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XFINITY

Road America Shakes-Up Playoff Picture

Heading into Sunday’s Johnsonville 180, the XFINITY Series playoff field looked set heading into the final four races of the regular season.

Ross Chastain, who was 13th, sat 43 points outside the cutoff, meaning it would probably take a win for him or anybody behind him in the standings to break in. With the big name teams that contend for wins on a weekly basis were either already in the top-12 or not eligible, it seemed doubtful.

However, after a wild race in Wisconsin, Jeremy Clements shocked the racing world, coming home with the upset win and shaking up the playoff grid.

While Clements’ win isn’t what Dakoda Armstrong and Brendan Gaughan wanted to see, it’s what this series needed. Let’s face it, who cared about the bottom half of the playoff picture before Road America? With a close point battle in the Camping World Truck Series and plenty of drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series that can still win and get in, there was not a lot of reason to pay attention to the cutoff in XFINITY before. That is no longer the case.

Now looking at the grid, the 10th seed sits only 26 points ahead of 13th, meaning one mistake could be all it takes to go from a chance at a championship, to no opportunity at all, which is why this format exists. None of this where the field is set weeks before the cutoff. But instead, close battles in the standings that leave us wondering who’s in and out all the way till the checkered flag at Chicagoland, which generates buzz and intrigue heading into the next three races.

Not to mention the stories to watch for with the drivers on the bubble with Blake Koch and Kaulig Racing looking to better their impressive playoff run from last year, Michael Annett trying to make the most of an opportunity with JR Motorsports, and the veteran Gaughan who wants to prove he’s still got it. There’s also Armstrong attempting to make a statement with the underdog team of JGL Racing, who has gone under the radar despite being in the playoff picture.

This series is all about advertising how “names are made here,” which is what this new shakeup captures perfectly. Four drivers that will have to put together three perfect races to prove that they belong, and that’s if another unexpected winner doesn’t come along to mix it up again.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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.

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XFINITY

Road Courses, Stage Racing Creating Drama Ahead of XFINITY Playoffs

When the calendar shifts to August, the NASCAR XFINITY Series begins to turn left and right.

The road to the Playoffs runs through Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, and Road America, and creates some of the most intense and exciting competition throughout the year.

While the abundance of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars at Watkins Glen took away from some chances that series regulars had to score big on the road course, Mid-Ohio delivered.

Not only did the absence of veteran racers allow series regulars to excel, but stage racing provided a new avenue to collect crucial points throughout each event.

Blake Koch earned the victory in Stage 1 at Mid-Ohio, capturing his second playoff point of 2017. Brennan Poole and Brendan Gaughan closely contested Koch for the stage win but ultimately settled for second and third respectively. 

Poole is fourth in the standings and has yet to collect a playoff point while Gaughan is in 11th with one point.

Gaughan is currently in a defensive position, protecting his post-season spot which makes every championship point matter and puts playoff points on the back burner. 

Poole is essentially locked into the final seven races and can now focus on accumulating bonus points.

The final road course event of the month at Road America will provide him that opportunity.

Other drivers looking to take advantage of this chance with Poole are Cole Custer, Matt Tifft, and Dakoda Armstrong as they seem to be in a position to compete for the championship but have yet to earn playoff points.  

The Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin venue will provide the chance to implement a different strategy through stage racing with hopes of earning those crucial points.

In the first year of the XFINITY Series Playoffs, every point mattered as eliminations came down to single digits. This makes collecting bonus points critical in the regular season, and Road America will provide one of best opportunities before Kentucky, making the event much more meaningful.

Placing all three road courses in one month and ahead of the post-season has created additional drama. Now with stage racing adding a whole new element, August has already produced captivating competition, and that should continue through Road America.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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.

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XFINITY

XFINITY SERIES: Five on Five

The Five on Five feature will break down some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here is a peek at Pocono through Kentucky.

Willy B Plays Party Spoiler

While Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers dominated events six through 10, they weren’t able to take home the trophy in each event from June through July.

Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski finally got their No. 22 entry in victory lane at Pocono Raceway after their primary entry failed to score a win for a year and a half. Denny Hamlin then scored Joe Gibbs Racing’s fourth win of 2017 at Michigan.

The last two events of the stretch were won by XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year Contender William Byron, as he led 78 of 250 laps at Iowa Speedway for his first career triumph, followed by winning at Daytona. Joe Gibbs Racing then returned to victory lane with Kyle Busch at Kentucky Speedway.

Although Cup drivers continue racking up wins, the trend of series regulars scoring victories should continue as there are some more upcoming stand-alone events, including another trip to Iowa Speedway and a pair of road courses.

