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NASCAR mailbag: What can be done to fix the Xfinity Series?

Readers react to NASCAR limiting Sprint Cup drivers to select Xfinity Series races, and Joe Gibbs Racing's strategy of running in the back at Talladega.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Each Wednesday SB Nation's NASCAR reporter Jordan Bianchi answers your questions about the latest news and happenings within the sport. If you have a mailbag question email

I'm glad NASCAR finally realized Cup drivers were ruining the Xfinity Series, this is a long overdue rule. But why only a 10-race limit, why not restrict Cup drivers even more and turn the Xfinity Series into a true developmental series instead of just a playground for Cup drivers to beat up on younger drivers and earn another paycheck they don't really need?


A popular and understandable sentiment among many fans is that NASCAR didn't go far enough in placing a cap on the number of Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races in which Sprint Cup drivers can participate. However, to enact sweeping changes to a longstanding policy to the degree Ben and others are clamoring for was always going to be difficult.

Many Xfinity teams already have sponsorship deals set for 2017 calling for Cup drivers to race a predetermined number of events, and a rule outright banning Cup drivers from competing in Xfinity events would've required a restructuring of these contracts. That's not a position NASCAR wants to place teams in this late in the year, nor should it.

What Wednesday's announcement did was establish some reasonable parameters, which should marginally help level the playing field between the elite and the minnows. Certainly more needs to be done -- especially in the areas of cost control -- but this is a good first step, and it wouldn't be surprising to see NASCAR later institute further restrictions now that teams know they cannot employ the services of Cup drivers on an unlimited basis.

Do you really see this changing anything, because I don't? Had NASCAR wanted to address the real problem it would've done something about the number of Cup teams also fielding Xfinity teams. That's the real problem. If NASCAR really wants to make Xfinity the series "where stars are born" then it needs to either ban Cup teams from double-dipping, or set some kind of salary cap so the smaller Xfinity-only teams actually have a shot to be competitive.


In the short-term, don't expect to see a noticeable difference in the frequency with which Cup drivers win Xfinity races. The dominance exhibited by Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, JR Motorsports, and Richard Childress Racing will continue at least for 2017 because these organizations have the depth to work around the limits now established.

Theoretically JGR could rotate Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, and Matt Kenseth in one of its cars during the Xfinity regular season -- each making a handful of starts -- then have first-year Cup driver Erik Jones run seven of the eight Xfinity races, with the exception of the championship finale where no full-time Cup drivers are permitted to compete regardless of experience.

Under this scenario, JGR would continue to win more than its fair share of races with almost zero drop-off from driver-to-driver. And the same applies to Penske, JRM, and RCR, which can arrange their rosters to have a Cup driver behind the wheel nearly every week and still not exceed the 10-race maximum.

This discrepancy isn't going away, though. Cup teams see the Xfinity Series as a way to develop young talent from drivers to crew chiefs, pit crew members to engineers. But these programs necessitate sponsorship money, and the quandary is many companies don't want to just align with a young unknown driver, but rather a proven commodity like Busch or Dale Earnhardt Jr. So to encourage sponsors to sign on, organizations incentivize them by offering opportunities to back Busch or Earnhardt in select races. Call it the NASCAR equivalent of the chicken or the egg.

To truly diminish the vast disparity between the Xfinity haves and have-nots is about cost containment, which is a team issue, not driver-related. Put Busch in second-rate equipment and, while he'll dazzle in showcasing his ability, he certainly wouldn't come close to winning 41 percent of the Xfinity races he enters (his winning percentage over the past four years driving Joe Gibbs-owned cars).

And the answer to preventing Cup drivers from infiltrating Xfinity races isn't a salary cap. Such measures would force organizations to publicly open their books, and that isn't going to happen as the teams are private companies. Rick Hendrick doesn't want Roger Penske to know his operating costs, and vice versa.

So what's the solution? It starts with a complete overhaul of the Xfinity Series, from scheduling to what goes into putting the cars on the track and everything in between -- drastic steps NASCAR has shown a reluctance to implement.

So is this what the Chase has become: Drivers are now encouraged to not race hard and try to get the best finish possible?


Call it an unintended consequence of the knockout Chase format. Although NASCAR likes to tout the importance of winning and how points racing is from a bygone era, the fact is minimizing mistakes plays as big a role as anything else in remaining in the early rounds of the playoffs.

With the expanded Chase field, teams know if they play it safe and consistently post good finishes then the odds of advancing raise substantially when trouble inevitably befalls the competition. This manifested itself in how JGR approached Talladega on Sunday.

What will be interesting to watch is whether this mindset continues when Talladega shifts next season from the Round 2 elimination race to the middle event of the three-race segment. Busch is of the belief that, while it's still advantageous to run in the back for much of the afternoon to better their chances of avoiding the "Big One," they will be more compelled to attempt to make their way to the front once the race nears its conclusion.

Why all the Gibbs hate? If the goal is to win a championship, I would've done the same thing if I were any of the JGR drivers. Racing up front is silly because of what might happen, and they realized that. Good for them.


Largely the animosity directed at JGR is because the concept of having a big-picture outlook of the championship goes against the inherent fiber of what NASCAR is.

For many they view each event as an individual entity and not part of the overall and considerably more valuable championship picture. Fans go to a race with the intention of seeing their favorite driver give max effort and perform as well as possible. Except this isn't always a realistic perspective.

By any measure, winning a championship supersedes winning a single race. Titles pay more and carry more significance than anything else -- and that includes winning marquee events like the Daytona 500, Southern 500, etc.

That mentality means sometimes teams with an eye on the bigger picture must sacrifice a good finish in one race if it means bettering their chances of securing a championship. It's no different than in stick-and-ball sports where coaches routinely sit their starters in games they view as having lesser importance to conserve energy and prevent injuries.

So while there is plenty of criticism at JGR's Talladega tactics, it's hard to argue with the outcome. Fifty percent of the eight-driver semifinal round are comprised of JGR drivers, and it's looking likely it will become the first team to have multiple drivers qualify for the four-driver championship finale.