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XFINITY

Pair of XFINITY Series Team Penalized

Following the OneMain Financial 200 at Dover International Speedway, three NASCAR XFINITY Series crew members have been suspended.

The No. 7 Chevrolet of Justin Allgaier was found in violation of the rule book, in relation to section 20.14.2.h Rear Suspension I-4 Truck Trailing Arm Spacers/Pinion Angle Shims. According to NASCAR, the “truck Trailing Arm Spacers / Pinion Angle Shims not in complete contact with corresponding mating surface.”

As a result, crew chief Jason Burdett was fined $25,000 and suspended from the next XFINITY Series points events, with the team losing 25 owner and driver points. Additionally, with being an L1 penalty, Allgaier cannot use the victory to secure his place in the post-season playoffs. He can, however, keep the Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus. 

“As a highly-competitive race team that challenges for wins each and every weekend, we’re deeply disappointed and frustrated in today’s ruling. We strive to produce race victories for JR Motorsports’ partners, fans and employees while adhering to the rulebook,” said Kelley Earnhardt Miller, general manager of JR Motorsports. “To that end, the No. 7 team put on a winning performance in Saturday’s race and received damage on the last lap that we believe contributed to this infraction. We will never fault ourselves for that.”

The No. 3 Chevrolet of Jeb Burton was found in violation of the rule book, in relation to section 20.4.3.a&.b: Splitter. As a result, crew chief Nick Harrison was fined $10,000, with car chief Michael Scearce suspended from the next XFINITY points event. 

Additionally, Michael L Haden has been suspended indefinitely for violation of Section 12.8.1.e – Being charged with or convicted of significant criminal violations (e.g. Domestic Violence, Trafficking, Assault), or having had determinations rendered by criminal or civil authorities that in NASCAR’s judgement necessitate action.

On Friday at Dover, the 33-year-old got into an argument with JP Motorsports car owner Jerry Hattaway, which then escalated into a fight with police being called to the garage area. Hattaway was taken to Bayhealth Kent General Hospital for treatment for a broken jaw, according to the news release.

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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

Justin Allgaier Holds off Elliott Sadler in NASCAR Xfinity Race at Dover

DOVER, Del. – Justin Allgaier survived a breathtaking last-gasp effort from JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler to win Saturday’s OneMain Financial 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Dover International Speedway.

Allgaier led Sadler by less than a car-length as the drivers entered Turn 3 on the final circuit. Ahead of Allgaier, the lapped car of Joe Nemechek entered the corner low and drifted up the track, forcing Allgair to brake and run the middle lane at the cost of considerable momentum.

Sadler saw the opening and drove underneath Allgaier’s No. 7 Chevrolet as the cars negotiated Turn 4. As they came off the corner side by side, the cars touched. Sadler’s No. 1 Chevy twitched loose, and Allgaier’s car slapped the outside wall, but both drivers maintained control, and Allgaier got to the finish line .306 seconds ahead of his teammate.

DOVER, Del. – Justin Allgaier survived a breathtaking last-gasp effort from JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler to win Saturday’s OneMain Financial 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Dover International Speedway.

Allgaier led Sadler by less than a car-length as the drivers entered Turn 3 on the final circuit. Ahead of Allgaier, the lapped car of Joe Nemechek entered the corner low and drifted up the track, forcing Allgair to brake and run the middle lane at the cost of considerable momentum.

Sadler saw the opening and drove underneath Allgaier’s No. 7 Chevrolet as the cars negotiated Turn 4. As they came off the corner side by side, the cars touched. Sadler’s No. 1 Chevy twitched loose, and Allgaier’s car slapped the outside wall, but both drivers maintained control, and Allgaier got to the finish line .306 seconds ahead of his teammate.

Sadler was understandably disappointed with the results, given the incentives he had for winning. The veteran driver was going for his third straight Dash 4 Cash bonus, and the sponsor of his car, OneMain Financial, was also the entitlement sponsor of the race.

Problem was, Sadler couldn’t find a way around his teammate without wrecking him.

“I was trying to figure out a way to pass him,” Sadler said. “I knew if I tried to get under him, Justin would do a good job of holding me down, so I was trying to figure out how to create some momentum, especially on the top side, but I wanted to do it the clean way as much as possible, too.

“On the last lap, going into Turn 3, I saw him roll the middle, so I just rolled the bottom and stabbed the gas and tried to get up under him, but I got loose. If I had stayed in the gas, I would have wrecked probably both of us pretty hard…

“We’ve been too good all year long not to have a checkered flag. I’m heartbroken, to be honest with you. This would have been a good race to win for us, being the OneMain Financial 200. That’s hard to swallow. My team gave me a car good enough to win. I’ve just got to do a better job of closing out these races.”

