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XFINITY

JR Motorsports is Chasing History Heading to Phoenix

AVONDALE, Arizona — As the NASCAR Xfinity Series gears up for the semi-final race at ISM Raceway, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. finds himself in a position to achieve something only done once previously in series history. With JR Motorsports currently taking up three spots in the Round of 8 – Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett and Noah Gragson, a third consecutive title is very possible. 

Allgaier is the lone driver in position to advance to the Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway sitting fourth in the standings, 18 points ahead of Chase Briscoe. Annett finds himself 28 points out of the final spot and Gragson is essentially in a must-win situation sitting in a 47-point hole.

JR Motorsports has won two consecutive championships. The first coming from the current driver of the No. 24 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, William Byron in 2017. The second was with current reigning Xfinity Series Champion is Tyler Reddick – who now races for Richard Childress Racing.

Should Allgaier, Annett or Gragson advance to Miami and win the 2019 Xfinity Series Championship they would eclipse a feat only done once in the series history. BACE Motorsports successfully won three-consecutive championship in NASCAR’s lower division from 1995-97. The first came from Johnny Benson Jr.; Randy LaJoie then drove his way to back-to-back titles from 1996-97.

This will not be an easy task for Annett and Gragson, who both find themselves in essentially a must-win scenario at ISM Raceway.

Annett is in the midst of a career-year driving the No. 1 Chevy Camaro for the 15-year Most Popular Driver recipient, Earnhardt. The driver of the No. 1 captured his first win across all three of NASCAR’s premier series in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. This comes in addition to a season where he has totaled six top-fives and 18 top-10’s with an average finish of 10th through 30 races.

For Annett, he believes his path to Homestead will reside in qualifying.

“Tomorrow is going to be crucial because qualifying at a track like this is at a premium,” Annett said. “This was probably the most beneficial track for group qualifying.”

The 33-year old driver is referring to the transition back to single-car qualifying that was mandated by NASCAR in May. At the start of the 2019 season, many drivers voiced their displeasure with the new group qualifying rule that had just been implemented.

“It’s all about putting the whole weekend together,” Annett further elaborated. “Winning the race is the only way we can go into this. Justin [Allgaier] is so good here and being 28 points behind him, it’s going to be difficult to out-point him.”

The driver of the No. 9 finds himself in the most difficult position of the JRM trio heading into the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 at ISM Raceway. It will be an uphill battle for Gragson who sits eight in the standings, but he is no stranger to success at the Arizona-based track.

While the 20-year old driver is still in search of his first win in the Xfinity Series, he almost found victory lane in the Valley of the Sun in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports last season, ultimately finishing second. Gragson has not been able to notch a top-10 at ISM Raceway in the second-tier series, but he does have an 11th place average finishing position in both of NASCAR’s lower divisions.

On the flip side, Allgaier is in a favorable position heading into a track where he’s had immense success. The driver  of the No. 7 Brandt Chevrolet found victory lane in the desert Spring of 2017 after leading 85 of 200 Laps. The 33-year old started on the pole last Spring and has led an additional 145 Laps since his last win in Avondale, Arizona.

He also posts a 9.1 average finish in 18 starts with six top-fives and 11 top-10’s at the track formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway. This is all in addition to a career-high top-10 streak the Riverton, Illinois-product has strung together over the last 15 races.

But the 10-year series veteran is no where near satisfied.

“The crazy thing is – even with the top-10 streak – I still feel like it’s been a terrible year,” Allgaier said. “There’s been so many races that haven’t gone our way, but it’s definitely helped us grow as a team. We’ve done a great job at rebounding and managing the adversity.”

Allgaier acknowledges the fact that the series is being dominated by “The Big Three,” in Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer. However he believes there’s one thing that sets him apart from the young guns – experience.

“I’m the only driver who’s made the Playoffs every year since they started this format,” Allgaier shared. “Those three guys have had a lot of speed this year and they’ve been very good, but we’ve also noticed that when their days don’t go the way they want to go that they’ve had some challenges dealing with that.”

The odds are in the series veteran’s favor and he is going into the final two races with a must-win mentality. Allgaier is aware that these last events will not come without adversity, but also expressed great joy in the fact that the series finale will be ran at this track where he’s had so much success over his career.

Expect to see the trio of JR Motorsports drivers tomorrow with a heavy emphasis on a positive qualifying effort. If NASCAR superstar Dale Jr. wants to achieve the historical feat of three-consecutive Xfinity Series Championships, the road must go through the 1.5-mile track that is ISM Raceway.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway

Although a first career triumph for Brandon Jones and the fight between championship contenders Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer will top the headlines leaving Kansas Speedway, several other things happened during the Kansas Lottery 300 on Saturday.

