For a couple of weeks, it seemed as though this season would be another dominated by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars visiting victory lane in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. However, perhaps the prediction was wrong.
Justin Allgaier held off Cup drivers Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney to score the victory on Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway. In doing so, he became the second series regular to visit victory lane this season, following Ryan Reed‘s victory at Daytona International Speedway. With four races in the books, the score is even with two wins each side.
In part, the change is due to NASCAR’s new rule limiting Cup drivers with more than five years experience to 10 XFINITY Series events a season, and not to be part of the XFINITY Series Dash for Cash events, like Phoenix. As a result, the likes of Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski were missing from Saturday’s field and won’t get to run 18 to 25 races like they did in the past.
With this weekend being a non-Dash for Cash event and still early in the year with nobody near their limit, this weekend the chances will be slimmer than other weeks. Six Cup drivers will be the field – Paul Menard, Ty Dillon, Busch, Jones, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson. There’s also the factor that Cup regulars have beat XFINITY drivers in the last 20 races at Auto Club Speedway, including seven wins for Busch and a pair for Logano.
But, is there a possibility of XFINITY Series drivers continuing the trend? Absolutely.
There are a bunch of young – and some a little older too – drivers in top-tier cars for organizations with Cup Series ties. With the fluid of top-five finishes thus far this year, a quick car combined with the right strategy could pay off in a big way.
Here are five drivers with a chance to make it happen:
1. Darrell Wallace Jr. enters the weekend with the best average finish of series regulars at Auto Club Speedway, with a 7.5 after finishes of 12th and third the past two years. His Roush Fenway Racing team also seems to have things going their way right now, as noted with a sixth place finish in each of the last three races.
2. Elliott Sadler knows what it takes to beat the Cup stars, having done so for many years in the series. He also has run well in California in the past, as noted with a top-10 in each of his last six starts at the intermediate oval. Notably, the JR Motorsports driver hasn’t ever finished better than fifth. This year has been solid so far for Sadler, as he enters this weekend as the series points leader with a top-eight finish in each of the last three races, including a pair of fifths.
3. Brandon Jones has only made one trip to California, resulting in a ninth place finish. While it’s just one statistic to his name, the Richard Childress Racing seems to get stronger with each trip to a race track, though. Notably, he has yet to post a top-10 yet this season, with his best finish being 14th.
4. William Byron will be making his first trip to Auto Club Speedway this year but has shown the rookie learning curve isn’t slowing him down this year with no finishes outside of the top-15, including a fourth last weekend at Phoenix. Notably, five of his seven Camping World Truck Series victories last year came on an intermediate track.
5. Brennan Poole has raced out in California previously, posting a 13th place finish last season. It also seems that he’s off to a decent start this year, currently sitting seventh in points after posting his first top-10 of the season at Phoenix.
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