Daniel Hemric came home third, spending the last lap hoping to steal a victory if the JR Motorsports teammates happened to wreck each other.

“I was just trying to get myself in the best possible position in case they did run out of race track-and they tried,” Hemric said.

Christopher Bell finished fourth after starting from the rear after his car failed to make it through pre-qualifying inspection in time to make a run in time trials. Tyler Reddick, who started from the back for the same reason, came home fifth, putting three JRM drivers in the top five.

Running his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race in four years, Johnny Sauter ran sixth subbing for suspended Spencer Gallagher. Noah Gragson, Matt Tifft, Austin Cindric and pole winner Brandon Jones completed the top 10.

Sadler and Allgaier won the first and second stages, respectively. Sadler leaves Dover as the series leader, 33 points ahead of Allgaier in second and 38 in front of Reddick in third.

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XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway

The NASCAR XFINITY Series has put on some of the best shows over the past couple of weeks, and the Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Although having a reputation for tearing up a whole bunch of equipment at the race’s conclusion, this year did not see a repeat of that as everybody managed to hold on to their cars. That said, it wasn’t boring by any means either with a classic battle between Spencer Gallagher and Tyler Reddick for the top spot. One ill-timed block by Reddick was all that Gallagher needed to get by, and score the win.

Notably, Gallagher has only led a single lap in the XFINITY Series to date – the last lap that won him the race at Talladega, giving GMS Racing their first win as an organization. It’s no secret that the driver of the No. 23 Chevrolet struggled last year, but this season has seen him run up front on a weekly basis, and he could easily turn what some may call a lucky win into a championship challenge.

RELATED: Mitchell Bruer recently detailed the turnaround for Gallagher 

On the flip side, Reddick will chalk this up to another race in where one decision kept the No. 9 out of victory lane, something that has seemed to be a common theme since his triumph at Daytona International Speedway. But his loss for JR Motorsports isn’t the focus, but rather his teammates’ days. 

Elliott Sadler had once again put himself in a position to win on a restrictor plate track, but a penalty for speeding on pit road had him restarting deep in the field late. The infraction is widely debatable, as he said he only sped to avoid the spinning John Hunter Nemechek. NASCAR has allowed drivers to speed through pit lane previously when avoiding an incident, but supposedly this one didn’t fall under that category. JR Motorsports’ problems did not end there as Justin Allgaier had to make a late-race pit stop after running out of fuel.

However, the team managed to rebound in stellar style, with both drivers charging through the field to score a pair of top-fives, with Sadler taking home the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus for the second straight week in a row. The charge by the pair was certainly fascinating to watch, whether running the high-line three-wide, to dipping down low at the last minute. One more lap with the momentum they had on their side, compared to the others being shaken up, and there may have been a different driver in victory lane. The way they were able to rebound, though, is why they have consistently led the series standings over the past couple of years, including a championship with William Byron in 2017. 

It would’ve also been interesting to see what Daniel Hemric would’ve been able to do if he was in the thick of the action late as he ran up front through the event until a tire issue in the late stages. They say tires aren’t important at restrictor plate tracks, but trying to run on the same right-side rubber all event didn’t pay off.

So far at Talladega Superspeedway, there have been two races – the ARCA Racing Series and the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Even with debate surrounding the rules for ARCA in finishing under green conditions, both events have produced exciting finishes with battles right down to the checkered flag. Hopefully the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series doesn’t disappoint on Sunday. 

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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

OBSERVATIONS: My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway

Typically a race on an intermediate track can become boring as we’ve seen so far this year. Normally an event dominated by a single driver makes you want to fall asleep. Ultimately, the My Bariatric Solutions 300 for the NASCAR XFINITY Series was neither of those on Saturday afternoon. 

Right from the beginning, dramatics were in the air with three cautions in the first 17 laps. By having the teams practice in 80 Fahrenheit degree weather, followed by a temperature drop to 35 degrees over night, it’s no secret that teams were probably off on their adjustments. I mean, you had a veteran like Jamie McMurray just lose it off of turn four. When you’ve got conditions like that and having drivers pushed to the envelope to stay straight, you know you’re in for a show.

In the end, Ryan Blaney was dominate – leading 132 of 200 laps en route to earning the third straight victory for Team Penske’s No. 22 car, following the success of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Remember last year when everybody was simply asking the question when would they win again? 

