After 26 weeks of thrilling racing action capped off by a side-by-side photo finish for the Regular Season Championship – the 12-driver NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff field has been set and the title run begins this week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
A.J. Allmendinger took the Bristol, Tenn. victory sideways last week over defending series champion Austin Cindric to earn the regular season title and a 15-point bonus. However, the two drivers enter Saturday night’s Playoff opener at Las Vegas tied in points but Cindric owns the tie breaker because of his five wins compared to Allmendinger’s four in the reseeded Playoff standings.
It all sets up for a dramatic Alsco Uniforms 302 this Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) to begin the seven-race Playoff run.
Justin Allgaier (two wins), Noah Gragson (two wins), Justin Haley (one win), Daniel Hemric, Jeb Burton (one win), Harrison Burton, Myatt Snider (one win), Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements round out the Xfinity Series Playoff field.
Allmendinger won the March race at Las Vegas by a .987-second margin over Hemric, who finished third in the Vegas Playoff race last Fall. Allmendinger is the only previous Las Vegas winner in the field. The track has had 20 different winners in 28 races, making it one of the more unpredictable venues of this important stretch of the season.
The victory in the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet for Allmendinger this Spring came in his first Xfinity Series start at the track. It is indicative of the 39-year old’s recent run in the schedule. He has finished first or second in five of the last seven races, including wins at Bristol and Michigan.
Cindric has a similarly solid resume at Las Vegas earning top-10 finishes in four of his seven starts, although he is still vying for his first victory in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford on the 1.5-mile high banks.
He comes into the Playoff opener looking to reclaim the consistency that has made him one of the sport’s most promising young drivers. His 723 laps led is easily the most in the series this year. In the past five races, he’s had three top-five finishes, but two others 30th or worse.
At the other tracks in this Playoff round, he has three top-five finishes – including a runner-up showing this Spring – at Talladega, Ala. and a pair of top-five finishes at the Charlotte ROVAL – this round’s elimination race.
“Any competitor, especially when you’re racing at the highest level trying to win races, trying to win championships, any competitor you want those guys to push you and I certainly feel like those two groups (Allmendinger and also rookie Ty Gibbs) in particular, have pushed us,” Cindric said.
One of the hottest drivers heading into the Playoffs is Las Vegas native Noah Gragson, who has won two of the last three races and has six top-10 finishes in the last seven races on the schedule.
Although the driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet has never won at his “home” track, he finished runner-up to Chase Briscoe in last year’s Playoff race and boasts a perfect 5-for-5 in top-10 finishes. Four times Gragson’s finished inside the top-five at Vegas.
Veterans Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric also bring solid Vegas resumes to the weekend.
Allgaier has 11 top-10 finishes in 14 starts at the track with a pair of runner-up finishes in the Fall race (2011 and 2018). He’s finished top-10 in eight of the last nine races heading into the Playoffs – including three top-five efforts in the last four races.
Hemric, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, was runner-up to Allmendinger in March and led a race high 74 laps. He was third in last year’s Playoff race at Las Vegas. He comes into town looking to regain some consistency. with three top-10 efforts in the last five races, but also two finishes or 20th or worse.
Among those five Playoff drivers still looking for a first trip to Victory Lane in 2021, Harrison Burton has to feel optimistic in Las Vegas, where the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has three top-10 finishes in three starts. He has been solid in the last two months with top-10 finishes in the last eight races, including a best of runner-up at Darlington, S.C. three races ago.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!