This weekend is not only the Championship Weekend for the NASCAR Cup Series, but it is also the Championship weekend for the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Logic would say that Championsips in the lower series would matter greatly in who gets the top Cup Series rides for 2024. However, is that actually the case?
How Lower Series Champions Have Performed in the Cup Series
As far as how lower series Champions have performed when they got their opportunity in the Cup Series, it’s safe to say that it’s been a mixed bag. There are plenty of Xfinity Series drivers who have won Championships that have gone on to great Cup Series careers such as Bobby Labonte (1991), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1998, 1999), Kevin Harvick (2001), Greg Biffle (2002), Martin Truex Jr. (2004 and 2005), Chase Elliott (2014), Chris Buescher (2015), William Byron (2017), and Tyler Reddick (2018-2019).
However, not every driver has that fate. Some Xfinity Series Champions go on to have okay or not-great Cup Series careers such as Jeff Green (2000), Brian Vickers (2003), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2011 and 2012), Austin Dillon (2013) Daniel Suarez (2016), and Daniel Hemric (2021).
The Truck Series is the same way. There have been top-level talents like Christopher Bell (2017) and Greg Biffle (2000), but there are also some drivers who are either Truck Series lifers or went on to have less-than-stellar Cup Series careers. A lower-tier series Championship does not automatically equate to success at the higher levels.
The Current Championship Format
The current Championship format is criticized by fans for not rewarding drivers who perform well throughout the entire season. Rather, it rewards drivers that win at certain times of the year. Now, there is a double-edged sword when it comes to evaluating prospective talent.
On one hand, this is the exact same format as the Cup Series, except there are fewer drivers. As a result, drivers in the lower series are learning how to handle elimination races, the pressure of the Playoffs, and winning when it counts. All of these are qualities a modern Cup Series driver needs to win a Championship.
On the other hand, drivers that race well throughout an entire season in the lower series may not end up as high in the points at the season’s end as some would think. William Byron losing the 2016 Truck Series Championship is an example of this. Daniel Hemric’s 2021 Xfinity Series Championship is an example of the opposite occurring where a driver wins the Championship despite not winning a race prior to the Championship race.
Thankfully, losing that Truck Series Championship was not a death sentence to Byron’s career. Coincidentally, Hemric did not make the jump to Cup immediately after winning his Championship. As a matter of fact, he had to switch teams to Kaulig before finally signing a Cup Series deal for 2024.
How Much Does a Championship REALLY Matter?
A Championship is not everything for an Xfinity or Truck Series driver with Cup Series aspirations. However, drivers who run well throughout the season will get rewarded for their performances as is evidenced by drivers like William Byron. However, drivers who run well throughout the season, tend to end up in Championship contention anyway.
Carson Hocevar and Zane Smith are both going to the Cup Series next year, and they are both in the Truck Series Championship 4. John Hunter Nemechek is going into the Cup Series next year, and he is in the Xfinity Series Championship 4. It comes down to performance, and good performance usually means Championship runs.