JRM Remains at the Top

16 events completed this season, and the top of the standings hasn’t shifted much as JR Motorsports continues to take up the top three positions, as they have since the third race of 2017.

Elliott Sadler has led since the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, but now has a new teammate behind him with William Byron second, 45 points behind. Justin Allgaier has now fallen to third, 58 markers back of Sadler.

Their strength shows in the number, with Byron posting the best average finish through June at 4.6 following three podium finishes, while Sadler posted the second highest at 5.8 with just one finish outside the top-eight. Allgaier was the best of the bunch in the last segment but had the fifth-best average this time around at 13 after being involved in a wreck at Daytona.

JR Motorsports’ fourth entry has yet to make much headway with Michael Annett currently sitting 10th in points. While he posted a sixth-place finish at Iowa Speedway, he has also finished outside of the top-30 in two of the last four events.

Chase Bubble Watch

As the series nears closer to the 26th race of the season at Chicagoland Speedway – the last event before the XFINITY Series Chase, eyes will be watching the 12th position in points a lot closer to see who will qualify.

Currently, victories for Byron, Allgaier and Ryan Reed have them locked in. Based on the gap between them and 13th, you could also add Sadler, Daniel HemricBrennan Poole, Cole Custer and Matt Tifft to the winners above.

Darrell Wallace Jr. is sitting 11th in points with a 43 point cushion over Brendan Gaughan in 13th, but no ride will see him fall through the standings dramatically. As a result, Gaughan is currently theoretically the last driver in position to qualify with eight races to go.

Dakoda Armstrong appears to be pretty safe with a gap of 66 points over Ryan Sieg, following a pair of top-fives over this most recent stretch. Annett’s struggles as mentioned above currently have him 62 markers ahead of Sieg.

Blake Koch was bound to put himself in a position to lock in, but only one top-10 in the last five races have dropped him to 12th in the standings, just 28 markers ahead of Sieg. Gaughan is currently the last driver set to qualify, but only by six points ahead of Sieg. Continuing to post top-10’s will help him, as he has posted a pair in the last five events.

Competing with one of the smaller teams in the series, Sieg caught everyone’s attention with a runner-up at Iowa Speedway. A couple more strong performances like that, and he could close the gap to get into the top 12.

J.J. Yeley currently sits 15th in the standings, 17 markers behind Gaughan. His team has struggled so far this year with no top-10’s posted.

Amazing Armstrong

While JR Motorsports has continually stolen the highlights, Armstrong is putting his name out there.

Over this most recent stretch, Armstrong has run up front, posting a pair of top-five finishes. The fifth-place finish at Iowa Speedway did not come without adversity, as he had to start at the back due to suffering a flat tire in qualifying.

This season marks his fourth season of racing in NASCAR’s second-tier division and could become a career-best if the success continues. Previously, his highest points finish was 12th in 2015, and this year marks the first time he has scored more than one top-five.

 Needs a Good Run

After starting off the season strong, Daniel Hemric has not had the best of luck the past couple of weeks.

The Richard Childress Racing driver started the season with two top-fives, and four top-10’s in the first 10 races. However, in the past five, he was only able to score a two top-10’s.

Hemric has run up front each week, but incidents on-track have resulted in the box score not matching the performance. With the races counting down to the Chase, it will be critical for Hemric to shake off the bad luck so he can mount a championship charge.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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.

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XFINITY

Armstrong Ties Career-Best In Iowa

It was a night of unexpected results this past Saturday at Iowa, with the entire top-five all earning their best career finish. One of those was JGL Racing’s Dakoda Armstrong, whose fifth-place performance may prove to be more than just a good night when looking at the big picture.

The 250-lap race turned out to be an up and down night for the 25-year-old, which included starting from the rear after a season-high qualifying effort.

“We actually had a really fast Winfield United Toyota all night; we qualified seventh. We had flat left rear going into the race and had to start at the rear,” Armstrong said post-race. “So, we were playing the strategy game right from the beginning.”

Well, the decision to stay out did manage to earn him a point in Stage 2, the team struggled to get back to the front. However, when a late caution allowed Armstrong to finally the track position late, he took full advantage.

“The car I thought was actually a top-10 car all night; we just couldn’t get the track position,” Armstrong said. “We got it there at the end but, we actually didn’t have new tires, we had 20 lap scuffs. If we would’ve had new tires, I thought we had a good enough car to finish second but still a great job by the guys to recover from all that and get a good top-five. Good points day for us.”

