Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick have shown that NASCAR Cup Series drivers making starts in the Xfinity Series can actually make the series more competitive.
The practice of full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers making starts in the Xfinity Series has created an ongoing debate about whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Having some of the premier series’ biggest stars running in the sport’s undercard, its second-tier series that typically runs the day before at the same track, has its benefits.
Their presence can help sell tickets, perhaps to fans who would only attend an Xfinity Series race to watch their favorite Cup driver. Their presence can also help bring in sponsorship with brands which may be looking for more exposure with a better-known driver.
But then comes the question of competitiveness, as better drivers in better equipment can end up dominating a race.
“It creates some conflicts because you are taking the best drivers in the world and competing against guys that aren’t quite at that level, and is that fair?” asked NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton in a 2017 interview with USA Today. “And it’s an age-old question.”
In recent years, NASCAR has enforced stricter limits in terms of how many Xfinity Series races Cup drivers can compete in. That number is currently capped at five races for drivers with more than three years of full-time Cup Series experience, but that hasn’t stopped them from dominating when they do compete.
Brad Keselowski has won five of his last 13 Xfinity Series starts while leading more than a quarter of his laps completed during that span, and Joey Logano has won five of his last 21 starts while leading 18% of his laps. Both drivers competed for powerhouse Team Penske in these races.
Then there’s Kyle Busch, who has 102 career Xfinity Series wins, the most all-time, and almost all of his victories have come during his full-time Cup Series career. This includes 26 wins in 51 starts since 2016, a span in which he led more than half of his laps. All of these starts came with powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR).
While this dominance can be tiresome, there are two races this season that have cast a different light on the debate.
Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick have shown that Cup drivers in the Xfinity Series can actually add competitiveness to the series by elevating smaller teams.
Custer and Reddick both compete full-time in the Cup Series for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) and Richard Childress Racing (RCR), respectively. While they’re not the established champions and multi-win veterans that Keselowski, Logano, and Busch are, they are still drivers with more experience adding another event to their race weekend.
Yet wins by these two drivers earlier this season did not feel the same as wins by that group of veterans. That’s because they’re not strapping directly into a competitive ride owned by the same name that’s on their Cup Series paycheck.
Custer has made two Xfinity Series starts so far this year for SS-Green Light Racing, which has a technical alliance with SHR but is owned by Bobby Dotter. Reddick has also made two Xfinity Series starts, but with Big Machine Racing (BMR), an RCR partner that is owned by Scott Borchetta.
The limited starts by these two drivers have made an immediate impact on these smaller teams.
Custer won the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway, bringing SS-Green Light Racing their first ever win. He finished in third place in his other start at Circuit of the Americas.
Joe Graf Jr. has run the #07 Ford in the other 10 races this season, recording an average finish of 26.7 and just one top 20 finish.
For Reddick, he grabbed BMR’s first career victory in last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. In his other start at Darlington Raceway, he worked his way from 34th to fifth place in stage two before a late flat tire relegated him to a 26th place result.
Jade Buford and Kaz Grala shared the #48 Chevrolet for the first 10 races of the season, recording an average finish of 27.00 and just one top 20 finish.
“Nobody at RCR was really happy with where the cars (at BMR) were at,” said Reddick in an interview with FOX Sports after his win. “I wanted to help and try to make these cars get better and try to figure out what we needed to do to get back out front. Well, we figured it out pretty quick I guess.”
The experience that Custer and Reddick bring, compared to drivers such as Graf and Buford, can help elevate a smaller team’s performance, in turn making the Xfinity Series more competitive as a whole.
Ultimately, with limits on the number of races that Cup drivers can run in the Xfinity Series, this can help provide Xfinity Series regulars driving for these smaller teams with cars that can keep pace with powerhouse organizations such as JGR, Kaulig Racing, and JR Motorsports.
While Cup drivers in the Xfinity Series could be looked at historically as a detriment to the series’ competitiveness, Custer and Reddick have shown that they can actually benefit the competitiveness when racing for smaller teams.