Absence of veterans doesn’t hurt Dash 4 Cash competition

BRISTOL, TN - APRIL 21: Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 Cheney Brothers/Southern Foods Chevrolet, drives during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 21, 2017 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

BRISTOL, Tenn. — A difference in format and a ban on five-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veterans may have changed the tenor of the Dash 4 Cash races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, but it hasn’t diminished the quality of competition in the eyes of the drivers.

This year, eligibility for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonuses is determined during the first two stages of a race, rather than through separate heat races. And though Cup drivers with five-year full-time tenures aren’t allowed to compete, there are plenty of talented drivers with less than five years of Cup experience eager to fill the top-quality rides.

“You put Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon – they’re still equally as good, in my opinion,” said JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier, one of the top Xfinity regulars competing for the Dash 4 Cash bonus. “Anybody that gets in the 18, 19 or 20 (Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas) has been great. They’ve kind of been able to plug-and-play drivers.

“The 42 car has been lights-out, with Tyler (Reddick) in it or Kyle (Larson) in it. I think the caliber of drivers in the Xfinity Series right now is as good as I’ve ever seen it in a long time. For me personally, yeah, it does change the feel of the weekend, but I think you’re not changing the competitiveness of it.”

Michael Annett, Allgaier’s teammate, agreed wholeheartedly.

“I think the parity this year is closer than it’s ever been between the guys racing on Sunday and racing on Saturday as well,” Annett said. “We’ve already seen it – Ryan (Reed) winning Daytona, Justin winning Phoenix, five top 10s for Bubba (Darrell Wallace Jr.).”

Allgaier won both the Phoenix race and the first Dash 4 Cash bonus in March. He’ll try for two in a row in Saturday’s Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol. Should any driver win all four Dash 4 Cash bonuses, he would also get an additional $600,000 to bring the total bonus money to $1 million.

SHORT STROKES

Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Erik Jones was fastest in opening Monster Energy Cup Series practice with a lap at 127.843 mph… Series leader Kyle Larson, who will start from the pole because of a qualifying rainout, ran 72 laps in the session, more than any other driver… Both Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano scraped the outside wall during practice, but the damage to their respective cars was cosmetic… Chase Elliott spun off Turn 4 and slid sideways down the frontstretch but avoided contact with the walls.

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