XFINITY SERIES: Five on Five
The Five on Five feature will break out some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here’s a peek at Daytona through Fontana.
Five Races, Five Different Winners
A lot has been made about five different winners this season so far in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. However, the same could be said for the XFINITY Series, as well. Each week, a new face has visited victory lane this season, with no team able to win multiple events.
Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Reed put together a run en route to winning the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. Cup regulars Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Joey Logano (Team Penske) took victories the following weeks, before series regular Justin Allgaier (JR Motorsports) captured the Dash for the Cash and the win at Phoenix International Raceway. Kyle Larson completed the string with a win for Chip Ganassi Racing last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.
Can the trend continue? It is possible as there’s plenty of series regulars running up front weekly, like Elliott Sadler and Darrell Wallace Jr. There’s also other Cup regulars who will be running XFINITY events, such as Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski.
It is highly unlikely a sixth straight different team will win, though, with each of the series’ frontrunners having scored their first victory of 2017. However, Stewart-Haas Racing could make it happen at Texas Motor Speedway with Cole Custer and Kevin Harvick. There’s also a possibility for Richard Childress Racing to win, based on the strength of rookie Daniel Hemric and Austin Dillon this year.
No Race Wins Still for the No. 22
Since Keselowski won at Texas Motor Speedway in October 2015 behind the wheel of the No. 22, the car has yet to return to victory lane. Team Penske has scored wins – three for Logano, but those came with the No. 12 entry.
The organization’s top car going 40 races without a win is unheard of, considering it was just a couple years ago they were winning multiple events and owner’s championships.
Truthfully, it’s only a matter of time before they break the drought. Since October, they’ve scored 20 top-fives, including a runner-up the past two weeks with Blaney (Phoenix) and Logano (California). They’ve also led 168 laps this year with the No. 22 entry in five races, versus leading 146 last year in the last 14 races.
JRM Reigns Supreme
Last year, the XFINITY Series was led by JR Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, with Daniel Suarez capturing the championship for JGR. This season, it appears Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s organization is the cream of the crop. Their drivers currently take up the top-three spots in the standings with veteran Sadler leading William Byron and Allgaier.
Nobody is caught off-guard, though, as both Sadler and Allgaier made the Championship 4 last year in the series and are working with the same guys in 2017. Byron may be the new suspect to JRM this year, but recall he won seven truck series races last year for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
The focus is now getting Michael Annett up in fourth behind them, who currently sits eighth in points. The Iowa native hasn’t been too far off, scoring four top-15 finishes this year with a best of ninth at Phoenix.
“We need to be up where our teammates are,” Annett told POPULAR SPEED earlier this month. “We’ve got three teammates that are in the top-five in points. We need to be up there with them and have the same goals as they do, which is to get as many points as possible, win races, be in there Chase at the end, and be in the group going into Homestead for the championship. I think looking at all the resources that we have and the teammates that I have, the guys I am surrounded by, if that wasn’t our goal, then I shouldn’t even be showing up to the track each weekend.”
Way to go, Rookies!
When word got out about who was moving up to XFINITY for 2017, a lot of people predicted a great Rookie of the Year battle. So far, those predictions are right. Five races in the books, and there’s a pair of rookies in the top-10 in points.
Beyond Byron, as mentioned above, Hemric is seventh in points after scoring two top-10s in the first five races. Hemric proved he’d be a driver to watch this season by running in the top-five throughout the day at Phoenix International Raceway en route to seventh.
Custer is just outside of the top-10 (12th), but it’s not for lack of effort. He’s running in the top-10 each race but has finished outside of the top-20 the past two weeks due to crashes. Before that, he had finished 10th at Atlanta and 11th at Las Vegas.
The Improvement of Roush Fenway
During the off-season, Roush Fenway Racing committed to making their team stronger by moving personnel around and hiring some new faces. It appears their efforts have paid off so far.
Last year, Reed finished eighth in points with Darrell Wallace Jr. in 11th. Five races in the books this year, Reed currently sits fourth with Wallace fifth. Reed only scored one top-five last year – but has already done so this year, while Wallace scored four top-10s in five races compared to nine in 33 last year. Notably, Wallace has finished sixth for four straight weeks.
So what now? While Reed has visited victory lane, Wallace still needs to make that happen. Given that he’s just outside of the top-five, it’s only a matter of time before his team figures out how to break through.
EMAIL ASHLEY AT firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.