Lap Traffic Problems

https://twitter.com/XfinityRacing/status/1185669422075088896

As the laps began to wound down, it appeared as though the battle for the win would be between Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell. However, those hopes were dashed with 15 laps to go when they were caught up in a wreck with a lap car.

Garrett Smithley told NASCAR on NBC that he wasn’t made aware that the leaders were coming up on him, and he was just riding around on 70-lap tires at that point.

The frustration radiated from Briscoe who was quick to ask on his radio, “What was he doing? Where was he going?” It was a reasonable question considering Smithley was already five laps down at this point in the event. 

At the beginning of a driver’s racing career at the short track level, lap cars are taught to remain on the bottom, allowing the leaders to battle as they should have the right to. Knowing that he was already multiple laps down and off the pace, why did he not remain on the bottom of the track?

Secondly, it is a little disheartening to see Smithley throw total blame on his spotter for the incident. He is the one handling the controls of the racecar, and should be aware of the situation around him. 

This is not Smithley’s first incident as a lapped car this season, either, as he crossed paths with Kyle Busch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Hopefully he learned something this time around as it is one of the most frustrating things in racing to see a battle for the win ruined this way.

Briscoe was able to rebound, getting a new rear bumper car installed to drive back up to finish third. Bell finished 12th, but thankfully has a comfortable advantage over the cut-off line in the playoffs thanks to a solid regular season campaign.

Overaggressive Driving

Knowing a spot in the Championship 4 is on the line, it was safe to say that several drivers were being overly aggressive on Saturday – namely Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson.

Cindric has been solid thus far through the playoffs to be considered a legitimate threat by some, as noted by POPULAR SPEED’s Mitchell Breuer entering the weekend. However, he wound up finishing 25th on Saturday after having to make a couple unscheduled trips down pit road with flat tires.

The contact was all self-inflicted, too. He grew frustrated battling Harrison Burton for position, saying that “he was driving all over the track,” that he drove in the back of the No. 18, sending Burton up into the wall and ending his day. The contact resulted in nose damage to Cindric’s Ford that was made worse when he made contact with John Hunter Nemechek on the restart.

Considering the issues experienced by fellow championship contenders and the speed Cindric has shown this year – finishing no worse than third in any playoff event entering this weekend, this could have been his opportunity to capitalize.

Although his title chances are not totally eliminated, he will essentially need to win one of the next two events to be part of the championship conversation. If he continues to let the little battles frustrate him, that certainly won’t happen.

Gragson, meanwhile, stated before the event that he was going to push harder than he has before, wanting to be aggressive and take advantage of the opportunity laid before him. It back fired, as he got into the wall on two separate occasions, ultimately finishing 13th with a car that should have placed in the top-10, possibly top-five.

Through Gragson’s truck series seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports, he was fast on a weekly basis – but mistakes and being overaggressive certainly took away some chances at winning. It seems that cycle is still repeated. If he had not found the contact resulting in the flat left rear in the final laps, he could have been celebrating in victory lane. 

There is something to be said for a driver who wants to push as hard as they can to succeed, but a line needs to be drawn in the sand. That is something the rookie needs to find if he wants to be able to score his first career series victory. 

Great Strategy!

Through his career, Michael Annett has been seen as an average driver – able to find solid consistency, but not become a serious contender for a championship. 

His crew chief Travis Mack deserves all the credit for leaving his driver out there on old tires, while the rest of the leaders pitted. That allowed Annett to take four fresh tires on a later caution, setting him up for a strong charge to the front.

The call was almost a success, as Annett drove his way from outside the top-10 to third before another caution came out. If the additional yellow flag had not waved, he had enough momentum to power past the top-two and snag the victory. However, the additional heat cycle on the tires took any chance that he had away, resulting in a fourth-place finish.

For anybody looking for an underdog for the championship, Annett and more so crew chief Travis Mack made a case for the No. 1 team. If there is a race that comes down to a strategy call, it may just work in their favor next time.

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

Michael Annett Continues Strong Season

JOLIET, Illinois — Michael Annett’s impressive turnaround during the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series season continued at Chicagoland Speedway, where he captured a third-place finish Saturday.

The finish did not come easy for him though, as despite being a top-10 car for most of the race, troubles on pit road plagued the No. 1 team throughout the race. Ironically though, it was pit strategy that gave the advantage he needed, as after staying out much longer than most of the field, a perfectly timed caution allowed him to keep the track position he gained.

