Cup-free Weekend Gives Xfinity and Trucks an Opportunity to Shine

For years this writer has been an advocate of the separation of the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on more weekends than does currently occur. My idea is that the drivers and teams who compete in each of those two series would have opportunities to shine apart from their ‘Big Brothers’ at venues where their races would be the biggest events to happen at the locales chosen during the course of a given season. But as it stands right now, there are very few times in which such weekends actually occur.

In 2019, a total of 29 races out of the 33 on the Xfinity Series schedule are run in conjunction with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. At the same time, no less than 18 of the 23 NGOTS events will be run as counterparts to the top division in the sport.

Stand-alone races provide drivers such as Jeremy Clements(51) and Gray Gaulding an opportunity to shine

As a result of these pairings, the two ‘lower level’ tours are often put on the back burner during racing weekends by fans, media, and perhaps even the sanctioning body itself. Evidence of this can typically be seen in the stories that come out of NASCAR weekends which often center around MENCS drivers and storylines. And for the sanctioning body’s part, if practices or qualifying sessions are to be cut short or shelved all together during a joint weekend due to weather or other issues, it will be Xfinity and/or NGOTS sessions that are the first to be removed.

And perhaps most importantly, fans often move the ‘secondary’ races to the back seat. The big stadium-type grandstands at facilities such as Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, or even Bristol Motor Speedway often appear as if they are empty as 15-20,000 people in a place with seating capacity of well over 100,000 look barren.

This Saturday the NASCAR Xfinity Series will race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI for the CTECH Manufacturing 180. There will be no MENCS race there on Sunday afternoon. This event puts the drivers of the NXS squarely in the spotlight. The articles written from the road course facility will center on them, the television coverage will not be viewed as simply a setup for a bigger race, and the track no doubt counts this, and not a Cup race, as one of its bigger shows of the racing season.

Yes, there are other races being held as part of the weekend event at Road America but the Xfinity Series will not be competing with the MENCS for NASCAR-based headlines.

Racing at more tracks on which the Cup Series is not scheduled provides the Xfinity Series with the opportunity to truly be the place “Where Names are Made” as more attention at that particular place will be on those drivers within the series. When the ‘minor league’ series is paired with the Cup Series it tends to become exactly that- a minor league.

More than just getting added attention, the series running more independent events would also open the door for some drivers to run in the series as their primary form of racing during their careers. Years ago, drivers such as Jack Ingram, Sam Ard, L.D. Ottinger, Tommy Houston and Tommy Ellis were particularly noted for careers that did not involve stardom at the Cup Series level.

While there have been drivers such as Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier who came to be known more as full-time Xfinity drivers rather than Cup racers, such examples are far less common than would have been the case thirty to forty years ago. Instead, the Xfinity Series is most commonly thought of a stepping stone for drivers such as Christopher Bell and Cole Custer on their way to a higher level.

Aside from the Xfinity Series racing at Road America, the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series will be separated from the Cup Series this weekend. That tour will also take to a road course as those competitors move north of the border to race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario in the Chevrolet Silverado 250.

When paired with the Cup Series trucks often race in front of empty grandstands

Much of the same that applied to the Xfinity Series would also pertain to the the trucks. Stand-alone events on unique venues where that series serves as one of season highlights for that facility would produce far more energy and excitement than an event run a day or two before a Cup race in front of what looks to be an empty grandstand.

This is not to say that there should never be weekends in which the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series runs in conjunction with either the NASCAR Xfinity Series or the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. But the current percentages are far too high. There is not enough uniqueness for the two ‘minor league’ divisions.

NASCAR has indicated that there are changes coming to its schedules over the next couple of years. This writer believes that any changes that do actually occur should include more separation between the top tour and what have largely been considered support classes over the past couple of decades. Tracks could find ways to create value on the days leading up to their Cup races through any number of other options such as heat races or the use of the soon-to-be untied ARCA and K&N tours.

But for now, I will enjoy watching the Xfinity and Truck Series stars get an opportunity to shine on their own this weekend.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association

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