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 Dover through Phoenix.
First Time Winners
With a championship on the line as the playoffs heated up, the competition intensified as the series now has had 12 different winners in the last 12 races.
Ryan Blaney started off the stretch, breaking through for his first win of the season at Dover International Speedway after coming close all season long. Then, Alex Bowman scored his first career victory for Chip Ganassi Racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Joe Gibbs Racing won the next two races, with Christopher Bell scoring his first career win after a thrilling battle with teammate Erik Jones at Kansas Speedway, followed by Jones being victorious at Texas Motor Speedway.
Wiliam Byron capped off the stretch with his third win of 2017 at Phoenix Raceway.
The battle for the championship will now come down to Homestead-Miami Speedway with the three drivers locked in. JR Motorsports teammates Byron, Elliott Sadler, and Justin Allgaier will match up against Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric.
None of those five have been perfect through the past five events, each scoring at least one finish outside of the top-10. Though the nod has to go to Byron as he has the best average finish (6.6) and scored three top-fives, including a big momentum boost with the victory at Phoenix.
Byron’s ability to run up front all season long and challenge on the big stage when the stakes are high will be key entering next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Combined with his success on the 1.5-mile oval last year in the Camping World Truck Series, he’s easily the favorite among the teammates.
However, any slip-up by the rookie could be all it takes for either Sadler or Allgaier to pounce as they’ve both ran well there before, including a past win for Allgaier. The only waving factor is a possible confidence hit for Sadler as he struggled at Phoenix en route to placing 18th.
No Crew Chief
Allgaier’s chances at championship glory look to be hindered as the series gets set for the finale, though, after his No. 7 Chevrolet failed post-race technical inspection at Phoenix.
His JR Motorsports entry was found with an unattached brake cooling hose in inspection, which likely would result in the penalty being a one-race suspension for crew chief Jason Burdett, a 10-point deduction in the driver and owner standings, and a $10,000 fine.
This isn’t the first time that this has happened to a JR Motorsports driver in a title situation, as Sadler ran the final event last year without Kevin Meendering atop the pit box due to a penalty. Ultimately, the veteran came up short, finishing third while Daniel Suarez won the race and the championship.
JR Motorsports did a great job facing adversity at Phoenix when their regular pit crews were stranded in Arkansas, forcing them to go with a back-up plan. Now backed up against the wall once again, Allgaier and the No. 7 team will need to dig deep.
Brennan Poole saw his chances at being in the Championship 4 end early on Saturday at Phoenix, after he made heavy contact with the wall after going trying to go underneath a lap car who didn’t realize that he was there on Lap 22. The driver in which Poole made contact with was Caesar Bacarella, who was making his first career series start.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was critical in his post-race comments, stating that NASCAR needs to change how they approve drivers for events, and what drivers are out there each week.
Lap cars have certainly played havoc with drivers all year long, even costing some victories in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Although NASCAR posts a minimum speed, some competitors have shown the ability to meet that but not be traffic aware.
NASCAR debuted the “five minute clock wreck policy” to avoid having cars riding around the track slow, dropping debris, causing havoc for the front runners. While drivers of that nature have caused issues in the past, these really slow lap cars have resulted in bigger headaches. As the sanctioning body continues to evolve with a heightened focus on every lap mattering and the playoffs meaning everything, it may be time to re-evaluate the process.
Down to the Wire
Phoenix Raceway may be known for producing great racing, and that showed on Saturday as the final transfer spot for the championship came right down to the final laps. Entering the event, none of the eight drivers vying for one of the four positions had locked themselves in, meaning every single pass mattered from start to finish.
The closing stages of the event saw the battle get close with Daniel Hemric and Cole Custer each vying for every possible position they could get, hoping to be the final driver to make it in. Hemric came out on top, finishing fifth with Custer seventh.
Although Hemric will be applauded for his ability to make the Championship 4, bigger accolades will find the Richard Childress Racing driver for his show of respect post-race. He made his way down to Custer, shaking his hand after their battle post-race.
For Custer, there is nothing to hang his head on as his rookie season has been impressive, scoring six top-fives and 18 top-10’s in 32 races. Unfortunately, though, placing 19th at Kansas Speedway due to a cut tire with two laps to go ultimately made the difference.
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