Names are made in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and in 2019, three drivers emerged from the up-and-coming ranks.
Champion Tyler Reddick, runner-up Cole Custer and third-place Christopher Bell – known as the “Big 3” last year – all moved up to the NASCAR Cup Series for the 2020 season. The rookies have shown they’re able to run within the top five, top 10 among the sport’s best. Custer even won at Kentucky Speedway and qualified for the playoffs.
Meanwhile, two new stars started to shine in the Xfinity Series: Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric. They finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in last season’s final standings.
“For me, that’s encouraging to see whenever you just raced against that guy last year and you know you can run with them, and they’re running with the Cup guys,” Briscoe said Tuesday during the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs Media Day. “I think it definitely was a learning experience last year for me to be at a lesser experience-wise than them and still be able to run with them. It’s a huge deal, and you get to learn from them, kind of see how they ran in the playoffs and the kind of mentality that they took.”
Briscoe and Cindric are now the top seeds with 50 bonus points apiece as the Xfinity Series embarks on its 2020 playoffs. Briscoe boasts a series-best seven wins, while Cindric follows with five victories.
Chatter about their futures has picked up, especially after Ross Chastain’s news became public. Chastain, the winless eighth playoff seed, will take over Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet for the 2021 Cup Series season.
“For me, I feel like timing-wise a move to the Cup Series would probably be the best thing for my development as a driver, understanding what it takes to position yourself longer in these races,” Cindric said. “Obviously, those cars are a lot more sensitive aero-wise, damage-wise, so I feel like I’m at the right time in my career to learn those lessons and apply them.”
Cindric is in his third full-time Xfinity Series season with seven series wins. He ran one full schedule in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series beforehand in 2017, notching a single victory.
Briscoe is in his second full-time Xfinity Series ride with nine career wins, one of which came during his first part-time season in 2018. He also spent one full-time season in the Gander Truck ranks in 2017 and won one race that year. His second Gander Truck win came in his sole 2018 start.
“The biggest thing for me is whatever I’m in – whether it’s Cup Series, Xfinity Series or Truck Series, whatever it is – I want to do it in something competitive,” Briscoe said. “I would rather win Xfinity races than go run a 25th-, 30th-place car in the Cup Series.”
Both drivers race for organizations that also have Cup Series entries. Briscoe is with Stewart-Haas Racing, which currently fields four teams, including Custer’s No. 41 Ford. Team Penske backs Cindric and owns three teams and an alliance with Wood Brothers Racing.
But Briscoe and Cindric have no connections with those teams right now at the top level. They have their own Xfinity Series crews to worry about. The No. 98 Ford of Briscoe and the No. 22 Ford of Cindric are title favorites as the playoffs begin Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the Alsco 300 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Besides, more wins and a title would only help the two Xfinity Series drivers’ case for a Cup Series gig.
“You’ve got to remember that I’ve only been racing stock cars for a short amount of time, so to reach that level would be a huge accomplishment for me in itself,” Cindric said. “But overall, I wouldn’t say it’s a distraction right now. I’ve come to peace with what my situation is and where things may or may not line up for me.”