“It was a long day. You know, my guys on pit road were really good all day, and I screwed up twice there. I sped once and stalled it a second time,” Annett told POPULAR SPEED. “So, for all that going on, I think we passed the most cars, and Travis had an amazing strategy, keeping me out there, and that caution felt perfect for us. He was about to call me in that lap, then it came, so felt perfect for us. Got those tires, got the lead.”

While Annett was able to lead, he knew that it would be tough to hold off the likes of Cole Custer and Joey Logano, but was glad he was able to keep his JR Motorsports Chevrolet in the top-five at the end of the day.

“I knew it was going to be hard to hold off those guys that led the whole race, and they were top of the board all weekend, so you try not to get down when they get around you on those restarts, knowing that they’d been passing you all day, you know, there’s no magic switch, so couple of them got by me, but then we were able to help hold off the guys that we should have, and got a top five.”

The finish is his fourth top-five, and sixth consecutive (11 in total) top-10, putting himself ninth in the points. Though, he is already locked into the playoffs via his win at Daytona International Speedway to start the season.

“It’s been a really fun season so far and a testament to all these guys’ hard work and confidence they have in me, I have in myself this year, and we’re just, we’re having a blast. Perfect way to start off this 15-race stretch right now.” Annett said.

After missing the playoffs last season, this was a driver that fell of people’s radar. However, with the season he is having, it may be important to keep an eye on Annett moving forward.

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

Annett Continues To Improve In Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Nev — What a turnaround 2019 has already been for Michael Annett.

After missing the playoffs last year, the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet opened the season with a win at Daytona International Speedway and continued to look strong in Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 32-year-old hung inside the top-10 all day, and scored additional points throughout the race with sixth and eighth place finishes in the first two stages of the race en route to placing fifth at the checkered flag.

So, what is the cause for this sudden surge of momentum for a team that seemed to have nothing going for it in 2018?

“I mean, it’s just a lot of confidence,” Annett told POPULAR SPEED. “Even opening up for a team right now, obviously you know we got that win in Daytona, but I think we all know what Daytona means and you know it’s kind of a crapshoot going in. So to come out of a mile and a half, that is the majority of our schedule, and run top ten most of the day and, to bring home a top five. I don’t think we had any top five’s last year. So, to be third race in and have three top 15’s and two top five’s already, is just a testament to what we have going here on this 1 team.”

While the start of the season has been nice for him and his JR Motorsports team, Annett is keeping his eyes on the future, and is looking to keep this impressive streak going in the coming weeks.

“I think the biggest thing is the confidence is continuing to build. The excitement these guys are taking into this race team and now it’s just up to me to get some better restart,” Annett said. “You know I’ve been restarting all last season back there 10 to 15th and now you’re up there in those first three rows, you got to do everything right and be on it. So, it’s on me to work on those restarts.”

After three races, the Iowa-native has gone from the afterthought at JR Motorsports to the man leading the charge, as he sits fifth in the standings.

Now it is early in the season, but this sudden improvement is worth noting, given the success Dale Earnhardt Jr’s teams have had in the series. If Annett is able to keep this up, he could establish himself more as a threat rather than just a feel-good story.

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

OBSERVATIONS: NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at Daytona International Speedway

After the complete chaos experienced with the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series, there were high hopes for the NASCAR Xfinity Series to deliver an exciting event on Saturday. Oh boy were we wrong.

The majority of the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at Daytona International Speedway was ran in a single-file line along the top groove of the track, the same thing that we saw in the Gander Outdoor Duels and the Advance Auto Parts Clash.

As the laps counted down, nobody even chose to drop out of line and make a move – even through the final five circuits. The only driver whom tried to make something happen throughout the event – Chase Elliott, the same driver who tried to make a move happen and was met with failure in the Duels, as well. The decision to try and attempt to make things exciting ultimately bit him as he only scored a 10th-place finish after running 20th with 15 laps to go.

Needless to say, it was a boring afternoon of racing.

The resulting style of racing is something that’s probably welcomed by the team owners, as they’ll once be able to take home all the cars without much damage. However, it presented a huge letdown to the fans following the exciting finish last year that saw Tyler Reddick just edge out his teammate Elliott Sadler for the victory.

The only difference between the two seasons in the package is the new composite body. While it may not have meant much in the end, it could be what caused the racing we witnessed today.

However, it doesn’t explain why the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers did the same thing, as well.

Could we be seeing drivers be ultra conservative, and perhaps trapping themselves in a hole with nowhere to go due to the momentum of the single-file lane? That’s quite possible, too,

Either way, it doesn’t give you much hope for Sunday’s Daytona 500 as if the Xfinity drivers didn’t make it exciting for the stages and the checkered, what makes you think they will in the Cup Series now? Maybe it’s best if you just tune in for the closing stages of the Daytona 500 rather than watch the whole thing and end up falling asleep. Or maybe we could be wrong.

