The ideology behind it is on-par and for the most part, works well in the ladder series. However, two things did not allow for it to work accordingly.
1. The fans who are not used to this system did not get a proper showcase of everything. FOX Sports skipped showing the second round of stops, instead electing for commercials and to try and explain the line-up afterwards. It makes a difference as when used in ARCA, its easily understood by the audience due to uninterrupted coverage on Trackpass, including a full explanation in watching it happen.
Now Adam Alexander did a good job when they came back from commercial, as someone who knows the format would get why they lined up as shown. However, for those who were unaware of the different stepped procedure in pitting, they were left confused as to why their driver is now starting possibly 10 spots further back than they were.
2. “Minimum pit road time” is probably the dumbest part of this rule package. Keep everything they have with the pit road package – except for that. Racing is all about who is the fastest whether on-track or through creating the best strategy. Being told to hit a certain time to “remain in contention” defeats everything.
THE GOOD – A.J. Allmendinger’s road course talent. He proved why he is always going to be the one you look towards at road courses at Mid-Ohio SportsCar Course. By averaging a pass a lap for eight circuits in a row, combined with a three-wide move on a late restart, the performance of the year netted a trip to victory lane.
THE BAD – Wasting laps under caution. Just think of the racing we could’ve gotten at those times.
THE GOOD – Noah Gragson’s choice in how to win at Martinsville Speedway.
Going into the weekend, he lived up to his aggressive persona with a snow shovel-esque tweet during the week and saying pre-race, “We’re going to be in victory lane. We’re going to do what it takes. No prisoners today.” Instead of taking the easy way out and following what the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series tried to teach us, he earned a lot of respect and did it the right way so to speak.
He could have started behind Daniel Hemric on a late-race restart, and shoved him out of the way going into corner. However, he chose to start on the outside, put together one of the best, textbook restarts we have seen, and drive around him for the lead. He also could have shoved Austin Cindric up on the last lap, but gave his fellow competitor a lane to battle to the line.
Electing to win the race this way will earn more cheers, followers, and perhaps an opportunity down the road in the NASCAR Cup Series in seeing how he can drive with talent and fairly. It also should welcome respect in battling for the title next week at Phoenix Raceway.
THE GOOD – The battle for the championship between Daniel Hemric and Austin Cindric. In the world of respect, contact, and whether the lines are being crossed, another chapter was added to the book at Phoenix Raceway. However, both were within their boundaries.
Although Hemric caught Cindric going into turn three and gave him a nudge, he did not get him so sideways that it sent him out of the track out of the way to easily give him a clear view to victory. The pair also touched coming to the line, leaning against each other, but neither pushed or hooked someone to gain a clear advantage.
Rubbin’ is racin,’ bumps and runs are fair game all applied here, and it’s why this will go down as one of the best races of the season.
THE GOOD – Daniel Hemric’s perseverance. He’s a guy that could have easily given up when the going got tough. He could have walked away after driving for Richard Childress Racing and JR Motorsports, and not scoring a victory. He could have bowed down to the haters and skeptical individuals questioning his talent, and left the sport. Instead, he dug deep, kept fighting, and now has a championship trophy to show for it.
THE GOOD – Austin Cindric’s class as he could have thrown Hemric under the bus following their battle at Phoenix, but instead said he would represent the series well, deserved it, and it was fair racing for the victory. Given the past couple months, maybe some NASCAR Cup Series drivers could learn how to maintain temper from him.