Another year of NASCAR Xfinity Series competition is in the books, with a familiar sight as Tyler Reddick was crowned the series champion for the second year in a row. 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 the good and the bad.
GOOD: The future of NASCAR is very strong as proven by this past season’s championship battle. The series tagline “names are made here” remains true, as “the big three” in Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, and Christopher Bell showcased their talent on a weekly basis, with multiple wins a piece and highlights to call their own. Now being able to witness these three battle for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year in 2020 will be special.
BAD: Although Bell was able to prove himself, the last couple weeks of the season showcased a different side that hopefully does not remain in 2020. Although he was fast, the Toyota Racing driver made a couple costly mistakes.
He sped on pit road and spun at ISM Raceway to cost himself a win there after dominating early, while he missed pit road under green and cost himself valuable time at Homestead. It did not ultimately be the title factor due to the handling of the No. 20 Toyota going away over the course of the long run, but those are mistakes you would not expect out of a driver who won eight events this past season.
GOOD: While it was fun watching the big three all year, the way the championship went down in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was perfect. Each of them were able to battle side-by-side, taking turns at challenging each other, allowing fans to keep guessing who would come out on top.
Reddick and Bell had a thrilling battle back and forth to start the third stage, with Bell trying to take Reddick’s line away to stop the ensuing challenge for the top spot. Though the highlight of the night belongs to Reddick and Custer. After coming off pit road together, the pair quickly made work of Bell, before going back and forth for a number of laps. From giving each other the slide job, to trying different lanes, it was everything you’d want in a title race in watching the contenders go head-to-head.
BAD: Sometimes it takes a little bit of calming down behind the wheel, and that seems to be something that Noah Gragson and Austin Cindric may want to address through the winter. On a couple occasions this year, being overaggressive put him in a worse situation than he should have been.
Gragson went over the edge at Kansas Speedway, ultimately getting into the wall on a couple occasions, resulting in an unscheduled trip down pit road. Then a week later at Texas Motor Speedway, running just outside the top-10, he tried to make a move of desperation to get underneath Jeb Burton – but wasn’t clear of Harrison Burton yet. As a result, he went sideways, before sliding through the grass and causing enough damage to end his night early.
Cindric lost valuable ground in the standings that ultimately cost him a chance at being in the Championship 4 at Kansas Speedway due to a couple unscheduled trips down pit road with flat tires. The contact was all self-inflicted, too. He grew frustrated battling Harrison Burton for position, saying that “he was driving all over the track,” that he drove in the back of the No. 18, sending Burton up into the wall and ending his day. The contact resulted in nose damage to Cindric’s Ford that was made worse when he made contact with John Hunter Nemechek on the restart.
While it is nice to see drivers who are willing to push the edge, getting yourself into deeper trouble than you should have been does not help. Sometimes you just need to take what the car will give you, and live to fight another week. Despite having talent to get the job done, if he continues being over aggressive, he may be sitting on the sidelines sooner than later.
GOOD: Cole Custer said it perfectly after the season finale – “Tyler—he can rip the top here. That’s about all you can say about it.” Through the year, it was a thing of beauty in watching Reddick do this on a couple different occasions when the track conditions would allow, and ultimately using that to score the championship.
To run mere inches off the wall and not make contact, knowing a single slip-up could result in trouble, takes tons of concentration and a really well handling car. But yet the driver of the No. 2 Tame The Beast Chevrolet continues to make it look like second nature.
BAD: Being able to witness drivers battle for the lead is everything that you want as a racing fan. That’s why it’s so frustrating when lap traffic ruins that. Garrett Smithley certainly did not make any friends this past season in that regards.
As the laps began to wound down at Kansas Speedway , it appeared as though the battle for the win would be between Chase Briscoe and Bell. However, those hopes were dashed with 15 laps to go when they were caught up in a wreck with a lap car. Smithley told NASCAR on NBC that he wasn’t made aware that the leaders were coming up on him, and he was just riding around on 70-lap tires at that point.
The frustration radiated from Briscoe who was quick to ask on his radio, “What was he doing? Where was he going?” It was a reasonable question considering Smithley was already five laps down at this point in the event.
At the beginning of a driver’s racing career at the short track level, lap cars are taught to remain on the bottom, allowing the leaders to battle as they should have the right to. Knowing that he was already multiple laps down and off the pace, why did he not remain on the bottom of the track? Secondly, it is a little disheartening to see Smithley throw total blame on his spotter for the incident. He is the one handling the controls of the racecar, and should be aware of the situation around him.