Even though they’ve been fast, the diversity is still felt in the series with speed being shown by Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing in the first six races this year. It should make for a great season of racing. 

But with that said, it’s apparent based on Penske’s XFINITY Series success and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories that Ford certainly has their ducks in a row this year. 

Hendrick Motorsports is known for having some of the strongest motors in NASCAR with high reliability. Justin Allgaier, though, didn’t see that today as his day seen an early end with a trip to the garage following the first stage. It marks the first finish outside of the top-six for the JR Motorsports driver since wrecking in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. 

As a whole, it wasn’t the day that JR Motorsports was looking for, though. Elliott Sadler failed to post a lap in qualifying due to failing technical inspection, but fought back to place eighth. Tyler Reddick ran up in the top-five, but a pair of speeding penalties late relegated him to a 23rd-place finish. Lastly, Michael Annett ranked 15th at day’s end following an early unscheduled trip down pit road.

It should be easy for the group to brush off, though, as they currently hold three of the top-five spots in points and Reddick won the season opener at Daytona.

Ryan Reed turned a lot of heads in the first two stages as he ran in the top-10 solidly, in an aggressive fashion though as he ruffled some feathers along the way. Spencer Gallagher went for a spin at Lap 72 and stated afterwards, “It’s going to hurt when I get back to him.” But what did Reed have to show for a it? A 14th. It’s one thing to run up front, but it’s another to finish the deal. He needs to work at other half. 

Brandon Jones is wishing he would’ve had some better luck, too. He won the second stage after a nice strategy ploy to stay out for the two-lap shootout, but wrecked in the beginning stages of the third stage after restarting mid-pack. Simply put – he got loose, like many others today. After making the move over to Joe Gibbs Racing during the off-season, it kills the early momentum built as it his first finish outside of the top-17 in 2018. 

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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

Allgaier, Hemric Come Up Short in Championship Bid

Both Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric showed potential to score their first NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship, but it just wasn’t their night to do so on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Allgaier entered the season finale with momentum with four top-fives in the last six events, but without his crew chief. Jason Burdett was suspended from being atop the box at the Ford EcoBoost 300 after his No. 7 Chevrolet was found with an unattached brake cooling hose post-race at Phoenix Raceway.

Starting 16th, the 31-year-old spent the race running behind his fellow championship opponents as he and fill-in crew chief Chad Knaus fought the handling. During the final stages of the event, he closed the gap running sixth behind his JR Motorsports teammates, but eventually faded to finish 10th.

“We felt like we did all the work up until this point and did a good job yesterday in practice, felt like the car had good speed in it, and unfortunately when the race started tonight we knew something was way off,” he said. “We just struggled kind of from the drop of the green.  There were moments of brightness; there were a few restarts where we picked up quite a few spots and thought that maybe we had a shot to get up there and battle it out. But ultimately on the long run we just really started dropping speed, and just way too loose to be able to drive at the end of some of these runs.”

Even if Burdett was on the pit box, Allgaier doesn’t feel their night would’ve gone differently as they would’ve made the same decisions on the set-up pre-race, and during the event.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Hemric, meanwhile, had the speed and handling, but he ran into a different problem.

“We came down here, we did our jobs,” Hemric said. “We practiced, qualified, did everything we needed to do to race the guys we needed to race, and I was looking forward to battling it out with everybody with our 21 Poppy Bank Chevrolet, and just wasn’t meant to be.  We were able to stay out in front of those guys the first stage, come down pit road, (and I) thought we were in pretty good shape to make our race car a little better.”

Starting from fourth, he ran in the top-five throughout the first stage, falling out just before the checkered flew to finish seventh; but more importantly, he spent the entire stages ahead of the three other championship contenders, including holding off Elliott Sadler in a close battle the final five laps.

He began the second stage equally strong, running fifth ahead of William Byron and Sadler when he was forced down pit road on Lap 61 of 200 with an electrical issue. He spent several laps on pit road, finishing the race in 34th.

“Sometimes it’s just not meant to be, and if it were meant to be it would, but it just wasn’t our day,” Hemric said. “But I don’t want to let that take away from everything from our efforts that we did all year to put ourselves in position and to get ourselves here.  Proud of the effort, and that’s why we decided to keep running all the laps because we didn’t give up and that’s what got us here, so whether we were 12 laps down or not, we wanted to complete the race, and that’s what we did.”

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XFINITY

Allgaier To Enter Championship Battle Without Regular Crew Chief

Justin Allgaier will have a chance to battle for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but he will have to do it without his regular crew chief.

