A heated discussion on the Kansas pit road following the last NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff race between championship contenders Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer illustrated the high intensity level among competitors with only two races left to decide which four drivers will advance to the Championship 4 and compete for the season trophy.
Custer returns to Texas Motor Speedway as defending winner of Saturday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 (8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – ironically beating Reddick to the checkered flag by a mere .162-seconds. It was the third closest finish in the race’s history on the 1.5-mile Texas high banks and there’s plenty of reason to expect that kind of close racing and high emotion again this weekend.
Seven-time winner Christopher Bell leads the championship standings by 11 points over fellow seven-race winner Cole Custer. The defending series champion Tyler Reddick is 12 points behind Bell – the group of super talented youngsters continuing to live up to the “Big 3” designation they earned early in the season.
These three drivers have combined to win 19 of the 30 races to date. Bell has led nearly double the laps (1,775) of anyone else in the field. Custer is next with 903 laps out front. And Reddick leads all drivers in top-five (22) and top-10 (25) finishes.
Custer is the only former Texas winner among the Xfinity championship field this week and prior to his trophy performance last November, Erik Jones 2015 win marked the last time a fulltime Xfinity driver scored the victory at Texas.
While there remains pride and competitive messaging to compete for among the Big 3, the points standings are plenty close for that fourth transfer position into the Championship 4 Round. Veteran Justin Allgaier currently sits fourth, but with only a two-point edge on fifth place Chase Briscoe, a 10-point advantage on sixth place Michael Annett and a 17-point edge on rookie Noah Gragson.
Austin Cindric, who was involved in an accident at the Kansas race that opened this three-race round, sits 30 points behind Allgaier in that fourth place transfer position. But Cindric finished third – just behind Custer and Reddick – in this race last year and brings plenty of confidence that he can either win the race or make significant ground on Allgaier.
In fact, the last two races at Texas have featured many of these Playoff drivers. Reddick was runner-up to Cup regular Kyle Busch in March. Bell and Briscoe finished third and fourth place. Annett was sixth.
In this race last November, Custer and Reddick finished 1-2, Cindric was third and Allgaier was fifth.
“We did our job at Kansas with a fourth-place finish,” said Annett, driver of the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. “We’ve been great on 1.5-mile tracks this year and Texas is the last one we’ll see before Homestead. We have to be in contention again late in the race, score as many stage points as we can to have a chance at running for a championship. That’s what we’re going to do this weekend at Texas.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!