Although the first round of the NASCAR XFINITY Series playoffs went smoothly with the expected drivers transferring to the next round, it appears as though the trend will not continue without some rocky waters.
The first 37 laps at Kansas Speedway on Saturday were anything but ordinary, as proved by the drivers’ comments with Matt Tifft asking, “What was in everybody’s coffee this morning?” Spencer Gallagher put it perfectly after his tire failure, that “you get one wire crossed, and everything goes to hell,” which may spell the playoff bracket for many now.
A slip by Justin Allgaier on the first lap getting loose while battling for second took out himself, along with fellow playoff contenders Christopher Bell, Austin Cindric, and Cole Custer. Custer was the only driver who was able to continue, but that was with heavy damage and no power steering.
To put this in perspective, Bell and Allgaier each entered this round more than 25 points over the cut-off line. Their advantage is now wiped out just like that, with Bell hanging on by five as Allgaier is now below. Custer could still make up his gap to fourth, but it will take some luck – after this race, though, anything is possible. Cindric, meanwhile, is pretty much in must-win territory ranked 43 points behind.
Ultimately, as Jeff Burton and Steve LeTarte emphasized in the booth, this opened the door for somebody to take advantage and lock themselves in. No driver was able to do that, as John Hunter Nemechek scored his first career victory instead. It wasn’t a cake-walk though, as the multiple grooves of Kansas produced a thrilling battle for the lead between Nemechek and Daniel Hemric.
Ross Chastain went out and took the No. 42 car to victory lane for Chip Ganassi Racing, and now Nemechek has done the same. A lot of people have discussed Chip Ganassi wanting to have Chastain in the seat more next year virtue of his success, but could this turn the tables in Nemechek’s favor? Certainly he put together the best job audition possible.
Hemric, meanwhile, was the highest of the playoff contenders with a runner-up ahead of Elliott Sadler; the pair now rank at the top of the standings with a small cushion. The more surprising factor with these two is neither has yet to win a race this year, but don’t be surprised if they do in the next three weeks.
Hemric’s championship chances may take a hit as it will be interesting to see what NASCAR does after his car was found too low in post-race inspection. Deemed an L1 infraction in the XFINITY Series, it is worth from 10 points up to 40 points when penalties have been given this season. Currently 23 points ahead of the cut-off line, any value in the window could play a factor moving forward.
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