The 2018 Xfinity Series started off with a photo finish at Daytona, and has been followed by four races won by Cup regulars. A handful of Xfinity regulars have impressed over the opening five race stretch, but others have not. With two weeks off, it is a perfect time to take a look at where teams and drivers stand.
Cup Regulars: Dominating. Through the first five races, four different Cup regulars (Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano) have gone to Victory Lane. Cup drivers have also won eight of the 10 stages. NASCAR’s limits on Cup guys dipping down into Xfinity hasn’t stopped them from stealing stage wins and race wins early this season.
JR Motorsports: Class of the field. JR Motorsports’ three top cars have been the class of the Xfinity regulars all season long. Rookie Tyler Reddick inched out a win at Daytona from his teammate Elliott Sadler. Sadler (1st in the standings) boasts four top fives and five top tens. Reddick (2nd) sits four points back with four top tens. Justin Allgaier (3rd) is only five back of Sadler thanks to top-six finishes in every race except Daytona.
It is no surprise JRM is the top team, but their domination certainly should have them confident heading into the post-Easter stretch. Now only if they could help Michael Annett (14th) and the #5 team to do anything other than run 15th every race.
Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR): Steady. It has not been a wildly impressive beginning for JGR, but there should be no panic. Rookie sensation Christopher Bell (4th) duelled with Larson all race at Las Vegas, notching a stage win. Brandon Jones (9th), who hopped over from Richard Childress, has shown consistency, but not top-flight speed.
The #18 team car, driven by four drivers in five events, has not shown the winning speed we are accustomed to seeing. JGR will look to get back on track with two traditionally strong tracks coming up, Texas and Bristol.
Richard Childress Racing (RCR): Mixed results. The #21 of Daniel Hemric (5th) has put up decent results, including three top tens and scoring stage points in all but one stage this season. Matt Tifft (10th), who spent last year with JGR, has finished in the top ten in the past two races, and top 15 in the past four.
Meanwhile, Daytona 500 champion Austin Dillon and brother Ty have only combined for one top ten (4th at Vegas) in their five races. Certainly, RCR is a step behind the competition, but they will still look to get two cars in playoff contention.
Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR): Inconsistent, but fast. Cole Custer (6th), SHR’s only points entry, crashed out of Atlanta early, but since, has scored three top tens. The #00 car always seems to be solid on long green flag runs, but never quite fast enough to contend for the win. Nonetheless, Custer is in a good position to be a contender throughout the rest of the year.
The 98 Biagi-DenBeste Racing alliance car ran up front at Daytona with Aric Almirola before wrecking late, and won at Atlanta with Harvick, to no one’s surprise. SHR has built a strong Xfinity program in just two years, and the start to 2018 has been a good one.
Ryan Reed: Underwhelming. In his fifth full time Xfinity season, Ryan Reed (11th) has not shown signs of huge improvements through the first five races. Yes, he has outperformed his career average finish, but that statistic is skewed by a 3rd at Daytona. After a 10th place at Atlanta, Reed has placed 19th, 18th, and 17th. If the veteran Xfinity driver is going to contend, the #16 team must find speed and find it quickly.
Unfortunately, they have no teammate to lean on, as the #60 car shared between Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric has crashed out of three races, and is void of any top ten finishes. Roush Fenway is in trouble across all of NASCAR.
Small Operations: Overachieving. The first five races have seen numerous small teams enjoy strong runs. Spencer Gallagher (7th), driving for GMS Racing, and Ryan Truex (8th), driving for Kaulig Racing, have each notched two top tens and five top fifteens. Rookie Kaz Grala (12th) has taken his #24 JGL Racing entry to four top-20s, including a 4th place at Daytona. Ross Chastain (13th) has driven his JD Motorsports #4 to top tens at Daytona and Fontana, and no finish worse than 19th.
Gallagher and Truex are in prime positions to make the playoffs. For the others, a win may be needed, but regardless of their playoff hopes, their early season results have been encouraging.
Xfinity Fans: Disappointed. The Daytona race surely excited, featuring five overtimes and the closest finish in NASCAR history. Unfortunately, the following four races were won by Cup regulars, and no intense battles occurred as the races came to an end. The overall racing product has been just okay, certainly more encouraging than what has been seen in Cup. As the Dash4Cash races come up, Xfinity regulars will get their chance to head to Victory Lane, which should bring closer racing, new winners, and happier Xfinity Series fans.
What to expect: The Xfinity Series teams will enjoy a two-week break before beginning another five-race stretch of Texas, Bristol, Richmond, Talladega, and Dover. Beginning at Bristol, the series starts its four-race Dash 4 Cash contest, awarding the highest-finishing Xfinity teams.
For those four races, all drivers in the Monster Energy Cup Series will not be permitted to race. This should open opportunities for drivers like Sadler, Allgaier, Custer, and Bell to contend for wins, and possibly a driver like Hemric to grab his first career victory.
Catch the My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas on Saturday, April 7th at 7:30pm GMT live on FreeSports.