It was a long afternoon for the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Bristol Motor Speedway that included two red flags, one for rain and the other for a crash. When it finally came to a close, it was Erik Jones standing in victory lane for the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300.
The VHT Effect
After an experiment last year with limited impact, the speedway was more aggressive this time around with the use of VHT, a substance that was applied to the lower groove in hopes of re-creating the racing of old at Bristol, including the bump and run.
Initially, the impact of VHT, which was designed to give more grip to the bottom lane, seemed to be inadequate. Starting second on the outside line, Austin Dillon passed pole sitter Kyle Larson in the first corner, despite Larson having the VHT to his advantage. However, as the race progressed, the low groove showed some promise, with much of the field running right against the apron.
It may not have been exactly like it used to be, but there were times it seemed close. The highlight of this was in the closing laps, when Jones put the bumper to Ryan Blaney to take the lead and ultimately the win.
Short of another reconfiguration, the old Bristol may never return back to its true form. However, while the Cup race on Sunday will be the best indicator, Saturday seemed to be an effective step. Track officials deserve credit for making bold moves in an attempt to enhance the racing.
Dash 4 Cash and Cup Drivers
Saturday was the second of four Dash 4 Cash races this season, where $100,000 was on the line for XFINITY Series regulars. For each of these events, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers with more than five years of experience are not allowed to compete. This time, it was Daniel Hemric taking home the money after a fifth place finish.
However, Bristol was unable to live up to the high bar set by Phoenix, the first Dash 4 Cash race of the year, which was won by series regular Justin Allgaier and was one of the best events of 2017 thus far. In Bristol, Cup drivers with less than five years of experience, who are still able to compete, dominated the race. XFINITY drivers were rarely worthy of a mention, hiding in the shadows of those from the top series.
The new entry rules for the division are a start. A win by Jones is a bit more tolerable than a win by Kyle Busch simply because Jones has less experience and is a fresh face to the sport. However, more steps should be taken, with the next logical one being limiting any driver competing full time in Cup.
Daniel Suarez Has Strong Run
Cup drivers racing in the XFINITY Series may not be best for the sport, but the added track time is still good for Daniel Suarez. After being thrown into a Cup car after Carl Edwards’ sudden departure, Suarez was given a difficult challenge this year.
As Joey Logano showed when he moved to NASCAR’s top series, starting too early can hurt you, so any advantage Suarez can find is a major plus for the Mexican driver.
Running near the front, competing for the lead and ultimately finishing third Saturday was a bright spot in a season that has been rocky at times. Bristol is not easy to master, especially with the speedway trying to alter the track throughout the weekend, but Suarez handled it well. Sunday’s race will be an entirely different test, but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver may be setting himself up for a strong run on the big stage.
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