GOOD: Since the repave, Texas Motor Speedway has been criticized for the type of racing fans have gotten to witness. Some work by the tire dragon and laying down some traction compound, and we may be getting somewhere.
The O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 featured more side-by-side racing than we have seen in recent years, including a lengthy battle for the lead between Bell and Reddick. If you were able to roll the momentum on the top, you could get a run to make a challenge on the outside of someone, as witnessed by Reddick on several occasions.
BAD: JR Motorsports certainly has to be asking themselves a lot of questions after this season. After placing three drivers in the Championship 4 in 2018 and winning the title with Reddick, they were only able to win two races this past season. Oh, and Justin Allgaier made the final battle, but ultimately became the underdog in comparison to the others. What do they need to do to catch up to their rivals now?
GOOD: Although a lot of people would prefer the old style Bristol Motor Speedway to return – single-groove along the bottom, with bumpers and rooting needed to make ground, the new higher groove being the place to be style proved to be alright for the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
There was racing all the way around the half-mile for positions all the time. It did not seem that a driver could be found by themselves as if they cleared their competitors, lap traffic came into question. That was fine, since it gave the fans something to watch all night long.
Although the top groove was the place to be, there was a way for passes to be made through the middle and bottom lanes of the track. Just ask Reddick. He started from the tail of the field, and drove his way to the second. He would spin while underneath Justin Allgaier for position, but managed to drive his way from 24th back to the front once again.
BAD: Anybody remember a driver change that happened this past May? Austin Dillon had to get out of the car with 40 laps to go as a result of his ribs getting too hot from the heat, and carbon dioxide from crush panels being pushed in due to wall contact. The team elected to put Daniel Hemric in the car when Dillon’s complaints began. If you know there’s an issue, why would you put a driver in that is also scheduled like Dillon to run 600 miles on Sunday? That should have maybe been a clue about what the future held in store.
GOOD: Let’s continue praising the good racing – with a nod to Charlotte Motor Speedway. The hot temperatures on the Charlotte, North Carolina afternoon produced a slick race track, in return delivering the fans a show. With drivers searching for grip through the beginning stages of the event by using the middle lane that was coated in the traction compound, to trying to run as close to the wall as possible in the later half, there was a never a dull moment during the Alsco 300.
BAD: The Alsco 300 could have only been made better if series officials would have been smarter in their decisions. Tire issues for both Bell and Brandon Jones could’ve been prevented if a caution for debris on the track was thrown by NASCAR. It seems that the sanctioning body missed the boat a couple times on Saturday, as they failed to throw the yellow flag late in the first stage for the same reason, resulting in nose damage for Custer.
As a result, Bell finished 31st after blowing a tire, though probably could’ve made his situation better by electing to head down pit road rather than ride around under caution with the flat, allowing it to blow the fender apart as it tore to shreds. His teammate Brandon Jones made the smarter decision in pitting immediately, and was able to fight back to run top-five late in the race before fading to 10th on older tires late.
GOOD: Everybody wants to see drivers fighting to do whatever it takes for the win, and that was the key to an exciting race at Talladega Superspeedway in April. Those who followed through were rewarded on Saturday afternoon.
From the drop of the green flag, three drivers showed the determination to make whatever move was necessary- Reddick, Briscoe, and Cindric. They were rewarded when the checkered flag flew in the MoneyLion 300 with top-five finishes.
Of those three drivers, Reddick pushed the boundaries throughout the event. Sometimes he went a little too far, as notable with his contact with the outside wall during the second stage. Though despite whatever was thrown at him, he showed a constant stream of determined aggressiveness to make his way back to the front on each occasion. His move at the end to get the run on Bell with 10 to go, followed by blocking Briscoe, were the icing on the cake for the win.
GOOD: Although everybody wants to be critical of the rules package, the Xfinity Series got it right with the flange-fit composite bodies that were made mandatory for the 2019 season. While a bit of wall contact used to end someone’s day in the past, there is now the possibility to receive repairs and make a comeback. As a result, fans were entertained with seeing whether their favorite driver would be able to drive through the field, like Jeffrey Earnhardt overcoming a spin for a third-place finish.
GOOD: Being able to see passion and emotions – that’s what it is all about as it gets people talking. Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick’s dust-up at Kansas was a great display of that.
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) October 19, 2019
“As soon as he put a hand on me, I put a hand on him back; that’s just how it’s going to be if we’re going to have a conversation that way,” Reddick told NASCAR on NBC afterwards. “I’m out of breath, had a little fight there with people, but it was kinda fun.”
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