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XFINITY

Allgaier Excelling at the Right Time

Justin Allgaier nearly walked away with the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship in 2016.

Homestead-Miami Speedway has proven to be one of his best tracks and after making it to the Championship 4 last November, he closely contended with Daniel Suarez throughout the race.

However, restarting behind a slower car ultimately cost the JR Motorsports driver a shot at the title.

Performing similarly throughout the Playoffs will likely again land him in the championship race, but Allgaier is taking nothing for granted and elevating his game to assure another opportunity.

The road back to Homestead-Miami started on Saturday as he won TheHouse.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway, gaining crucial momentum and playoff points. 

After winning at Phoenix in March, he secured five bonus points, but this victory proved even more rewarding. He earned a total of 15 additional points, five from the win and ten for finishing second in the regular season standings. 

Now heading into the Playoffs, he sits just two points behind top-seeded teammate William Byron.

Allgaier seems like a lock to make the Championship 4 for a second consecutive year, and Chicagoland was a significant step forward for the No. 7 team.

Before Saturday, he only had one top-five finish at a 1.5-mile track this season. With five of the final seven races at intermediate venues, this victory shows improvement at the right time.

“This is a big moment because I feel that mile and a half program has been our weakness at JR Motorsports, at least on the No. 7 team,” Allgaier said. “So to be able to come out today and have that momentum going into the playoffs, that’s huge, that’s what we got to have.”

Similar performances to Saturday in the next seven races will be essential for Allgaier. While the No. 7 team has consistently been among the best cars in the field, capitalizing at the finish will be critical.

“Speed is one thing, being able to execute at the end of these races is another,” Allgaier said.

Redemption will be on the 31-year-old’s mind heading into the post-season where the goal will be to stay alive to go for it all in the season finale.

Once Homestead-Miami arrives, the challenge is on, and with momentum on his side, Algaier may not be finished winning in 2017.

“Hopefully that’s the start of another five or six before this over, that would be incredible,” Allgaier said.

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

Justin Allgaier Steals Chicagoland Speedway Victory on Late Restarts

JOLIET, Ill. – Justin Allgaier had the drive of his life. Brendan Gaughan was hanging on for dear life.

But both drivers were winners at Chicagoland Speedway.

Grabbing the lead with a bold move to the inside after a restart on Lap 186 of 200, Allgaier, an Illinois native, captured the big prize at his home track—a victory in Saturday’s TheHouse.com 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series regular-season finale.

Gaughan rallied from an equalized tire that put him three laps down to finish 13th on the lead lap and nail down the final spot in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs.

With a push from regular-season champion and JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler, Allgaier powered his No. 7 Chevrolet to the bottom entering Turn 1 on Lap 186, passing both polesitter Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.

But Allgaier was far from home free. A caution for Ryan Reed’s spin in Turn 2—under hard racing against Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.—slowed the field for the fifth and final time and set a restart with seven laps left.

Once again, Allgaier surged into the lead, with Jones chasing. But Jones had changed lanes and moved to the outside of Sadler before he reached the start / finish line and was slapped with a pass-through penalty that ended his winning chances.

Allgaier took the checkered flag 1.772 seconds ahead of charging Kyle Larson, who fought back from a late pit road speeding penalty to finish second. Sadler came home third, followed by Daniel Henric and Austin Dillon.

“Justin had a great restart there,” said team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has three cars in the Playoffs. “He found an opportunity and seized it.”

“This is incredible, man,” said Allgaier, who won for the second time this year, the second time at Chicagoland Speedway and the fifth time in his career. “I’ve been fortunate enough to go to Victory Lane here before, but on fuel mileage.

“Today, my team, the 7 team, did a great job… Coming down to the end, I didn’t think we had a shot. I thought we were going to be top-five, maybe. But those late restarts—we got great restarts… We’ve got a lot of good momentum, and, man, we want to go to Homestead and pull home this championship.”

