After years of hearing fan complaints that too many Cup drivers run Xfinity races, Nascar finally did something about it—by adding the Chase “playoff” system to the Xfinity Series for 2016. Yeah. Typical Nascar thinking is sure to lead to a typical reaction: if ratings are down 0.1 of a point, people will clamor online that this is proof that the Chase doesn’t work, and proof that nobody is watching anymore (even though they themselves will have watched every race so far). And if ratings are up 0.1 of a point, Nascar will herald it as proof that the Chase works, and that Brian France has the superior mental acumen necessary to lead the sport into the next decade.
So with THAT out of the way, there’s the usual mishmash of full-time teams, part-time drivers, and Cup guys inflating their egos this year. Who’s doing what? That’s where I come in:
RACING FOR XFINITY DRIVER POINTS
20—Erik Jones (GameStop, Reser’s, HiSense, Interstate Batteries): Last year’s Truck sensation enters as the odds-on favorite for Rookie of the Year (if he’s eligible, that is). REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Contends for the championship with a few wins AND a few meltdowns.
3—Ty Dillon (Rheem, usual associates): Younger Dillon returns as a heavy favorite to win the 2016 Xfinity title. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Leads the points most of the season before getting wiped-out in a Chase race by one of his dozens of enemies.
19—Daniel Suarez (Arris): A number change and a new crew-chief for one of the most-intriguing talents out there. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A bunch of top-fives, a spot in the Chase, and constant talk about how intriguing his talent is.
6—Darrell Wallace, Jr. (Ford EcoBoost, ???): RoushFenway continues its Xfinity success in 2016—I wonder if it will ever translate to success in Cup? REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A win somewhere down the line, a strong run in the Chase, hopefully the obvious sponsorship from Bubba Burgers.
1—Elliott Sadler (OneMain Financial): The Xfinity stalwart moves to his latest team. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Making the Chase despite not contending for wins, and frequent pre-race interviews about being a veteran of the series (read: Cup reject).
16—Ryan Reed (Drive to Stop Diabetes/Lilly): Only a crew-chief change for the sweetest ride out there (sorry). REALISTIC EXPECTATION: An upset win, a slot in the Chase, and record-setting sales of the Reed Thneed.
7—Jushin “Thunder” Allgaier (Brandt, TaxSlayer, Hellman’s): Kicked out of HScott in favor of a year of Clint Bowyer, Allgaier moves into Regan Smith’s old ride. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A win in a standalone race coupled with everybody wondering if he’ll move back to Cup in 2017 (hint: he won’t).
33—Brandon Jones (Menards, Nexteer): The Boss (of Rheem)’s Son goes—where else?—to RCR. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A sneaky-consistent year sees him slide into the Chase.
62—Brendan Gaughan (South Point, Wix Filters): He’s back…mostly because he has nothing else to do. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Perhaps a win (or a near-miss), and making the Chase, but he’ll miss those five laps of experience in a Cup car each week.
39—Ryan Sieg (???): The Official Underdog of Nascar looks ready to return to Xfinity racing in 2016. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Average finish of 15th, average mention rate by announcers of 0.8/race.
07—Ray Black Jr. (ScubaLife): SS GreenLight Racing moves up to Xfinity in the oddly-numbered 07 car. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Contending for a few top-10s while getting at least one “wacky” pre-race segment on Fox
4—Ross Chastain (???): The watermelon man holds his spot with JDM. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Top-20s all year long and a bunch of lame jokes from the announcers.
11—Blake Koch (LeafFilter): Koch moves to a new RCR-backed team owned by his sponsor. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A top-10 or two in Jasper Motorsports: The Next Generation.
44—David Starr (Zachry): While you weren’t paying attention, the longtime Truck Series driver became a longtime Xfinity Series driver. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A few top-tens before missing the Chase.
28—Dakoda Armstrong (Winfield): D.A. escapes RPM for JGL. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Plenty of top-20s and not much else.
51—Jeremy Clements (Repairable Vehicles, ???): Someone should tell Jeremy that when you race for a team named for you and owned by your dad, you don’t really need to make an annoucement. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A top-10 on a plate track.
01—Ryan Preece (???, G&K Services): He’s a former Modified champion, joining the likes of such national series luminaries as Jimmy Spencer and Jeff Fuller. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A top-10 or two.
52—Joey Gase (Racing 2 Cure, Donate for Life): The only driver where you can call him a “Charity Case” and it isn’t an insult. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Top 20’s half the time for this tiny but resilient team.
97—Harrison Rhodes (???): Just your average pairing of a Nigerian businessman with an American college student in Nascar. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Top-20 in points.
70—Derrike Cope (Ice-Aid, E-hydrate, MMIA): Another small team returns with little more than a man and a dream…oh, and a car, too. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A few top-20s and at least one “Where Are They Now?” article.
15—??? (???): Rick Ware Racing returns for it’s 25th anniversary season like most men arrive for anniversaries—with no idea what they’re going to do. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A handful of top-20s.
24—??? (???): JGL Racing returns, possibly. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Contending in plate races with a driver nobody’s ever heard of (or JJ Yeley).
25—??? (???): The “2nd” Rick Ware Racing team changes numbers from 17 to 25. And if you already knew that, your life is just as pathetic as mine. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Avoiding being a start-and-park.
14—??? (???): TriStar says they’ll run this team full-time. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Jeff Green continues to Start & Park.
RACING FOR XFINITY OWNERS POINTS
18—Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, ??? (???, HiSense): The old 54 team continues for no real reason other than it keeps Kyle out of trouble on Saturdays. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Buncha wins.
22—Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, ??? (Discount Tire, Hertz): No word on who will run the stand-alone races, but I like to imagine Ryan’s dad constantly hanging around the garage, popping up every time someone says “Iowa”. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Buncha wins.
88—Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott (TaxSlayer, Hunt Bros. Pizza, Hellman’s/BestFoods, Bad Boy Buggies): So many drivers, so many sponsors, so little Regan Smith. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A few wins.
2—Paul Menard, Austin Dillon (Menards, Rheem): Nardburns and StupidHat return to Brian Scott’s old ride. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Better than last year, with a win apiece for each driver.
0—Eric McClure, ??? (???, Reynolds/Hefty): Yeah. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A fluke top-10.
13—Derek White, Mark Thompson (Braille Battery, Grafoid): At least they’ve run through all their Dodges. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Barely making it through the season.
5—Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott (Hellman’s, TaxSlayer): The JRM auxiliary ride is only certain for two races. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: About a dozen races, contending but not winning.
12—??? (???): Penske’s “other” team usually runs a handful of races for when Brad K & Joey want to race each other for smaller stakes. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A win or two.
25—John Wes Townley (Zaxby’s): John Wrecks Weekly returns, but only for the plate races. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Two wrecks, one top-10.
46—Anthony Kumpen, Brandon Gdovic (???, LeasePlan): This team could be a fever-dream of Jayski for all I know. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Running a few early races, then disappearing.
84—Chad Boat (Corvette Parts): Will BBM return with their usual part-time schedule? Will anybody care? REALISTIC EXPECTATION: A few top-20s in a part-time schedule, and nobody cares.
85—Bobby Gerhart (Lucas Oil): The Pride of Lebanon is likely to run his usual three plate races in Xfinity. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: At least one “Bobby Gerhart, he always seems to find his way to the front, doesn’t he?” comment and at least one top-10.
89—Morgan Shepherd (Courtney Construction): The ageless one returns. REALISTIC EXPECTATION: Finishing races instead of Start & Parking.