NASCAR Made a Mistake Setting the Xfinity Series Playoffs Field

With Noah Gragson, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger, and defending champion Daniel Hemric among the qualifiers, the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs will rival the Cup Series version when it comes to name recognition.

Digging further, however, it’s apparent the second-tier series has depth nearly as impressive as its big brother when it comes to the playoff field. Justin Allgaier, Josh Berry, and rising star Sam Mayer are much more than field-fillers.

Unfortunately, some capable others won’t get their shot at playing down to the Championship 4 in Phoenix.

NASCAR made a mistake in setting the Xfinity Series playoffs

Twelve drivers will be in the hunt when the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs continue next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. That comes after Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick, and Austin Dillon fell out of the hunt Saturday night at Bristol.

The Xfinity Series playoffs start at TMS with 12 rather than 16 drivers, which is unfortunate. As the top development series, it should be a platform bringing out the best in competitors. One way to prepare them is through the high-stakes environment of the playoffs. Putting more drivers in a must-perform situation can only help should they reach the Cup Series someday.

What’s holding NASCAR back?

Part of it is sheer numbers. There are 36 full-time cars in the Cup Series, though four run with multiple drivers and don’t compete for playoff berths. That leaves 32 drivers chasing 16 spots.

On the other hand, only 19 Xfinity drivers competed in all 26 regular-season races. However, six others started in 21 or more races, and two more started 18 races. So, here’s the chicken-or-the-egg question: Would more teams find the resources to run a full regular season if there were more playoff positions available?

The Xfinity Series is a valuable training ground for NASCAR

Six of the seven drivers to earn the Xfinity Series championship from 2013-2020 (Tyler Reddick was a repeat winner) qualified for this year’s Cup Series playoffs. The seventh was Chris Buescher, who won the elimination race on Saturday at Bristol. In all 10 of the 16 playoff drivers in the top series won Xfinity championships during their career.

The list of active drivers who’ve captured titles in both series is compelling as an indicator of Xfinity success translating into Cup success: Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, and Kurt Busch.

NASCAR could make an expanded field happen if it wanted

Crew members attend the No. 2 Chevrolet of Sheldon Creed after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 16, 2022. | Logan Riely/Getty Images
Crew members attend the No. 2 Chevrolet of Sheldon Creed after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 16, 2022. | Logan Riely/Getty Images

The unluckiest two drivers in the final week of the Xfinity Series regular season were Landon Cassill and Sheldon Creed.

Cassill, a veteran driver, finished 12th in points but missed the playoffs by falling five points short of Ryan Sieg. That’s because Jeremy Clements began the week by winning his appeal of a NASCAR ruling that had prevented him from using his race victory as a qualification for the playoffs.

Creed’s situation was even more disheartening. He would have had a hard time catching Sieg on points and probably needed to win Friday to get in. Whatever chance he had ended a little more than a third of the way through the race at Bristol when Noah Gragson sent Ty Gibbs into the No. 2 Chevy, knocking Creed out of the race.

Cassill and Creed finished the regular season far clear of Anthony Alfredo and Brandon Brown in points. Had NASCAR taken 14 cars into the Xfinity playoffs, each would have qualified easily.

The next TV contract, which takes effect in 2025, will undoubtedly flow more money into the series. In turn, that should incentivize more teams to run full-time. In the interim, NASCAR can make teams more attractive to sponsors and their funding by turning three regular-season races into playoff contests and expanding the field.

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