As Allgaier made the most of his opportunity, his most formidable competitors suffered from self-inflicted wounds. Jones, who led 94 laps, and Blaney, who led 28, both drew pit road speeding penalties under caution during the break between the second and third stages and had to fight to regain track position.

Larson’s speeding penalty on Lap 182 came too late for the driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to claw his way back to the front.

“I had a shot to win there, and I sped on pit road and had to restart in the back, behind everybody,” Larson said. “I definitely wasn’t expecting to finish second, so I’m happy about that, but a little disappointed that I sped on pit road.”

Battling to preserve a 25-point edge over Dakoda Armstrong for the last of 12 playoff berths, Gaughan slowed dramatically during the second stage as he fought to keep his No. 62 Chevrolet off the wall. But Gaughan finished the stage, eventually got his three laps back—thanks to three cautions in the last 50 laps—and qualified for the Playoffs.

“I think the last time I had an equalized tire was in Winston West racing,” Gaughan said. “Man, we held on for dear life for that session. Three more laps, and I’ve got a top-10 out of it!

“We don’t quit. We never quit. No matter what the circumstances, we do not stop, and today was just another example of that.”

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XFINITY

Sadler Emerging as Championship Favorite

Elliott Sadler has been one of the top NASCAR XFINITY Series performers in each of the last six years, and 2017 has been no different.

The JR Motorsports driver currently leads the driver’s standings by a staggering 110 points over teammate William Byron with four regular season races remaining.

Sadler impressed again in Friday night’s Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway, finishing third. It marked his ninth top-10 finish in the last 12 races, attesting to the consistency of the No. 1 team.

Consistency has been a cornerstone of Sadler’s success through his time in the series.

Before adopting the current Playoff format last season, the accumulation of points throughout the schedule determined the XFINITY Series champion.

Sadler finished second in the driver’s standings twice and never placed worse than sixth under the previous system. For four consecutive years, he had 20 or more top-10 finishes.

When the new format was implemented last season, he elevated his performance and produced career numbers, scoring 29 top-10 finishes in 33 events.

He entered the finale in contention for the title but ultimately finished third behind race winner and champion Daniel Suarez.

While Sadler won’t break that record from 2016, he’s on pace to for another title run. The current Playoff format is more unpredictable but remaining consistent in the first two rounds will likely pay off in being part of the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Despite not currently having as many playoff points as his teammates Byron and Justin Allgaier, Sadler is in position to win the regular season championship and 15 additional playoff points.

This will provide another advantage when battling to make each round, and further attests to Sadler’s potential to return to the Championship 4.

The 42-year-old remains winless in 2017 but will return to races that he has won previously in the coming month.

An impressive performance last year at Darlington earned Sadler his first victory at the historic venue and provided momentum ahead of the post-season.

Another win would accomplish the same goal while also rewarding the No. 1 team with additional and valuable points.

If he’s able to go back-to-back at Kentucky, he will again automatically earn a spot in the second round of the post-season, placing him one step closer to the title.

Sadler has been the most successful driver in the series over the last seven years not to have captured a championship. He’s gearing up for another run at the trophy and is looking like the early favorite.

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

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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

Stage Points Allow Drivers to Salvage Disappointing Finishes

Stage racing has transformed the way an event unfolds. By awarding championship and playoff points during the race, it provides added incentive to run up front and creates a safety net if a competitor faces trouble later in the event.

The format has proven extremely valuable especially during the unpredictable restrictor plate races as a crash can eliminate a competitor on any lap. Now if they are collected in a wreck, having captured points through the earlier stages lessens the blow of an early exit.

Saturday’s Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 again highlighted the value of stage points as drivers who performed well at the beginning of the event but didn’t finish at the front were compensated.

Other than a couple of bonus points, the 28 laps Blake Koch led before being involved in the Lap 50 crash wouldn’t have been rewarded under the previous format.

However, because of stage competition, Koch won the first stage, earned a playoff point and ten championship points despite a disappointing 38th-place finish.

Ben Kennedy had an impressive performance early at Daytona International Speedway before fading late. He finished second in Stage 1 and ninth in Stage 2, capturing an additional 11 points in the event.

