CRANDALL: A nice problem for Xfinity to have

Image by Whitton/LAT

CRANDALL: A nice problem for Xfinity to have

Insights & Analysis

CRANDALL: A nice problem for Xfinity to have

By

Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick are Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series bound next season. Cole Custer may or may not end up joining them. Whether it’s all three or two out of the three, they’ve all proven they deserve a shot competing on Sunday afternoons.

However, the most significant part about them moving up and out has nothing to do with their futures. It isn’t about car numbers or paint schemes. Nor how it feels to have made it to the sport’s premier series.

It’s about the void it leaves for Xfinity Racing and NASCAR.

Reddick, Bell, and Custer have been the stars of the Xfinity Series the last two seasons: easily recognizable, incredibly talented stars. They were three of the final four drivers in last year’s title race, and unless something catastrophic happens, they look destined for a repeat appearance. When it comes to NXS regulars, these three have been the top of the heap in both personality and talent. Between the three of them they have won 28 of the last 61 races.

“It’s been great because you’re obviously seeing a rivalry develop between the three of them that I think will carry into future series,” said Matt Lederer, Comcast Vice President of Brand Partnerships. “Normally when we talk about ‘Names Are Made Here’ it ends up becoming that one name at the end of the year that wins the championship.

“I think what it’s done this year is allowed us to lean into that throughout the entire year, because we’ve seen these three young drivers who have bright futures in front of them competing against each other and going head to head for wins. It furthers gives the series an identification.”

Bell is 24 and has been blazing a path forward since the first time he held a steering wheel. Whether on dirt or asphalt, Bell is a force and his resume is quickly filling up. His immense talent is matched by his relentless quest to succeed and cross the next goal off the list, like being the first driver to win a championship in all three national series.

At 23, Reddick shot to stardom when he seemingly came from nowhere last November to claim the title. This year, Reddick has been front and center at Richard Childress Racing by showing off his unapologetic, energetic, entertaining personality. In Vegas, when he stole the win by going 70 laps on a tank of fuel, Reddick climbed out of his car and nonchalantly shrugged to the crowd. Richard Childress compared him to three-time Cup Series champion Cale Yarborough.

Reddick’s rise has been meteoric. Image by Harrelson/LAT

The youngest of the trio is Custer, who has grown into a young adult from the spotty-faced kid that was once the youngest winner in Truck Series history. Now 21, Custer has seemed to become more comfortable in his own skin and in front of the cameras. Wins are now accompanied by his playfully throwing back two beers, WWE legend ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin style.

Whereas Bell and Reddick are now set for 2020, Custer’s future has not yet been announced, but his name is constantly in the rumor mill.

“This is the first year as a series director I’ve had the same champion (Tyler Reddick) come back for a second year,” chuckled Wayne Auton, the Xfinity Series managing director. “That’s evident of how great these drivers are. Will it be, personally, a loss in the series? Absolutely, because I think these three competitors have really went at it very hard, along with the other drivers in the series, but those three have had a phenomenal season. But if you sit here and look at the talent they have, they are definitely ready to move up.

“[Again] is it going to be a loss to the series? Absolutely because we like for people also to recognize the Xfinity Series as a place that they can go and watch races and expect some great competition. But it’s like the kid that graduates high school, as a parent you’re very proud of that, or your kid that graduates college. Well, our kids are graduating in the series to go in the major leagues and they will represent this series very well when they do move up.”

Who’s going to fill the void? Which driver(s) are going to be the stars that Bell, Reddick, and Custer have become and keep the interest in the series?

“Not at all, we love it,” said Lederer when asked if it would be upsetting to lose all three of them. “We love the position this series is in. We love to see those drivers move forward, go up, and if it happens to be three [of them] this year, great. I think in the past we’ve lost multiple drivers … it’s not different; it’s happened.

“It’s obviously unique because these three guys are 1-2-3 in the series, but that happens. We think it’s the right thing for the sport and the series because we know there’s other names coming in who are either here or moving into the series.”

Can it be somebody like a Noah Gragson? Gragson probably needs to start winning, or at least, spending more time leading races. Lederer called him a “really interesting guy” who has shown improvement.

Is there an opportunity for someone like Noah Gragson to take up the mantle as one of Xfinity’s leading lights in 2020? Image by Kinrade/LAT

Justin Allgaier will continue to be the veteran presence in the series. Lederer also likes the driving style of John Hunter Nemechek, but his future looks uncertain at GMS Racing, and Nemechek hasn’t had the greatest season statistically. Justin Haley will return for another year with Kaulig Racing, but they, too, are searching for some more consistency and wins.

“But honestly, it can be anybody,” said Lederer. “Let’s say we only lose those three and the other nine in the playoffs stick around, I think all nine of them can really be (stars). I think what Austin (Cindric) and Chase (Briscoe) have done in the mid-part of the year winning races and being competitive is a really good thing for their future. Really confident whoever it’s going to be, we’re going to have those storylines and maybe we’ll have a Big 3 or 4 next year going at it again.”

Cindric is now a winner with Team Penske. Can fans embrace him? Briscoe isn’t flashy, but he’s undoubtedly talented. He projects an air of that old-school mentality of calm but confident, and he’s not going to run over his competition. In all honesty, Briscoe will tell you he probably races too nice.

Auton also named Gragson, Briscoe, Cindric, and Nemechek. However, he also expressed how drivers need to move on for others to have a chance to shine or get an opportunity in good equipment. At least two seats – those belonging to Bell and Reddick – now have to be filled, and there’s always the hope that someone in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series gets their shot in the Xfinity Series.

“The proudest moment is whenever you see one of the NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers move up and win races, and that proves the job we have done with them as younger drivers and trying to get to that next level,” said Auton. “We’ve taught them a little bit of how the procedures and processes work to become one of our great heroes of this sport.

“Bill France said years ago the way you make NASCAR racing popular is you have to have heroes, and the heroes are the driver sitting in the cars. It’s great we have a lot of talent in the Xfinity garage right now, and hopefully, they’ll move up, and a seat opens up, and we get to see the next great champion come into the series.”

Bell and Reddick are going to make an impact in the Cup Series, just as they’ve been doing in their current jobs for the last few years. And now the series is in need of someone new to do the same.

The absolute worst thing to happen would be the series not having a face or faces that are both successful series regulars, and have the personality to make people care enough to watch.

More RACER
Home