What’s at stake for Xfinity, truck playoffs at Phoenix?


The two NASCAR Xfinity Series full-time drivers who have combined to win 35 percent of the races this year — and the only ones with more than one win this season — face a realistic chance of having incredible seasons turn sour by not having a shot to win the title on Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Christopher Bell (six wins) and Justin Allgaier (five wins) both sit on the outside looking in as they head to their elimination race Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC) at ISM (formerly Phoenix) Raceway.

“I’ve won six races this year,” said Bell, an innocent victim of an Allgaier spin to open the round at Kansas on Oct. 20 and then a victim of his own doing in a crash Saturday at Texas. “I’ve got a chance to win two more.

“I’m going to go out there and try to win races. I’ve never been a points racer, and my results show for that. I’m either up front or crashing.”

Cole Custer is the only driver who has clinched a spot in the championship in the Xfinity Series as part-time series driver John Hunter Nemechek won the elimination-round opener at Kansas. Custer’s automatic berth from the win Saturday at Texas vaulted him from 23 points behind the cutoff into the championship four.

Tyler Reddick has a 20-point edge ahead of Allgaier, who is the first driver on the outside looking in. Elliott Sadler is up by 13 points and Daniel Hemric is up by 12. Joining Allgaier (-12) on the outside currently are Matt Tifft (-14), Bell (-22) and Austin Cindric (-49).

Allgaier has had great success at Phoenix. He won there in March 2017 and was second there last March. He has top-10 finishes in his past seven starts, with six of those being top-four days.

“In this scenario, I couldn’t be going to a better race track for us as a race team, but on the flip side, we saw that [at Texas] everybody that was in the playoffs was finishing right up there to be in the top-10 in each stage and at the end of the race,” Allgaier said.

“We’ll keep doing what we do. At the end of the day, these races are as crazy as I ever remember them, and we’ll keep pushing and fighting all the way to Homestead.”

None of the drivers will know the finishes they need to control their own destiny until after the opening two stages at Phoenix. Allgaier, Tifft and Bell potentially could make up their point disadvantages, but they likely would need strong stage finishes while hoping for disaster for at least one of the drivers ahead of them. Cindric most likely will face a must-win situation after the first two stages.

While all of the four drivers who don’t advance will be disappointed, both Bell and Allgaier have had championship-type years. They are tied for the most top-5s in the series with 17. Allgaier has 23 top-10s, one behind Sadler and Custer.

But both have had six races in which they have failed to finish this year, including Bell’s two consecutive DNFs to open this round.

“Sometimes you’re going to win and sometimes you’re not going to win,” said Bell, who has fourth-place finishes in each of his two Xfinity starts at Phoenix. “The good thing that we have going for us is that we’re competitive and can fight for the win every single week.

“I love Phoenix and ran good there in the past, so I think we’ll have a really good shot at it; and if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be and I’ll have another shot next year.”

In trucks, Johnny Sauter and Justin Haley have clinched spots in the championship. They have combined for nine wins this year (Sauter with six, Haley with three). Brett Moffitt, who has four wins, has a 22-point edge on Grant Enfinger, the first driver currently behind the cutoff. Noah Gragson has an 18-point edge on Enfinger. Matt Crafton is 23 points behind Gragson.

Enfinger and Crafton need Moffitt or Gragson to either not earn much in stage points and/or have a bad day to make up the ground.

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