The points gained may be an understatement for the Indiana-native, who now sits 11th in the standings. His first top-five of 2017 allowed him to increase his gap over Brendan Gaughan, who sits 14th, to 27 points. With Darrell Wallace Jr no longer competing full-time in the XFINITY Series, Gaughan will eventually become one of the drivers Armstrong has to worry about if he wants to make the playoffs.

While the playoffs are off into the future, this race may prove huge to him. With how consistent this team has been (only finishing outside the top-20 twice this season), this top-five may prove the difference maker that allows Armstrong and JGL Racing a chance to compete for their first title come September.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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.

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XFINITY

Armstrong Returns to JGL Racing

Following a solid season for JGL Racing, the organization confirmed on Thursday that Dakoda Armstrong will once again be behind the wheel of the No. 28 Toyota. The deal was able to come together virtue of WinField signing on-board as the primary sponsor once again for 20 of the 33 races.

 “I am very excited to return to JGL Racing for the 2017 season,” Armstrong said.  “We made tremendous gains during the 2016 season and that showed with the speed we had in our No. 28 WinField Toyota at the end of the season.  I feel at home at JGL Racing and look to improve on what we built during the first season together.  And I want to thank my sponsor WinField for the continued support and we can’t wait to get to Daytona and get the 2017 season started.”

Last year, the 25-year-old finished 13th in the standings, following 22 top-20 finishes, highlighted by a fifth-place finish at Iowa Speedway in July.

JGL Racing also confirmed Steven Lane will once again crew chief, with Joe Gibbs Racing engines powering their Toyotas.

“We are honored to have Dakoda and WinField back with our organization for the 2017 season”, stated James Whitener, owner of JGL Racing.  “We have grown a lot together during this past season and we look to continue that growth in 2017.  Dakoda and the guys really started to gel together in the second half of the season and we will look to continue with that right out of the gate in Daytona. We have a lot of great things happening with our team as we continue to take steps towards growing into one of the top organizations in the XFINITY Series.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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.

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XFINITY

Koch, Sieg Leave Richmond With Chase Advantage

Following the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond, the race to the XFINITY Series Chase is another step towards the conclusion, and the field is almost set. Entering the finale, two drivers sit on a nice points cushion, while others have some work to do heading into Chicagoland.

Coming into Friday Night, Blake Koch and Ryan Sieg sat in 11th and 12th respectively holding at least a 15 point advantage of 13th. Both managed to exit Friday with a slightly bigger advantage.

Koch, who entered the night 22 points ahead of 13th, battled just outside the top-10 for the majority of the race before coming home in 15th. With the finish, the 31-year-old extended his lead over 13th by one point and now has a solid 23 point gap heading into the cutoff race.

Sieg also had a solid night, which ended with a 14th place finish. Like Koch, he added more cushion to his gap over 13th as he now sits 20 points ahead.

While those two sit with an edge, Dakoda Armstrong and Jeremey Clements now leave Richmond with some ground to make up as both drivers nights didn’t go as well as hoped.

Armstrong, who ran inside the top-10 for at the beginning of the event, battled a loose car late and settled for a 16th and now a 20 point deficit. Like Armstrong, Clements also struggled with his car throughout the night and finished 17th. The driver/car owner now sits 29 points behind.

While not impossible, Armstrong and Clements will need to have great days in Chicagoland to overcome the obstacles in front of them to make the Chase. Well on the flip side, Koch and Sieg will enter next weekend needing mistake free-days, knowing one could cost them an opportunity at a possible championship.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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XFINITY

Armstrong Makes the Most of Fill-in Opportunity

Opportunities for top-tier rides in NASCAR are few are far between at top rides, so when presented with one, its best make the most of the opportunity.

The No.18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, a ride that has produced nine wins this season, Dakoda Armstrong did exactly that when filling in for Matt Tift, leaving Iowa Saturday with a season-best third place starting position and a career-best fifth-place finish. 

During the early portion of the race, Armstrong held strong inside the top-10 after starting up front. Despite falling back during the second half of the race, he would work his way back through the field and around the likes of Brad Keselowski and Sam Hornish Jr to capture his eventual top-five.

“If I had done a better job of holding on to track position, I think we’d have a better shot at you know, a top three, or so, but really happy with it, so a lot of fun. I enjoyed it,” said Armstrong post-race.

The race also marked the first top-10 for Armstrong since July in 2015 at Daytona and the fifth of his career.

“It just lets me know that I can do it, just have to figure out what I need in these cars, and it was a lot of fun,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll keep improving and have a lot of fun,” 

Last nights run had a positive impact in the standings for Armstrong, who usually drives the No.28 for JGL Racing, as he entered the night 34 outside of the Chase cutoff. However, after a night in the No.18, the 25-year-old now sits only 26 points behind current 12th-place seed Blake Koch.

