This weekend may be the last Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the 2017 regular season, but the NASCAR XFINITY Series race on Friday night will be their penultimate event. They close out their regular season next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. With that being said, there’s plenty of storylines surrounding Friday’s Virginia529 College Savings 250 (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN). Here are the top five.
Kyle Busch’s Last XFINITY Series Start Of 2017
This weekend’s race will be the final time that Kyle Busch will race in a NASCAR sanctioned event other than the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Due to the 2017 rules, Cup drivers can only compete in 10 NASCAR XFINITY Series races and seven Camping World NASCAR Truck Series event.
Busch, has raced in all seven of his eligible Truck stats, as he won three of them. His finishes were 26th, first, first, sixth, 25th, third and first respectively.
This weekend will be his 10th and final XFINITY Series start, as Busch is trying to go out with another win too.
Busch, is the series’ all-time winningest driver and defending Richmond Fall race winner. He has 91 career XFINITY Series wins and returns to Richmond looking to tie Kevin Harvick (seven victories) for the series-most wins at the track. In 21 career series starts at Richmond, Busch has posted six wins (2016 fall, 2014 fall, 2011 fall, 2009 spring, 2007 fall and 2004 spring), 15 top fives, 18 top 10s and an average finish of 5.5. Three of his six wins came from the pole too. Also, he hasn’t finished worse than fourth in his last seven series starts at Richmond.
So, there’s a good chance that Busch will take his No. 18 Toyota to victory lane on Friday night.
Busch, has also won five of his nine starts in the series this year and has finishes of third, fifth, seventh and 12th in the other four events.
So, for those of you that don’t like to see Busch dominate the feeder series races, this is the last weekend in 2017 you will see it.
Several Cup Stars Make Up Friday Night’s Field
The sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and five other Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competitors – Paul Menard, Ty Dillon, Reed Sorenson, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski – will be pulling double duty this weekend at Richmond Raceway in the Virginia529 College Savings 250.
Earnhardt Jr. has been quite successful at Richmond in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. In six series career starts, he has four wins (2016 spring, ’02 fall, ’99 fall and ’98 fall), five top fives and an average finish of 6.3. Among drivers with multiple series wins at Richmond, Earnhardt Jr. has the highest winning percentage at 66.7%; followed by Harry Gant with a 36.4% winning percentage after winning four races in 11 starts at Richmond. Earnhardt will be driving the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet with crew chief Scott Radel.
But, he will have to contend with Busch who will arguably be the odds on favorite.
Keselowski is also a former Richmond Raceway winner who will be pulling double duty this weekend too. He has made 16 starts at Richmond posting three wins (2013 sweep, 2010 Spring), eight top fives and nine top 10s.
Sadler Can Clinch Regular Season Title At Homestate Track
Just like the Cup Series, the XFINITY Series can see their regular season champion crowned in the penultimate event of the regular season. Sadler, from Emporia, Virginia, returns to his home state hoping to not only get his first win of the 2017 season, but also lock up the NASCAR XFINITY Series Regular Season championship this Friday too. In order to clinch the regular season title, Sadler will need a 61-point lead over second-place in the driver standings following Richmond. He is currently 91 points ahead of second.
The NASCAR XFINITY Series Regular Season championship is more than just an accomplishment with a title, it also comes with 15 playoff points; which equals three wins’ worth of playoff points to take to the postseason.
Though Sadler has yet to win in 2017, he has been a dominant competitor on the track. Not only has he posted the series-most in top fives (9) and top 10s (17), but he has also been the points leader following every race but two this season.
Sadler is not only looking for his first win of the season, but also his first win of his career at Richmond Raceway. In 28 series career starts at Richmond, he has posted four top fives, 13 top 10s and an average finish of 13.8. He finished seventh in the spring race earlier this season.
JR Motorsport’s Michael Annett and Richard Childress Racing’s Brendan Gaughan have no room for mistakes in the next two races as JGL Racing’s Dakoda Armstrong is within striking distance of knocking one of two from the Playoffs in the upcoming final two races of the regular season (Richmond and Chicago).
Armstrong is currently 13th in the series driver standings, the first spot outside the Playoffs, a mere 23 points back from Michael Annett and just 20 points behind Brendan Gaughan in the final postseason spot heading into this weekend’s race.
Armstrong has made seven series starts at Richmond, recording one top 10. Richmond is one of Armstrong’s better tracks and battling for the final Playoff spot could get interesting this weekend as all three drivers have fairly similar average finishes at RIR – Annett (16.6), Armstrong (16.8) and Gaughan (18.0).
Michael Annett (0 Wins, 490 Points, +216 Points Ahead of 21st) – Annett can clinch a spot in the playoffs with a win. He can also clinch on points with a repeat winner and help. Annett has made 10 series starts at Richmond posting one top five, three top 10s and an average finish of 16.6.
Brendan Gaughan (0 Wins, 487 Points, +213 Points Ahead of 21st) – Gaughan can only clinch a spot in the playoffs this weekend with a win. Gaughan has made 11 series starts at Richmond posting two top 10s and an average finish of 18.0.
Flange Fit Bodies
For the first time ever, the XFINITY Series will debut the new flange fit body styles. To the naked eye, you won’t notice a difference, but the cars will be built in panels and fit together with flange pieces instead of one big chassis. This is to bring costs down and to help alleviate manipulating the cars.
Teams in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series have used the Five Star composite bodies since 2015, providing a time for competition officials to learn the ins and outs of the body style before elevating them to a NASCAR national series. That evolution raises the question of whether composite bodies are in the development pipeline for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
This is a first test in the right direction and we will get to see how these cars race on Friday night.
There is also a competitive incentive for using these cars too. The steel-body cars will be 150 pounds heavier than their composite-bodied counterparts and they will also race without the aero benefit of a radiator pan.
Savings in time and cost come with the design. Instead of a steel body welded onto the chassis, parts lock and bolt on, making it far easier to replace damaged panels. Today’s crash in practice that might be an automatic decision to unload a backup car could become tomorrow’s repair or replacement for an individual panel, a process that could lead teams to keep fewer cars in stock. Furthermore, the process to hang a composite body will take far less time — an estimated two days versus the nearly two weeks to form, shape and weld the current steel-body style.
A closer inspection reveals a built-in anti-tampering detail, a raised honeycomb pattern on the surface of panels in the most aero-sensitive areas. If a team tries to sand or otherwise massage the aerodynamics, blemishes to the pattern will reveal the infractions.