Although nobody was able to lock themselves into the next round at Kansas Speedway, the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs certainly experienced a shake-up with each of the contenders experiencing up-and-down days.
With just two races remaining until the Championship 4 is set, there is a lot on the line over the next two weeks.
1. Christopher Bell +49
Christopher Bell appeared to have a chance to win at Kansas Speedway after as he led 69 laps, but contact with a lap car while battling for the lead took him out of contention. He was able to rebound to finish 12th.
With only 60 points to be gained per event, it appears that a pair of solid finishes over the next two weeks would see Bell as one of the drivers to fight for the championship. However, nothing is set in stone, because if two of the drivers on the outside looking in were to win the next two races, that moves the cut-up line, with Bell currently just 12 points ahead of Tyler Reddick. Hence why winning is still his best bet to transfer.
In four races at Texas Motor Speedway, Bell has scored three finishes of sixth or better, including a runner-up last season to go with two pole positions. He also has ran strong at ISM Raceway, winning last year to go with three top-five’s and led 68 laps in the spring before crashing out.
2. Cole Custer +38
Cole Custer battled up front all day at Kansas, pacing 85 laps, before contact with Tyler Reddick resulted in him fading back to 11th at the checkered flag. He confronted his championship foe post-race, with words and shoves being traded.
Custer is in a similar position as Bell with solid finishes being the key to him transferring forward – but only if nobody below the cut-line scores a victory in the next two races. If a pair of drivers score a win, that moves up the cut-off line, and a single point separating himself and Reddick certainly makes things interesting. Likewise, winning is still his best bet to transfer.
Despite crashing out of the event at Texas in the spring, Custer finished in the top-five in his previous four starts, including out-dueling Reddick to win last season. And since placing 27th in his first trip to ISM Raceway, he has scored a top-10 in the four races since, including fourth in March.
3. Tyler Reddick +37
Tyler Reddick battled up front all day at Kansas, before coming up just short of scoring the victory with a runner-up to Brandon Jones.
It’s the same story for Reddick as those in front of him with solid finishes being the key as long as nobody below the cut-line scores a victory in the next two races. If a pair of drivers below were to win, then Reddick would currently be outside of the Championship 4 by a single point.
Considering his most recent confrontation with Custer, it’s apparent they will race each other hard moving forward. But as the defending series champion stated at Kansas, the focus needs to be on doing well the next two weeks and winning as he deserves a chance to defend based on his season to date.
After failing to score a top-20 in his first two trips to Texas, he scored a runner-up in his last two appearances. He also finished in the top-10 in his last three races at ISM Raceway, including a third in March.
4. Justin Allgaier +2
Justin Allgaier avoided all the drama at Kansas Speedway, steadily making up ground throughout the event to finish fifth. It seems to be the story of the season for JR Motorsports driver, with consistency keeping his championship hopes alive.
The only concerning factor is he has yet to win a race this season, and a victory may be what he needs if he wants to have another chance to win the title. Now that isn’t to say he has not come close, as there have been some big disappointments in 2019.
He has had a mix of results at Texas, with just three top-10’s in his last seven races, including a fifth last season. Despite placing outside of the top-10 in his last two appearances at ISM Raceway, he scored seven straight top-10 finishes before then, including a victory in 2017; he has also led 145 laps in the last three events.
5. Chase Briscoe -2
Chase Briscoe is putting himself in the discussion for the championship by showing that he can run up front with the contenders. He was battling for the lead with Bell at Kansas when they made contact with a lap car. Despite needing to put a new rear tail on the No. 98 Ford, Briscoe battled back to finish fifth.
Continuing to fight for wins is what Briscoe needs to do if he wants to be part of the conversation. He could possibly beat Allgaier on points, however needs to also consider locking himself in via a victory, in case one of the drivers behind him in the standings scores a win first.
He has finished 11th and fourth in his pair of appearances at Texas, while placing sixth at ISM Raceway in March.
6. Michael Annett -12
Running in the teens most of the afternoon, crew chief Travis Mack made the strategy call to leave Michael Annett out on old tires while the rest of the leaders pitted, followed by taking fresh rubber on a later caution. Annett almost made the decision work out in his favor, driving his way to the front and battling for the lead, but ultimately finished fourth after a couple late cautions slowed his charge.
Considering Annett has been just an average consistent driver through his career, it may take a strategy call of that nature by Mack to get his driver into the Championship 4. Certainly solid finishes could beat Allgaier and Briscoe to transfer, but banking on that does not seem plausible based on the recent performance by both.
After going six consecutive races at Texas without a top-10 finish, Annett placed sixth in the spring event. Likewise, he went three events at ISM Raceway without a top-10 before finishing eighth in March.
7. Noah Gragson -17
Noah Gragson would get into the wall on two separate occasions, resulting in flat tires and unscheduled pit stops for the No. 9 Chevrolet. As a result, he would cross the finish line scored 13th despite running inside the top-five at one point.
As noted following the event, Gragson stated he wanted to be more aggressive than before, but ultimately that backfired as he lost valuable ground he could not afford to lose already. He will need to find the balance being fighting hard and staying out of trouble if he wants to keep his championship hopes alive, as certainly it seems a win will need to be his way to transfer – unless those ahead of him cross the line of no return.
He was 13th at Texas in the spring, along with an 11th-place finish at ISM Raceway in March.
8. Austin Cindric -30
Cindric appeared to be over aggressive in his approach at Kansas Speedway, making contact with a pair of drivers that resulted in a flat tire, damage to his No. 22 Ford and unscheduled trips down pit road. As a result, he finished 25th and has put himself in an early hole in the Round of 8.
Cindric’s focus the next two weeks needs to be solely on winning, but not being over aggressive that he shoots himself in the foot as he did at Kansas. There is still a mathematical chance to transfer without a victory, but that would only happen if the four drivers ahead of him ran into significant issues the next two weeks.
He has two top-10’s in three appearances at Texas including a third last season, along with a fourth and a fifth in his last two starts at ISM Raceway.
All Images Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography
EMAIL ASHLEY AT firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.