Now with just seven races remaining before the Chase, it will be interesting to see if Armstrong can translate his momentum from Iowa into a potential playoff berth. 

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

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.

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XFINITY

Dakoda Armtrong Gets Opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing

As Matt Tifft continues to heal from brain surgery, Dakoda Armstrong will drive the No. 18 Winfield Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing this weekend.

“I am very excited for this opportunity to race with Joe Gibbs Racing,” Armstrong said. “I want to thank Matt Tifft and his family for all of their help. I hate that I am getting this opportunity at the expense of another driver being out of the car – but hopefully, Matt will continue with his speedy recovery and get back behind the wheel soon.”

At the end of June, Tifft underwent surgery to remove a low-grade glioma in the brain. He is currently going through rehabilitation, but once he is cleared by the doctors, he is expected to make his return to racing.

Armstrong has competed in the XFINITY Series over the past five years, scoring four top 10s, a pole and leading 12 laps in 91 races. Last year, he finished 16th at Iowa Speedway driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. This year with JGL Racing he has a best finish of 12th at Daytona in July.

“I am glad I get this opportunity at Iowa Speedway as it is one of my favorite tracks,” Armstrong said. “Also hopeful this opportunity helps my JGL Racing team and me as we continue to grow and make progress with our program. We have a great relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing, as we utilize their engines and pit crew for our No. 28 Winfield Toyota. I look forward to having a great race on Saturday night with the No. 18 Toyota and learning a lot with it. I want to thank all of my sponsors, my JGL Racing team and Joe Gibbs Racing for all working together and giving me this opportunity.”

The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team has had success so far this year, scoring a total of nine wins with Kyle Busch and Sam Hornish Jr., including the spring race at Iowa Speedway. Hornish qualified third, trading the lead back and forth with teammate Daniel Suarez throughout the day, before leading the last 50 laps en route to victory.

Despite a different driver behind the wheel, crew chief Chris Gayle is entering this weekend with the same approach on the pit box.

“We’ve had a little more notice with Dakoda, so we’ve been able to already discuss the weekend and talk about some of the common issues the Iowa race track creates and his past hurdles there,” he said. “Hopefully, that allows us to be a little more prepared for the weekend. I think it all really comes down to bringing good racecars. I felt like we had a really good car in the spring, with Hornish (Jr.), and this gives us a really good starting point for this weekend.”

JGL Racing confirmed Drew Herring would fill in for Armstrong at Iowa. It is Herring’s fourth start of the season after posting a 14th-place finish at Dover in May.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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.

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Development Journalists

Armstrong Scores Career Best Finish in Richmond

By Ryan Morgan – NASCAR Nationwide Series driver @DakodaArmstrong scored a career best seventh-place finish in Friday night’s Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond International Raceway. The driver of the @RPMotorsports (Richard Petty Motorsports) owned No. 43 Winfield Ford topped his previous best finish of 10th, scored just four weeks ago at Mid-Ohio.

The 23-year-old New Castle, Indiana native started off the grid in 12th position, running inside the top-15 all night. He credits the adjustments made on the car for the strong top-10 finish. “We were still a little off from the really fast guys but adjusted on it good and had a good pit stop to get track position and hold it off at the end. Everyone did a good job of getting it better.”

Armstrong signed on to compete full-time in the series at the end of last year.

“Dakoda is a driver who has grown up in the sport and has paid his dues. He has proven himself at every level and we will now give him the tools he needs to be successful in the Nationwide Series and believe he can win races for us,” said the seven-time Cup champion about his new hire.

As Richard Petty has stated, Armstrong has certainly “proven himself” with wins and championships throughout his career.

He began racing go-carts competitively at the age of six, winning the World Karting Association Championship in 1998. At the age of 13, Armstrong became the youngest USAC National Champion. While earning Rookie of the Year honors in the 2010 ARCA season, the driver earned two wins (Talladega and Salem) and 12 top-10 finishes.

In 2011, the young talent signed with @ThorSportRacing for a ride in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The following year, in Michigan, he placed his No. 98 Toyota third – scoring his best Truck finish to date.

A victory for Armstrong has not yet come to fruition this year. Nonetheless, last night’s run shows that the team heading in the right direction. They improved 10 positions from their 17th place showing at Richmond earlier this year.

The Richard Petty Ford must continue these gains week-in and week-out to compete for wins against many of elite drivers in NASCAR. There is no doubt that the young driver has the proven talent to win, and a seventh-place finish may just be the beginning for this team.

Ryan Morgan is a Popular Speed Development Journalist

EMAIL RYAN AT ryan.morgan@popularspeed.com