Three drivers made everyone else in the Xfinity Series field look bad last year. What Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Christopher Bell did by winning 21 of 33 races, in addition to their overall consistency and laps led, was a bit extraordinary. Because of it, only five other series regulars won races in 2019.
Four weeks into the new season, four different drivers have already found victory lane, including two first-time winners in Noah Gragson (Daytona) and Harrison Burton (Fontana). The top-10 finishers in all three races were comprised of names likely to appear over and over as the season progresses, as it seems a safe bet that what the series has seen so far will be indicative of the year to come. With Reddick, Custer, and Bell being brought back down to earth as rookies with a lot to learn in the NASCAR Cup Series, the Xfinity Series field can see some regularity and parity once again.
Take Burton, 19, who appears much better suited for the Xfinity Series and its vehicles than the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. Promoted to take Bell’s seat in the No. 20 Supra, Burton won in his 12th series start after failing to win for Kyle Busch in trucks. In nine NXS starts last year, Burton had five top-10 finishes, and he has begun 2020 as the only driver with four top 10s in the first four races.
Saturday afternoon, Burton followed up his win with a second-place result at Phoenix. Burton crossed the line behind teammate Brandon Jones and ahead of another teammate and Cup Series champion Kyle Busch.
For Jones, he went out and beat Busch for his second career win in the series. Jones is another driver who can break out this year. I criticized Jones last year for not performing in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment, but through the first four weeks of the season, he has run up front with cars capable of winning and has led nearly 100 laps.
Riley Herbst, 21, another Gibbs driver in keeping with this trend, finished ninth in Las Vegas, second in Fontana and 10th in Phoenix, and only has one more start than Burton in the series. Hopefully, Herbst will settle in and be given time to develop without the outside pressure of what others have done before him in the series.
Burton and Herbst made it known after Fontana they’ve heard the critics. Both have been silencing those who said they would never live up to the expectations early on.
Any driver in this year’s Xfinity Series field should feel confident about what they can accomplish. Last year was an unfortunate season for the likes of Chase Briscoe — who could have possibly won each of the first three races — and Justin Allgaier and Austin Cindric and Jones, along with all others because no matter how well they did last year, it was never going to look good enough in the shadow of the Big 3.
Allgaier finished fourth in points in 2019 with just as many top-10 finishes as Custer, which was more than Bell. The 607 laps Allgaier led were easily overlooked compared to the 2,005 Bell racked up. Briscoe and Cindric had the second- and third-best average finishes behind Reddick. Seven drivers earned 20 or more top-10 finishes last year.
Any of those statistics would have been impressive in any other season aside from the one where three drivers happened to be untouchable. Point being, expect to see those normal-looking numbers again this year with what has already proven to be a just as competitive a field.