While he finished 16th, he walked away with an amount of points reflecting a top-10 run. Despite not competing for the championship, his day attested to the impact of stage points.

Koch and Kennedy aren’t the only drivers who have benefited from early race success before experiencing trouble this year.

In the season opener at Daytona, Elliott Sadler won the first two stages before crashing and finishing 24th but still walked away with the third highest point total.

Sadler’s JR Motorsports teammates experienced similar fortunes in the following races as William Byron finished seventh at Atlanta and earned the most driver points while Justin Allgaier collected the highest points total at Las Vegas but finished fourth.

Similar situations have played out in nearly every event so far in 2017, showcasing the importance of stage points.

Stage racing has made it possible for a driver other than the race winner to earn the most points. While first-place would ideally secure the largest point total, now a driver who performs well throughout the day is appropriately recognized.

Taking home the trophy remains the most appealing incentive to run well in NASCAR, but stage racing has made a driver’s overall performance matter more now than ever before.

The extra points won’t ultimately make up for missing out on the opportunity for victory but now defeat doesn’t sting as badly.

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

JR Motorsports Emerging as Championship Favorites

JR Motorsports picked up the win and placed all four cars in the top-10 Saturday night at Iowa Speedway, marking the second time this season that the organization has accomplished this feat.

William Byron, winning his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series race, led the charge for JRM and affirmed their position as the title favorites.

Justin Allgaier‘s victory at Phoenix marked the first event of the season when all four cars came home with top-10 finishes.

With no NASCAR Cup Series drivers in the American Ethanol E15 250 field, the series regulars were able to compete head-to-head for the first time this season and JRM’s strength was showcased throughout the event. 

The team has had an impressive start to the year and continues to occupy the top three positions in the driver’s standings with Elliott Sadler leading the way followed by Allgaier and Byron with an 89 point gap back to fourth-place Daniel HemricMichael Annett also currently sits in a playoff spot in 10th.

While the season has yet to cross the halfway mark, Iowa offered a glimpse of how the post-season may play out.

JRM placed two cars in the Championship 4 last year but ultimately came up short of the title at Homestead-Miami.

Now with both Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones competing full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series after battling Sadler and Allgaier for the title last November, JRM’s experience in making it to the season finale may provide the upper hand throughout the playoffs.

Hemric, Ryan Reed, and Brennan Poole sit fourth through sixth in the standings, and all struggled at Iowa, placing outside the top-15 with Reed finishing highest in 19th after being involved in two incidents. They will all need a rebound in the coming weeks and begin to score more playoff points if they hope to challenge JRM this fall. 

Other than Reed who picked up five playoff points with his Daytona victory, Sadler, Allgaier, and Byron are the only other drivers in the series with more than one playoff point.

If the organization can carry this strength and speed into the post-season and use the playoff points to their advantage, it will be difficult for the competition to top them in the championship fight.

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

Allgaier Continues to Keep Pace with Cup Regulars

A thrilling close to Saturday’s Pocono Green 250 put Brad Keselowski, Justin Allgaier, and Kyle Larson against each other in the final laps.

While Keselowski passed Larson on the last circuit to take the victory, Allgaier had a say in how the race concluded before crossing the finish line in second.

Pocono Raceway isn’t the first track where the JR Motorsports driver has given the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers a run for their money.

When Allgaier captured the victory at Phoenix in March, he had command of the field throughout the day and proved to have a stronger car than Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones who ended up second and third respectively.

He was again in the mix at Richmond, challenging eventual race winner Larson before finishing in the runner-up position.

Both Phoenix and Richmond were Dash 4 Cash races where NASCAR Cup Series competitors with five or more years of experience aren’t eligible to race.

However, the drivers who can compete in those events have proven to be dominant in the series this year, winning six of 12 races.

Allgaier’s ability to match their performances and finishes has now placed him atop the points standings as he leads teammate Elliott Sadler by one point.

While Sadler has had a stronger season to date through five top-5 and ten top-10 finishes, Allgaier’s ability to collect more points in each stage has made the difference.

