By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – What a difference a year makes.
The 2018 edition of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener was a barn burner all the way to the end, lasting through five overtime periods and culminating with a photo finish between JR Motorsports teammates Tyler Reddick and Elliott Sadler. Not to mention there had never been a closer finish in series history – EVER.
On Saturday afternoon, we got a race on the opposite side of the spectrum that featured single file racing pretty much throughout the duration, except for the few rare instances at stage breaks and in the final yards headed to the finish that drivers decided to mix it up.
The race marked a continuation of the disappointing racing we have seen thus far in Speedweeks, from last Sunday’s Clash to the Duels on Thursday. Only Friday night’s Truck race featured exciting racing from start to finish, even with all the carnage that it entailed.
After the checkered flag flew in the Xfinity race, drivers both in the race and those on the outside looking in didn’t have an answer for the lackluster race, but some definitely tried to find some sort of explanation for it.
“I don’t know what’s going on with the high line becoming so clearly dominant,” said Dale Earnhardt, Jr., owner of Michael Annett’s winning car and holder of 17 restrictor plate wins at Daytona and Talladega. “To listen to the drivers and to watch what happened today in the race, it doesn’t seem like it’s entirely by choice that they all ride up there. It’s by necessity.
“The Xfinity cars and Cup cars are not entirely similar and they both react the same way and did the same thing and raced the same way, right? The drag numbers aren’t the same. The power ain’t the same. The drivers aren’t the same, but they look the same and ran the same and had the same similar race that we’ve seen all weekend.
“We’ll go to Talladega with a completely different package and hope it’s different.”
Runner-up Justin Allgaier found himself swept up in one of the many late race crashes last year and was able to push his teammate to the win this go around, but still couldn’t put his finger on why Saturday’s race was the way it was.
“I wish I had a good answer,” he said. “When we practiced yesterday, I was actually pretty confident that the bottom line was going to be the place to be. We talked about it before the race. Tab Boyd, my spotter, and I talked a lot about it before the race. We really expected the bottom lane to be the lane to go in and I thought that was going to be the preferred lane.
“That’s where we were generating good runs in practice and then the race started and Jeffrey (Earnhardt) moved up and we just kind of all filed up there and got in line behind him. I don’t know what caused that.
“We’ve been sitting here watching some of the Cup stuff and obviously the Cup cars are handling a bit differently that our cars our and they kind of need to get up there. I think everybody on the Xfinity side was really surprised that it moved up so quickly and that we ran there so long. Chase (Elliott) and I worked really hard on it early in the race. I was trying it and he’d let me in and he’d try it and I’d let him in. Just trying to get something figured out where we could make those runs and for whatever reason today we just couldn’t make it.
“It’s disappointing from a fact that we want to put on the best race that we can, but on the flip side of it, we didn’t do anything that we would ever be able to explain and why it did what it did. There wasn’t enough of a change for us to say this is what happened and this is why we’re all doing it.”
Needless to say, drivers, teams, engineers, the sanctioning body, and everyone else involved are kind of stumped at the moment. Hopefully by the time we reach Talladega in the spring or return to Daytona in July, we’ll see a different end result that’s not sleep inducing.