Jason Burdett was fined $10,000 and suspended from being at the Ford EcoBoost 300 after the No. 7 Chevrolet will found in violation of Section 20.15.2.2 Rear Brake Cooling Assembly I-1b. I-1c. I-2d. I-2f of the 2017 NASCAR Rulebook following Saturday’s race at Phoenix Raceway. The rule states “rear brake cooling assemblies must be sealed from air inlet to exhaust,” and Allgaier’s car had an unattached brake cooling hose. 

The team was also penalized 10 driver and owner points, which did not remove Allgaier from the Championship 4 as his gap over Cole Custer exceeded 10 points. Additionally, NASCAR has listed the finish as being encumbered.

Allgaier qualified for the Championship 4 following a 10th-place finish in the Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix Raceway, giving him 10 top-fives and 17 top-10’s on the season. He will hope to beat out his JR Motorsports teammates Elliott Sadler and William Byron, along with Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric for the title.

Although NASCAR normally waits until later in the week to announce penalties once they are done the extended inspection at their Research and Development Center, Allgaier’s infraction was released sooner to give the team a chance to appeal the penalty, if warranted. If JR Motorsports elects to appeal, it will be expedited so it can be heard prior to this weekend’s event. 

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 announced on Tuesday that the team will not appeal the penalty, with car chief Billy Wilburn serving as the interim crew chief. 

“We’re fortunate to be in a position where we have such a strong support staff at JR Motorsports,” said general manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller. “There are a number of talented individuals that could fill this role, but ultimately it makes the most sense to utilize Billy in this capacity. He’s an experienced leader, well-respected, and has a detailed knowledge of this team. We’re lucky to have him and are completely confident in the team’s abilities this weekend.”

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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 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.

Running Strong

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.

Slower Cars

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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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

Cup Veteran Limits Making Progress in XFINITY Series

In the first year of limiting starts for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers in the XFINITY Series, progress is being made to increase the series’ focus on the sport’s rising stars. 

Competitors with five or more years of full-time experience at the top level are prohibited from competing in XFINITY Series Playoffs races.

While this keeps established names out like Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and others who have dominated the series in past years, it allows the younger NASCAR Cup Series regulars still looking to make a name for themselves an opportunity to compete with other drivers with similar goals.

Saturday’s Drive Sober 200 at Dover International Speedway marked the second XFINITY Series post-season race but first on a companion weekend with the top series.

As a result, young drivers including Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, and Erik Jones competed and ran well.

However, they didn’t steal the show as the race struck a balance between their success and strong performances from the championship contenders.

While Blaney won after leading a race-high 136 laps, rookie William Byron emerged as his biggest threat as the JR Motorsports driver led for 62 circuits, won Stage 1 and ended the day in third.

The run allowed Byron to jump to second on the Playoff Grid behind teammate Justin Allgaier who also had a strong race, finishing second.

Without limits on how many races the more experienced drivers can compete in, they often take up the top finishing positions. In eight races in 2017, at least four NASCAR Cup Series drivers placed in the top-five. 

That didn’t happen on Sunday as only Blaney finished inside the top-five with those in title contention filling the remaining spots with Daniel Hemric coming home third and Brennan Poole ending up fourth.

Similar restrictions will be in place for the remainder of the season, providing the opportunity for more events to play out similarly. 

Next season, those with five or more years of experience will be further limited to eight starts, and that should continue to enhance the identity of the series.

While ultimately a NASCAR Cup Series regular won on Saturday, it marked progress as the focus is on the youth of the sport and not the dominance of veterans. The limitations will pay off even more once series regulars are able to begin winning more regularly.

However, the first year of limits has shown its potential to improve the series and significant progress can continue to be made as the season draws to a close.

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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 Road America through Kentucky.

First Time Winners

With a road course, three intermediates and a short track over the past five races, along with desperation to impress before the year is over, a couple of drivers broke through for their first career wins.

Jeremy Clements started off the stretch, picking up his first career series victory at Road America in his seventh season of competition. Then, Denny Hamlin scored his second victory of the year for Joe Gibbs Racing at Darlington Raceway. Notably, the finish was encumbered after he failed post-race technical inspection.

Team Penske returned to victory lane at Richmond International Speedway with Brad Keselowski behind the wheel, with JRM Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier scored his second win of the year at Chicagoland Speedway.

And finally, Tyler Reddick picked up his first career win driving for Chip Ganassi Racing at Kentucky Speedway.

Peaking at the Right Time

Throughout the summer, the discussion focused on JR Motorsports’ rookie William Byron and his impressive resume. However, there’s another driver in their camp peaking at the right time.

