NASCAR: Dale Jr. Just Showed How to Fix the Xfinity Series

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports /

It was hard not to notice that there were very few complaints that a Sprint Cup regular won the Xfinity race at Richmond. The difference, it was Dale Jr., not someone racing the series most weeks. NASCAR needs to take notice and make Xfinity races an event.

I have been one of the loud chorus of voices complaining that most of the Xfinity series races are won by cup regulars cross-racing in the Xfinity series. Yet after seeing Dale Jr. win Saturday, there was not the loud group of fans yelling that it was killing the series. Why was that? Part is because Junior is more popular, but also it was an event that he was even in the race. Fans who might not get to see Dale on Sunday got to see him on Saturday.

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Instead of Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski or Joel Logano who seem to race most weekends, it was special because a top name driver was in the race. There was a unique sponsor involvement building the anticipation. It was something special having Dale Jr. in the race, the track could market it and sell ticket because of it. With the others its just another week of season where they are in the Xfinity race again. There is a difference and the fan reaction showed it.

The complaints about the series have focused on not having any regulars win, yesterday it was not a regular. It was someone different that just happened to be a cup driver. There is a difference that many around the sport do not want to acknowledge. Fans get it, its the people around the sport just can’t figure it out. There has been a built in all or nothing narrative that the people inside NASCAR and the people reporting on it seem not to be willing to budge from.

The fact that a top level cup driver is racing in that series should be something special not just business as usual. If you don’t think seeing something exciting on Saturday does not raise the excitement on Sunday you are kidding yourself. If Kyle Busch were to race seven Xfinity races a year, those seven would be special must-see races because he was there. Instead, there is a large group of fans who are turning away because he is always running in and winning in the lower series.

The comparison often made to Mark Martin running in the then Busch Series while in the then Winston Cup car as well is used as rational for allowing cup regulars to run as much as they want. Only once since becoming a full time Winston Cup driver did Mark Martin enter in half of the Busch Series races. For Kyle Busch only once since he became a full time Sprint Cup driver has he not run at least half of the series races (not including 2015 when he was injured). Seven of those seasons he competed in at least two thirds of the season. The comparison is misguided, but when used by a respected NASCAR personality gains credence.

The damage has been done to the Xfinity series, so it will take a while for the perception to change. If there are different people in the hunt for those races every week though, that perception will begin to change. Even if it is cup regulars, different faces is what that series needs. It will also engage different fan bases and hopefully quiet the very vocal haters who are damaging the reputation of the sport.

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Hopefully those seats not regularly occupied by the Sprint Cup regulars will be occupied by young talent that is the future of the sport. If a driver gets in the 18 car that Busch won in the week before, that young driver with the same crew will get an opportunity to show what they can do with the same top level car and crew. Right now those younger drivers with development contracts do not get the chance to race in the series regularly because of the sponsor demand that cup drivers be in the seat.

I can only hope the the different reaction to Dale Jr winning in the Xfinity race gets noticed by NASCAR and they rethink their stance on cup regulars. If history tells us anything, they will not get it at all and try and get more cup drivers in the series, not less. That is exactly what the series does not need.