The NASCAR Xfinity Series season is only two races deep, but there is an intriguing trend taking shape. Teams that formed alliances with powerhouse organizations are making a serious amount of noise, which could shake up the season.
Cole Custer, a full-time driver for Stewart-Haas Racing, put this trend on full display during the trip to Auto Club Speedway. He made a start in the No. 07 Ford Mustang for SS GreenLight Racing, the team that formed an alliance with SHR in January, and he showcased speed throughout the day.
Custer turned heads early when he posted the second-fastest time in qualifying. He joined pole-winner AJ Allmendinger on the front row and spent Stage 1 running in the top 10. He ultimately finished second behind stage-winner Trevor Bayne.
Custer improved his position even further during the second stage. He took the lead on Lap 49 and held on until the end of Stage 2. He also built up an insurmountable lead over Brandon Jones, Noah Gragson, and every other Xfinity Series driver.
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Struggles on pit road and multiple restarts had little impact on Custer’s outing. He continued to dominate during the final stage, even chasing down Gragson at one point and jumping back to the front of the pack. He continued to fend off challengers in the No. 07 Ford Mustang, and he won at his home track while shutting down bigger teams.
Big Machine Racing & RSS Racing Can Remain Consistent
The season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway provided the first look at the trend. Ryan Sieg of RSS Racing posted an eighth-place finish after forming a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing. Jade Buford of Big Machine Racing, who has an alliance with Richard Childress Racing, finished 23rd overall due to a crash. Though he posted the third-fastest qualifying time.
Sieg and Buford continued to showcase speed during qualifying at Auto Club Speedway. They both secured spots in the first eight rows and then spent the afternoon racing in the top 15. Sieg, in particular, earned stage points with an eighth-place finish in Stage 1 before ending the day eighth overall.
Unfortunately for Buford, his day came to an early end during the third stage. He lost control of the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro while battling Sheldon Creed for position on the track, and he hit the wall. Buford had to head to the infield care center after spending the majority of the final stage in the 12th position.
Neither Sieg nor Buford reached the playoffs during the 2021 Xfinity Series while battling the powerhouse organizations. There is no guarantee that they will do so in 2022, but the new alliances with SHR and RCR will help them remain more consistent throughout the season.
Driver Skill & Experience Will Continue To Play a Role
The technical alliances and other resources available will help these smaller teams as they fight for consistency. However, there is another major factor that will play a role. The driver’s skill and level of experience.
Custer and SS GreenLight Racing are fitting examples. Joe Graf Jr. took over the No. 07 Ford for the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway, and he finished 29th overall while avoiding the numerous incidents. Graf then took over the No. 38 RSS Racing Ford at Auto Club Speedway and ran inside the top 20 all afternoon.
Graf doesn’t have a significant amount of experience in the Xfinity Series. He has 66 total starts with one top-10 finish and an average of 25.5. This includes full-time seasons in 2020 and 2021. He will add more to his total in 2022 while gaining critical experience for the future, but he entered the weekend with less experience than the 2020 Cup Series rookie.
Custer, by comparison, entered the race at Auto Club Speedway with 105 career starts in the Xfinity Series and nine trips to Victory Lane. He also has 76 Cup Series starts with a win at Kentucky Speedway.
There is no denying that Custer had a dominant car. He was fast from the start, and he outran every other driver with ease. However, he also was able to rely on his multiple seasons of experience, as well as previous strong performances at the California track to secure his second win.
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