After winning the last race of the regular season at Chicagoland, Allgaier backed it up with a third to start the playoffs at Kentucky. Now entering Saturday’s race at Dover International Speedway, he has scored four consecutive top-eight finishes.

The success is not a surprise, though, as Allgaier was one of the Championship 4 last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet was impressive last year, scoring just one finish outside of the top-10 en route to putting himself in title contention.

While he came up short last year with a sixth, 2017 could produce different results if he makes it to the finale based on his team’s strength.

Time To Panic

Although some drivers have momentum in the playoffs, there are others who could use a big turnaround.

Following the first event of the Round of 12, Michael Annett and Clements are sitting at the bottom of the bracket, more than 30 points each out of the top-eight.

While his JR Motorsports teammates have been scoring top-10’s, Annett has been stuck in the teens all year as noted by the past four races. Any improvement doesn’t look to be on the horizon, either, as he was 21st in final practice for Saturday’s Use Your Melon. Drive Sober 200 at Dover. 

Clements, meanwhile, made the playoffs with a surprise victory at Road America. However, since then, he has only scored one top-20 finish. 

The next two weeks at Dover and Charlotte Motor Speedway will see lots of points up for grabs to give an opportunity to both to make-up ground. But without significant improvement by their teams, it won’t matter at the end of the day.

No Trophy Engraving, Yet.

With top-five finishes each week and sweeping the top-three spots in the regular season, everybody was ready to hand JR Motorsports the series championship trophy. Not so fast, though. The cream is starting to rise to the crop in the early stages of the playoffs, and a couple of drivers are ready to lay a challenge to the top seeds.

Cole Custer kicked off the playoffs with a fifth-place finish at Kentucky Speedway, allowing him to move up to second in the standings, with a sizable gap of 23 points back to eighth-ranked Ryan Reed. The rookie has been solid all year and enters Dover on the heels of back-to-back top-10’s. 

Daniel Hemric has been quietly hanging right there with the JR Motorsports drivers, consistently locking down top-10’s with 13 in 27 events.  He also started off the playoffs well, scoring a seventh-place finish at Kentucky. He now enters this weekend at Dover with three straight top-seven finishes.  

Glimpse of Hope

If Ryan Reed could forget the past 10 races, he probably would as they haven’t gone as anticipated with three straight crashes, and just a pair of top-10’s. Thankfully, the second of those came to start the playoffs, as he placed 10th at Kentucky. The finish was enough for Reed to enter the next two races of the Round of 12 sitting in the last spot to move on – eighth. 

With two more races remaining, Roush Fenway Racing knows they have to step it up if they want to keep their single shot at the XFINITY Championship in the running. For Reed, if the slump carries forward at all, he will be in danger as the gap between him and Brendan Gaughan is only eight points.

So far, things are going decently at Dover as he was 13th quickest in final practice.  

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XFINITY

Cole Custer Stepping Up His Game for the Playoffs

After a dominant regular season, JR Motorsports had the field asking who would be able to contend with the organization’s four cars in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs.

Cole Custer answered that question by having his best performance of 2017 in Saturday’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver won the first two stages, led 49 laps, and finished fifth.

While it didn’t mark Custer’s best finish of the year, the performance put him in contention throughout the race, and similar runs are often rewarded in the Playoffs.

It also tied him for the driver’s standings lead with Justin Allgaier.

Entering the post-season, Allgaier accumulated 23 playoff points while Custer collected just five. However, because of Custer’s success in the stages on Saturday night, he gained enough points to make up the difference.

This advantage will likely ease the rookie into the Round of 8 where he will again need to overcome a points deficit.

A lack of experience compared to the more seasoned drivers such as Allgaier and Elliott Sadler and fewer bonus points in each round could also serve as a challenge for Custer.

However, the next two tracks on the circuit have been where he has excelled after scoring a career-best finish of fourth at Dover in June and placing in the top-10 in both of his Charlotte starts.

Once the series heads to Kansas where Custer crashed and finished 35th last October, starting the second round similarly to Kentucky will be crucial.

Texas may be his best bet to position himself for the Championship 4 as he finished fifth there in April while a 21st-place day at Phoenix in the spring isn’t a confidence booster for the penultimate race.

If he’s able to make it to Homestead-Miami, showcasing similar speed to Kentucky could put Custer in position to upset JRM.

After a year of building, the SHR XFINITY Series team is showing significant gains in the performance department at the perfect time heading into the final stretch of the season.

Not many knew what to expect out of this team in the Playoffs, but a strong start to the title battle sent a strong message.

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