If the teammates can continue their consistency, they will likely maintain a points advantage over the rest of the field.

But Allgaier may keep the upper hand in being one of the best series regulars at mixing it up with the often dominant Cup Series competitors.

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

Byron Brings Home Final Dash 4 Cash Prize of the Season

William Byron scored a big payday Saturday at Dover International Speedway.

He captured the fourth and final Dash 4 Cash prize of the season, joining Bristol winner Daniel Hemric and Phoenix and Richmond victor Justin Allgaier as the only drivers to pocket the $100,000 in 2017.

Byron and Brennan Poole qualified for the Dash 4 Cash in Stage 1 and were joined by Stage 2 winner Darrell Wallace Jr. and Byron’s JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler to compete for the prize. 

After starting the Final Stage deep in the field, Byron worked his way back to the front and finished sixth to take home the money.

It gave JRM three of the four Dash 4 Cash awards this season which attests to how well the organization is running. 

“For JRM, I think it just shows the strength of our team to execute,” Byron said. “We keep building and keep getting more speed. I think we’re executing really well in the race and our teammates are. It’s helping everyone get these Dash 4 Cash’s so we’ll just keep building on that.”

Byron’s success provides added confidence following his strong start being slowed as of late. After beginning the year with five top-10 finishes in six events, Byron placed outside the top-10 in the four consecutive races leading up to Dover.

Now having returned to the caliber of performance that impressed many to start his rookie season, more stout runs are likely ahead.

The 19-year-old will first head to a track where he has visited Victory Lane before, Pocono Raceway.

“I feel really confident going to Pocono,” Byron said. “That’s one place I really like. We had good success there last year with the win in trucks.”

Pocono is one of the most challenging tracks on the schedule, and by winning there early in his career, it shows Byron’s ability to adapt well to new venues.

If he carries the momentum from Dover and quickly becomes comfortable with the XFINITY Series car at the 2.5-mile triangle, he will continue to excel and could break through for his first career series victory.

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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Commentary

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’s a peek at Texas through Charlotte.

Cup Driver Domination

While there were five winners from five different teams in the first two months of XFINITY Series competition, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers took over victory lane through April and May.

Joe Gibbs Racing went two in a row with Erik Jones winning Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway to bring their title win total up to three. Kyle Larson snagged a second win for Chip Ganassi Racing at Richmond, with Aric Almirola giving Biagi-DenBeste Racing a victory at Talladega. Lastly, Ryan Blaney scored the win this past weekend at Charlotte for Team Penske’s second of 2017.

Although Cup Series drivers swept the past two months, the series regulars were close to succeeding with a pair of runner-ups.

As we near the Chase, there will be more XFINITY competitors scoring victories with the upcoming stand-alone events, including Iowa Speedway and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

JRM Remains at the Top

10 events completed this season, and the top of the standings hasn’t shifted much as JR Motorsports still 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, currently six points ahead of Justin Allgaier. William Byron rounds out the squad, having fallen 57-markers behind Sadler.

Their strength shows in the numbers, with Allgaier posting the best average finish through April and May at 9.8 on the heels of two runner-ups, while Sadler posted the second highest at 11.6. Sadler has performed better, though, as removing the wreck at Charlotte bring his average down to 5.75.

JR Motorsports’ fourth entry has yet to make much headway with Michael Annett currently ninth in points. While he posted, three top-10’s in the past five events, a wreck at Charlotte Motor Speedway hurt progress in moving forward.

Terrific Tifft

If you are looking for someone to watch, keep an eye on Matt Tifft as he was the third-highest performer over the past three races, boasting an average of 14.2 with a season-best finish of sixth at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is running the complete schedule for the first time, after making 11 starts over the past two years with five top-10’s. With steady improvement each week, he believes he could be the next driver to score his first career victory.

