NASCAR: Gauging How RPM Shutdown Impacts Xfinity Chase

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports /

What happens when a team that is likely to make the NASCAR Xfinity Chase shuts down half-way through the season?

Last week Richard Petty Motorsports announced they were shutting down their NASCAR Xfinity Series No. 43 team due to missed sponsor payments.  Now that Jeb Burton has missed the Xfinity Series race at Pocono, we can analyze how the #43 team’s sudden absence from the series is going to affect the Xfinity Series Chase.

Way back before Atlanta, I projected that eleven drivers were more or less locks to make the Xfinity Series Chase, and sure enough, after Charlotte, those eleven drivers were the top-11 in points.

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 8.42.24 AM
Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 8.42.24 AM /

Jeb Burton was in 11th, and he was twenty points above the cut line.  He had a poor start to the season at Daytona, finishing 25th, and a DNF at Texas, finishing 35th.  But in the other nine races, Burton finished every one between 10th and 19th, completing all but eight laps.  If he could have avoided more DNFs it would have required some top-10 finishes by drivers who don’t typically get them to knock Burton out of the Chase.

(On that note, I found RPM’s shutdown of the #43 team very surprising.  Granted, fifteen races are a lot to run if the team was short on sponsorship, but couldn’t they have leveraged their likely Chase berth to replace at least some of that missing sponsorship?  Why shut the whole thing down?  And since this team came together at the relative last-minute anyway, why even run the season in the first place?)

Now that Pocono is over, battle for the last few spots in the Xfinity Chase looks like this.

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 8.42.40 AM
Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 8.42.40 AM /

If Burton is done for the season, that turns what was a battle for one Chase berth among (probably) two drivers – although with Daytona and three road courses coming up there are plenty of wild cards that could have let as many as five cars in to the battle for 12th – to a battle for two Chase berths among five drivers.

However, even though he missed Pocono, Jeb Burton is in a really good spot to make the Chase, IF he can get into a car for the next fourteen races.  Are there options?  It is fun to speculate about two ways it could work.

Option 1:  Jeb Burton replaces a driver far out of the Chase.

Looking at the Xfinity Series standings, there are two multi-car organizations that are outside the Chase looking in right now.  One is Johnny Davis Motorsports, who have Ross Chastain just outside the Chase in 14th, but also have Ryan Preece and Garrett Smithey in 18th and 19th right now.  Davis’ team finished 12th in the 2014 Nationwide Series standings with  Landon Cassill driving, and Chastain is only twelve points from 12th right now.

The other is TriStar Motorsports.  Since J.J. Yeley replaced David Starr in their #44 car five races ago, he has finished 11th, 12th, and 13th in three races and no worse than 23rd.  If you are Mark Smith, the owner of TriStar, do you want Jeff Green start-and-parking for the rest of the season, or would you rather have Burton in the #10 for the rest of the season?  If he could equal Yeley’s performance, he would likely make his way back into the top-12 in points.

Related Story: NASCAR: No. 43 Xfinity Team Suspends Operations

Option 2:  A top team adds a car for Jeb Burton.

This is the less likely, but much more fun, scenario.  RPM’s equipment probably was not the greatest in the series, and Burton was consistently in the top-20.  If an Xfinity Series Chase berth is really that big of a deal – and are we seeing exactly of much of a “big deal” it really is? – why wouldn’t Roger Penske put Burton in the #12 car for the rest of the season?  Or JR Motorsports in their part-time #5 car?  Or a fourth Joe Gibbs car?  Or a fourth Richard Childress car?  Or a third Roush Fenway car?  Or even a third Chip Ganassi car?  I mean, it’s not crazy to think in any of this equipment that is likely superior and at worst equal to RPM’s that even with the one-race setback of missing Pocono that Burton could not only make the Chase, but in a better car, could Burton maybe even make it to the second round of the Chase?