With only two more races remaining to set the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 Round field, Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Kansas Speedway will play a huge role in determining who advances. And it has been an unpredictable and tough place on the Playoff drivers.
From 2016-2020 at least five of the eight Playoff drivers had some sort of big trouble in a Kansas race. Last year, Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson collided on an early-race restart and the championship-favorites finished 28th and 36th, respectively.
Three of the previous four Playoff races this year have been won by non-Playoff drivers – including John Hunter Nemechek last week at Texas Motor Speedway. The result has been tight and unpredictable Playoff standings – still led by Regular Season Champion A.J. Allmendinger; but by a mere four-points over reigning series champion Austin Cindric.
The third and fourth positions in the standings are also tightly contested. Third place Justin Allgaier holds only a four-point advantage on fourth place, his JR Motorsports teammate Gragson.
Fifth place Daniel Hemric is only two-points behind Gragson. Justin Haley is six points behind and Harrison Burton is 21 points back. Brandon Jones is 32 points out of the fourth-place transfer position, but arrives at the Kansas 1.5-miler as the only fulltime NASCAR Xfinity Series driver with a previous victory at the track – winning back-to-back races in 2019 and 2020.
Interestingly, the four drivers currently below the cutoff line bring solid credentials to Kansas. Three of the four even boast single-digit average finishes through the four Playoff races.
Hemric, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has the best average Playoff finish (3.5) of ALL the Playoff drivers – the only driver with all top-five finishes in the previous four races. He was runner-up to Nemechek last week at Texas. And Kansas has been a resume highlight. He has three top-10 finishes in four starts there and that includes two runner-up finishes (2018 and 2020).
Jones, driver of the No. 19 JGR Toyota, has an average finish of 5.75 in Playoff races this season, with a runner-up showing at Talladega, Ala. and third place at Las Vegas. He has four top-10 finishes in six Kansas starts – including those pair of trophies. And. … Jones is surely extra-motivated having just re-signed with Gibbs this week to drive another Xfinity Series season for the team in 2022.
Haley, who drives the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet, also has a perfect four top-10 finishes in four Playoff races this year for a 6.5 average finish. He also has never finished outside the top-10 at Kansas in three starts. His best work is fourth in last year’s Playoff stretch.
Allgaier (4.5) and Cindric (4.75) are the only other drivers with Playoff averages below 10. Allgaier – a two-race winner this season – has eight top-10 finishes in 11 Kansas starts. His best work is fifth place – three different times. He has three top-five finishes in the four Playoff races, including a runner-up showing at Las Vegas, but he hasn’t led a lap in the last two races.
Cindric, who joins Allmendinger with a series-best five race win total, has struggled at Kansas. The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, has only one finish better than 25th in four Kansas starts. On the upside, he was runner-up in the 2020 Spring race, leading 131 of the 175 laps. He has three top-five finishes in the 2021 Playoffs, including a runner-up at the Charlotte ROVAL, however his last win was Aug. 14 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
This will be the first Xfinity Series start for A.J. Allmendinger at Kansas since a one-off entry back in 2007 (he finished 25th). He had four top-10 finishes in 18 NASCAR Cup Series races there as well. Although a DNF at Talladega, Ala. lowered his average finish in this year’s Xfinity Series Playoffs to 13.25, he has three top-10 finishes, including a victory at the Charlotte ROVAL.
Gragson, another two-race winner in 2021, has three top-10 finishes in four Xfinity Playoff races including a best of third place at Las Vegas and last week at Texas. That’s indicative of his season at 1.5-mile tracks, where he has six top-10 finishes in eight previous races at the 1.5-milers. He is still looking for his first top-10, however, at Kansas where his best previous showing is 13th in 2019; his first Xfinity Series race at Kansas. He won there in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2018.
The No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, which has 10 victories with four different drivers (including Nemechek last week at Texas), will be back in the lineup with Ty Gibbs at Kansas. Interestingly, the 19-year old Gibbs, a three-race winner in 2021 is the highest ranked non-Playoff driver despite having only 16 starts in the 30-races to date.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!