“There’s so much that goes into competing for wins in this series, and I feel like we’re getting close to being able to do that,” he told Popular Speed last month. “You have to build from somewhere, and I felt that Texas was great for us to build from a solid run. You have to have that as a team to build everybody’s confidence up and to be able to keep on rolling through the next stretch here. As you know, we have a couple of weeks here and then a few weeks off, but after that, there are 20 something weeks in a row, and you better be hitting it by then.”

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 Allgaier and Ryan Reed have them locked in.

Sitting 10th in points, Blake Koch only has scored one top-10 this year, but having 62 points over J.J Yeley in 13th should have him and those ahead confident in their chances. With that said, the current outlook includes Sadler, Bryon, Daniel Hemric, Darrell Wallace Jr., Brennan Poole, Tifft, Annett and Koch joining the pair of aforementioned winners.

Cole Custer has scored three top-10’s this year, but wrecks at Bristol and Talladega have slipped him back to 11th in the standings, currently 54 points ahead of Yeley.

Dakoda Armstrong has yet to score a top-10 this season and only has a 36-marker gap to keep the final qualified spot.

The shock of the bubble watch is Richard Childress Racing teammates Brandon Jones and Brendan Gaughan sitting 15th and 16th. With at least 37 points to make up a piece, they will need to start performing or find victory lane during the summer to keep their hopes alive.

No Consistency for Custer

Although Custer’s name was mentioned in the bubble watch, he is a driver who should qualify for the Chase – if he performs to expectations.

With 10 races in the books for 2017, he has posted three top-10’s as noted, including a fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
Each weekend, he places the No. 00 Ford in the top-10 with intentions of a solid finish. However, wrecks and pit penalties have resulted in five finishes outside of the top-20 this season.

Custer acknowledged their struggles, saying they needed to get better.

“We had pretty solid cars the last couple weeks, and even in Atlanta we had a good car just haven’t gotten the finishes,” he said in April. “We haven’t done that. It was me making mistakes and just having random things happen. If we can keep these solid runs going, we will work our way back up there in the points. I feel like we can do this. We have had fast cars the last couple of weeks. We will just keep plugging away at it.”

Being a new team in the series, Stewart-Haas Racing has shown they can run up front on a weekly basis. But if consistency doesn’t start happening, they could fall outside of the Chase cut-off.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Sparks Energy 300

The second restrictor plate race of the season for the NASCAR XFINITY Series delivered the intensity and unpredictability that Talladega Superspeedway is known for.

From numerous multi-car crashes to a heart-pounding finish that came down to the final lap, Saturday afternoon featured pack racing at its best.

Stage Carnage

When the end of the stages neared, the level of aggression picked up. The two “big ones” unfolded with less than five laps remaining in each of the stages, collecting numerous series regulars who were vying for the championship points up for grabs.

William Byron, Daniel Hemric, and Ryan Reed all came into the race in the top-eight of the driver’s standings and were among those taken out in the accidents.

Carnage has been prevalent through first two plate races of the season. Through the intensity associated with the stages and the impact of less downforce on the cars, bumping in the draft has become treacherous and has caused many of the crashes.  

Ford Power

Race winner Aric Almirola and third-place finisher Joey Logano had two of the strongest cars in the field. They worked together in the draft for much of the event and led 29 of the 133 laps.

Logano was shuffled out of the front group numerous times but always recovered and returned to the front, attesting to the No. 22 Ford’s performance and his restrictor plate racing prowess.

Almirola’s No. 98 Ford seemed to be one of the few cars capable of challenging Logano, and he took advantage of this by taking the lead as Logano fell back late. This is the second consecutive year Almirola has captured a XFINITY Series plate race victory as he won last July at Daytona.

Staying Out of Trouble

In February at Daytona, four of JR Motorsports’ five entries were involved in crashes. The organization performed remarkably better on Saturday as only William Byron exited the race early following an accident.

Two of the team’s cars earned season-best results as Elliott Sadler came home second and Michael Annett placed seventh. Justin Allgaier finished eighth, and Kasey Kahne ended up 15th after a late-race penalty put him a lap down, concluding a much cleaner day for the JRM cars.

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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.