Potential milestones are in the making for this year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series season in its resumption at Darlington Raceway in mid-May.
Through the first four races of the 2020 Xfinity season, each event has been won by non-NASCAR Cup Series regulars. The last time the exact achievement was made was in 2012, when NASCAR Truck Series contender James Buescher opened a new year by claiming an upset victory at Daytona followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. winning at Las Vegas and Elliott Sadler notching two wins at Phoenix and Bristol. The early streak ended the following week when Cup regular Joey Logano won at Auto Club.
With the series heading to Darlington, Xfinity regulars have a chance to extend the winning streak to five races, a feat last made in 1995. In that year, Chad Little won the first two races of the season at Daytona and Rockingham followed by Kenny Wallace winning at Richmond, Johnny Benson Jr. at Atlanta and David Green at Nashville.
The recent success of the Xfinity Series regulars stretches to not only the first four completed races this season, but also includes the previous two seasons. In 2018, 20 of the 33 scheduled races have been won by non-Cup competitors, which includes part-timers Ryan Preece, Chase Briscoe and John Hunter Nemechek. Last season, 28 of 33 races were won by Xfinity competitors, including AJ Allmendinger winning at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. Of the 28 events, 21 were won between championship contenders Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Christopher Bell. With all three having graduated to the Cup Series this season, it opens opportunities for their fellow competitors and new faces to shine and make a bid for this year’s championship.
It also opens one of two scheduled opportunities for a 2020 Xfinity regular to win at Darlington for the first time. Only three series regulars have won at the venue in the previous 10 seasons: Chase Elliott in 2014, Elliott Sadler in 2016 and Cole Custer in 2019.
Currently, Joe Gibbs Racing has the most victories at Darlington with 10, two from Kyle Busch and five from Denny Hamlin. JGR’s current lineup, featuring Brandon Jones and rookies Harrison Burton and Riley Herbst, aims to extend the team’s recent dominance at the historic circuit. Jones is the most recent winner of this season, having won at Phoenix, and has made four previous starts at Darlington, earning two top-10 results. Burton is the points leader and is coming off his first career win at Auto Club. He, however, will make his first start at a track where his father, Jeff, and uncle, Ward, have won a combined eight times between the Cup and Xfinity Series. Like Burton, Herbst will make his debut at Darlington. He has earned three top-10 results, including a career-best runner-up finish at Auto Club this season. Should either Burton or Herbst win, it would mark the first time an Xfinity event at Darlington was won by a newcomer since Chase Elliott did in 2014 with a last-lap pass.
Speaking of first-time winners, Darlington is no stranger in making winning aspirations come true. It has not, however, been done since 1984 when Ron Bouchard won. Other competitors to do so includes Geoffrey Bodine in 1982 and Neil Bonnett in 1983. Including Herbst, among other competitors looking for their first Xfinity career win this season, are Ryan Sieg, Justin Haley, Brandon Brown, Alex Labbe, Josh Williams, Ray Black Jr., Jesse Little, Joe Graf Jr., Daniel Hemric, Anthony Alfredo and Myatt Snider.
In addition to Harrison Burton and Brandon Jones, Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson have won a race this season and look to extend their strong start throughout the Carolinas, starting with Darlington, in an effort to contend for their first NASCAR title. Those who have won within the last three seasons but are winless in 2020 includes Austin Cindric, Ross Chastain, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett and Jeremy Clements.
In a series where names are made, this year’s Xfinity field, featuring a mix of new and familiar notables aiming to outcompete one another and emerge as future NASCAR stars, will set their sights and proceed with the competition in the sport’s return at Darlington on May 19 followed by Charlotte on May 26. The remainder of the schedule is to be determined.