With two of the three races now complete in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs Round of 8, the battle for the final spot in the Championship 4 is closer than ever.
The top three spots are taken by JR Motorsports drivers Elliott Sadler, William Byron, and Justin Allgaier. As long as they each have solid performances at Phoenix International Raceway next week, they will move on to the Championship 4, with each being 20 or more points ahead of fifth.
Entering his second season with Chip Ganassi Racing, Poole has been solid throughout the year and now finds himself five points ahead of Matt Tifft for the final transfer position. Consistency has treated him well so far, with finishes of 12th (Kansas Speedway) and seventh (Texas Motor Speedway) treating him well.
Tifft has been right there with Poole in this round, though, posting a pair of eighth-place finishes as he embarks on his first full XFINITY Series campaign. Notably, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver experienced issues on pit road at Texas, having to begin the final stage at the tail of the longest line for his crew jumping over the wall too soon.
The finishes haven’t been as high for Cole Custer and Hemric, though. Custer finished 19th at Kansas, before fighting back from an unscheduled pit stop and a flat tire in stage one at Texas to place fifth. Hemric was 18th last weekend, and started off his trip to the lone star state on a sour note with a wreck in practice; he battled hard throughout the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, coming back from an issue with the gun on pit road at the end of stage two to finish 14th. With their struggles, the pair now sits 13 and 18 points back, respectively.
Ryan Reed is the last man in the round, currently 33 markers back due to a 10th at Kansas, and early contact with the wall resulting in a 23rd-place finish at Texas. Essentially, it’s win or bust for him entering Phoenix.
So who is most likely to transfer?
Recall a win triumphs points any day, as well, and one of these drivers could score their first career series victory while punching their Homestead-Miami ticket.
If a win is out the picture, the upper-hand automatically goes to the pair with the least to gain to move on, which would be Poole and Tifft. Both are driving for top-notch teams in the series that have won races this year, with Poole having the better finish at Phoenix in the spring with an eighth.
However, like Tifft said post-race at Texas, it will be critical for both to have clean afternoons, so they don’t lose valuable track position.
“We’re bringing the speed, we just have to have a no mistake weekend in Phoenix,” he said. “We did our job tonight, we just need to get a few spots better at the end, and that’s all we can do.”
On the flip side, Hemric and Custer were both considered favorites to make the Championship 4 entering the playoffs due to being consistent through the regular season. Over the course of 2017, Custer has posted the third-highest amount of top-10’s with 17. If you are looking for a driver who can put up the numbers when they count, these are two drivers to watch.
It could be any of these four making it through – or perhaps more than one if any of the JR Motorsports trio slips up.
Now going to the desert, there are two things for sure – every single point in the stages will matter, and it’s going to be a battle right until the checkered flag falls in the Ticket Galaxy 200.
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