Miami Beach, FL – Since 2016, NASCAR has used the current playoff format in the XFINITY and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
The format has helped emphasize a welcome change. Before the 2011 season, the XFINITY Series was dominated by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars and from 2006 until 2011, the champions of the second tier-level were all Cup regulars.
That left many with an uneasy feeling, especially fans that wanted to see the young guys coming up in the ranks race for something valuable and important in their careers. A championship for an XFINITY Series regular would not only put their names on the spotlight but may very well lead them to a future opportunity in the Cup Series. I mean, isn’t that what we have seen since 2011?
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the championship two straight years and ended up with a full-time ride in the Cup Series. We can keep naming drivers because every title holder has ended u at the premier level.
NASCAR’s effort to focus on the XFINITY Series stars has set up drivers to showcase their talent. This weekend, four competitors coming from different backgrounds will battle with one common goal – their first XFINITY Series championship.
Cole Custer was the first to lock his spot into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He put himself in position to race for a title when he won at Texas Motor Speedway a few weeks back. Last year, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver won the season finale at Homestead-Miami, but will that give him an advantage on Saturday?
“It definitely helps because we have good notes to rely on and stuff like that but also Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell came here and tested so they’ve got to be a lot better where they were last year,” Custer said. “Well see there’s always the little differences like the bodies, the tires are a little bit different, so you have to adjust for that and do your homework.”
23-year-old Christopher Bell comes from a successful dirt racing background before transitioning over to asphalt. Last season, Bell won five races and took home the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.
We can say that his season in the XFINITY Series has been dominant. Bell has scored seven victories, five poles and has an average finish of 11.1. Although he seemed like the favorite to take home the championship, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver had to overcome a devastating Round of 8.
After having accidents at Kansas Speedway and Texas, Bell’s only choice to advance was by winning at iSM Raceway. The Norman, Oklahoma native started from the rear of the field after failing inspection but was still able to secure the victory last Saturday.
With this being the last round, those struggles are now an afterthought. Bell finished second at Homestead last season when he won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.
“I don’t know if winning the championship gives me an advantage but the fact that I was in the championship 4 and understand the process and what the pressure is like racing for a championship,” Bell told POPULAR SPEED. “So, just being in that situation I think has its advantages and hopefully I can use that. The only thing different going into this weekend is that we are only racing three cars. Instead of going out there trying to win the race all I have to do is beat three competitors.”
Tyler Reddick is another one of those guys with a dirt racing background. He began the season pulling off the victory at Daytona International Speedway with his new team, JR Motorsports.
His consistency in the Round of 8 put him in position to run for the championship. Last month, it was announced that Reddick would be switching to Richard Childress Racing for the 2019 season in the XFINITY Series.
“It would be fantastic,” Reddick said. “This year didn’t really go as planned like we were wanted it to. We had speed most of the year at certain race tracks and just didn’t capitalize on the moments that we really should of. This playoff system and format has been really nice to us, we were able to kind of reset and the last six races and almost wanted to rip our heads up in practice, but we found a way to perform and make it to the next round.”
This last guy in the running is still winless, surprisingly. Coming from the heart of stock car racing, Daniel Hemric grew up competing on asphalt in his home state of North Carolina. Scoring 15 top-five finishes is as close as it gets to winning a race; now on Saturday, he chases not only a win, but also a championship.
“I’ve been fortunate to win championships in so many different levels but every time you make a step in your career you never know what you’re going to be like until you are in that situation,” Hemric told POPULAR SPEED. “I know whatever it is I’d be elated to know that we accomplished something that we’ve set out to do since last November and the heartbreak we experienced 12 months ago at Homestead.”
It may very well come down to that. Fans are hoping to see all four cars contending for a title duke it out until the finish. Thanks to the changes NASCAR has made throughout the years, the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway has become an event any die-hard NASCAR fan should experience in person.
No, that does not mean you can compare it to the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, or the Monaco Grand Prix. It is just a unique weekend full of excitement because we know only four drivers from each series will race for a championship.
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