Editor’s note: Tommy Joe Martins is a driver in the Xfinity Series. He occasionally writes blog posts about the triumphs and struggles of lesser-funded race teams in NASCAR.
By Tommy Joe Martins
In each NASCAR Xfinity Series event, you get two races in one: a race for the win and a season-long race for the top 30 in the owners point standings.
Both races matter.
On any given weekend, there are roughly 20 Cup-affiliated teams in an Xfinity Series event. Over the course of a 33-race season, those teams are basically guaranteed a top 30 position in the points. The other teams are left scrapping over the remaining 10 spots.
The importance of those spots lies in a $6,000 bonus guaranteed to any team in the top 30 that attempts every race, runs half the race and doesn’t put a Cup driver in its car.
Now, $6,000 on a single weekend doesn’t change much for a race team — but $6,000 for 33 races is close to $200,000. That’s 25 percent of a projected prize money budget for an Xfinity team.
Despite the general perception that you want to run as well as possible in any given race, the truth is where you finish in one race doesn’t matter that much from a money standpoint. The difference between 35th-place purse money and 10th-place money is usually around $2,000.
So is it really worth it to try to chase after 10th place? Think of the money it takes to run 10th against Cup teams! A full allotment of tires at Auto Club Speedway this season would have cost more than $18,000 — and the race paid an average of $23,000 through the field.
The main gain from a good finish is points. They are the most valuable currency in NASCAR.
What makes this tough to follow is points are relative to who you’re racing. It’s why my team can be excited about a 22nd-place finish while JR Motorsports can be mad at finishing 10th.
For example: I could finish 22nd and beat everyone that WE race against. A small team could be 26th in the owner’s standings — like my team, BJ McLeod Motorsports — and basically guarantee itself into every race because it’s ahead of the majority of the other smaller teams. Teams at the back of the standings find themselves in danger of missing races when the field is over 40 cars.
Owning a race team with limited funds is a balancing act. It’s a season-long grinder made up of short and long-term choices. One race weekend won’t ruin your season, but each weekend shapes course of the year.
Take MBM Motorsports, for example. They’ve had a ton of bad luck to begin this 2018 season. They’re near the bottom of the standings of the full-time teams. They’re missing the bonus each race. They just crashed a car last weekend at Texas (it wasn’t Chad Finchum’s fault, it was just a bad deal). And they’re not guaranteed into any race, so they have to qualify into each event on time (top-33) or they might go home.
That’s incredibly difficult to recover from. How do you get any extra funds needed to gain positions in the standings? You never get the bonus. Drivers who bring money want to take their funds to teams with guaranteed spots. Sponsors want teams with guaranteed spots. It’s an uphill slope.
Plus, it’s incredibly difficult to gain points on your direct competition. At Texas, the No. 8 car finished 22nd, four laps down. The No. 45 car finished seven laps down — in 24th! Three extra laps on the racetrack only gained you two extra
So the only chance you really have to gain points is when your competitors run into bad luck. A finish of 36th or worse only gets 1 point.
That said, there are two primary options when it comes to setting out the strategy for your season:
— Outspend the prize money and guarantee yourself a higher position in the points while relying on sponsorship to balance the budget.
— Budget-race as cheaply as possible while putting yourself at risk to miss races.
But at each race, that strategy can come into question.
Do you spend more money on tires to try for a better points day? No guarantees there.
Do you take money from a lesser-skilled, paying driver? It’ll help balance the budget, but could hurt your points position in the long term.
If you struggle in practice, do you start-and-park to preserve the car for another day?
If it’s a high tire wear track and there aren’t any scuff tires available, do you start-and-park to save money?
Do you risk gaining spots on a restart, or drop your driver back to preserve the car for the next race?
Upgrading your motor costs money. Upgrading your car costs money. Upgrading your personnel costs money.
And every choice is about survival.
That’s why I find the race in the midfield so compelling. Each team is doing what it has to do on any given weekend while balancing how each choice affects its position in the bigger picture of the season.
I think my team owner, BJ McLeod, has found a terrific balance between being as competitive as possible without breaking the budget. It’s the only thing that’s allowed me to have the opportunity I have to drive his race cars.
When Bayley Currey stepped into the No. 8 car at Texas and finished 22nd, that was huge a huge boost to our team. With a rookie driver in the seat, that could have been a very rough weekend. Instead, he did a fantastic job surviving a difficult race.
My role at BJMM is to win our race. So far, I feel like I’ve done my job. There are a few racetracks each season that can provide a major shakeup in the standings for small teams — superspeedways, road courses and short tracks. And the next three races on our schedule are Bristol, Richmond and Talladega.
I just received the news I’ll be in the No. 8 car for all three of them. I couldn’t be more excited to get back in the seat and keep building on what’s already been a terrific start to our season.