Three drivers continue to dominate the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and all but one is surprised a serious fourth contender has yet to emerge.
“It’s hard to say (because) you’re just trying to go out there and do the best you can,” said Cole Custer. “I think it’s surprising that for some reason we’re one, two, three a lot of the time. It’s really rare, I guess I would say. There’s so much (time) left in the season somebody is going to step up, I think.”
The term ‘Big 3’ was thrown around a lot last season in the NASCAR Cup Series when Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. stomped the competition weekly. Until the finale in Miami, when Joey Logano took the title, those three were unbeatable and gobbled up all the wins, laps led, and playoff points.
This season the phrase is just as acceptable when talking about Custer, Christopher Bell, and reigning series champion Tyler Reddick. Custer is third in points with four wins, four poles, and 694 laps led. He has 26 playoff points.
The reason why Bell and Reddick haven’t considered a fourth contender is because the three organizations on top are arguably the best in the series.
“I think all three of us are executing really good, and all three have really good race cars too,” said Bell. “That’s the biggest thing – our cars are really nice, and week in and week out it seems like one of us has the advantage over the other two. So, it’ll be interesting to see who has the advantage tomorrow.”
Bell is second in points with four wins, three poles, and 760 laps led, and he leads with 28 playoff points.
Reddick is the point leader with more top five and top-10 finishes than his foes, but he has one less victory in the win column, 327 laps led, and 18 playoff points.
“When you look at the teams that are doing it, you got Stewart-Haas, you got Joe Gibbs, and you got RCR, teams that have Cup backing and Cup help,” said Reddick. “So it’s not surprising when you think about it. I think easily we could have had four if Ross Chastain and Chip Ganassi’s Xfinity team wouldn’t have shut doors. I would have expected him to be the leader of the four.”
Just how far ahead of the competition are the Big 3? Only one other driver has led laps in the triple digits: fifth in points Justin Allgaier, with 271. Just one other Xfinity Series regular has gone to victory lane: Michael Annett at Daytona. All other races have either been won by the Big 3 or drivers ineligible for points, Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain.
Six other drivers have scored playoff points this season: Annett has 6, Allgaier has 4, then Austin Cindric, Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, and Ryan Sieg all have one.
In opening practice at Kentucky, it was Bell at the top of the leaderboard with Reddick third and Custer fourth. In final practice, Custer fastest, Bell second, and Reddick third.
If all three are destined to be a part of the championship race at Homestead, Bell and Custer aren’t yet sizing up the competition.
“As it stands right now, it looks like it’s going to be us three plus another guy, so ultimately we’re not really racing each other in the playoffs right now until we get to Homestead,” said Bell. “We just need to continue to focus on ourselves and keep executing.”
Custer does admit all three will know each other really well, considering how much time they spend racing each other. But it’s still a matter of all three advancing through the playoffs and taking up three of the final four spots.
“We have to be really consistent,” said Custer. “We have to show up to every single racetrack making sure that we do our homework every time. I think it’s going to be a really good race when we get there.”
A really good race was seen last year when Reddick came out on top with his former team at JR Motorsports. But it was a race that had been dominated by Custer with Bell lingering in the picture. Not until the end, when Reddick began rim-riding around the mile-and-a-half and pit strategy came into play, did he put the competition in the rearview mirror.
With that in mind, Reddick didn’t hesitate in saying “already have been” when asked about scouting his competition.
“Racing against them last year, I already focus a lot on what they do, how they go about their races, their strengths, and weaknesses,” said Reddick. “Cole’s dynamic has changed a little bit with [crew chief Mike] Shiplett going over there and their new engineer. But [Bell’s] kind of stayed the same. They continue to search for speed, but the dynamic over there hasn’t changed.
“We know that straight up, all issues aside, those are the guys we’re going to have to beat to get to Homestead and win Homestead.”