No matter the package, though, JR Motorsports has opened the door how they did last year with a one-two finish at Daytona as Michael Annett led the way for Justin Allgaier. It’s an interesting dynamic as just like last year, it’s the JRM driver least expected to visit victory lane of the four teammates (Annett) pacing the championship favorite (Allgaier). We all knew that last year, Reddick used the comfort of having the win in the bank to grow and make the late season charge to take the title.

Will Annett and Travis Mack be able to do the same thing together?

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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News

Michael Annett scores first Xfinity Series win at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Michael Annett won a numerologist’s delight on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.

After an offseason change from No. 5 to No. 1 on the sides and roof of his JR Motorsports Chevrolet, Annett held off teammate Justin Allgaier in the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at the 2.5-mile superspeedway to claim his first victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in his 230th start.

“Eight years in the series—this is amazing,” said Annett, who struggled through a 2018 season that failed to produce a single top-five finish. “I couldn’t have done it without these guys (the crew). They’ve stuck with me through the hard times when everybody counts us out and wonders why I get to drive this car, and I think we showed it today—they worked their tails off on this.

“We got the 1 in Victory Lane. Our slogan this year is ‘One team, one dream, one goal.’ This was one of them, so we’re starting off good.”

Brandon Jones ran third in his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra in the debut race for that model. Ryan Sieg ran fourth, followed by Austin Cindric and Christopher Bell.

Allgaier tried to pair up with Jones on the final lap but couldn’t mount a sustained run on his teammate, who held the lead for the final 45 of 120 laps.

“I followed Michael a few years ago in an ARCA race, and I remember seeing that Pilot/Flying J (sponsor logo) on the back bumper,” Allgaier said. “I could beat him them, and I couldn’t do it today. I tried really hard there at the end.

“First of all, hats off the everybody back at JR Motorsports. To see a car that was that strong… all four of our Camaro SS’s were strong today. To see Michael get his first win… he’s tried so hard, and to see the time and the effort he’s put in, especially this offseason, it’s really, really cool. I was disappointed I couldn’t make a run, but a great way to start the season.”

The victory was also the first for crew chief Travis Mack, who was released from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team at Leavine Family Racing (with driver Kasey Kahne) in midseason last year. He teamed with Annett for the last portion of 2018 — 13 races in all.

“It’s been a tough road for Travis Mack,” said team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. “It’s been an equally tough road for Michael Annett. This was redemption for both those guys.”

The first caution of the race not for a stage break came on Lap 71, when the escape hatch in the roof of Brad Keselowski’s No. 12 Ford broke loose and landed in the tri-oval grass.

That particular piece had broken on Lap 1, and the Team Penske crew had spent the cautions at the ends of the first two stages trying to secure it—in vain. After the hatch went flying, Keselowski took his car to the garage and retired in 37th place.

“I felt like I was back in the ‘50s running a convertible here on the beach,” Keselowski said wryly. “That was interesting. The roof, escape hatch, whatever it’s called, looks like there was a defect from the factory on the body and just nothing we could do. The guys tried to fix it, but it’s in a spot where you can’t get to it and work on it.

“It’s made the way it’s made. It’s one of those things outside your control, and sometimes that’s just how things go… I know we had a car that could win today. It broke on Lap 1, Turn 1, and we did everything we could to fix it for the last hour or so, but it is just not something you can fix.”

Notes: In his first drive in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Jeffrey Earnhardt led the first 29 laps, finished fourth in Stage 1, fifth in Stage 2 and 15th at the checkered flag. …Ross Chastain won Stage 2 in his first trip in the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet before finishing 13th. His teammate, Justin Haley, won the first stage and came home 17th. …2000 series champion Jeff Green ran seventh, followed by John Hunter Nemechek, pole winner Tyler Reddick (who started from the rear because of a pre-race tire change) and Chase Elliott. … Noah Gragson finished 11th in his first run in the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

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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.  

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

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

CLEMENTS: “It’s a Miracle” to Win

Jeremy Clements has been one of the most persistent racers in the NASCAR XFINITY Series through 256 career starts.

Driving for a small, family-owned operation provides its challenges as keeping up with the top performers in the series on a consistent basis is no easy task.

Despite the adversity, the No. 51 team continues to race each weekend, knowing their chance to succeed is unlikely.

It can happen, though, and did in Sunday’s Johnsonville 180 at Road America as Clements earned his first career victory.

Realistically, there are six races a season that provide smaller teams with an improved chance to excel as restrictor plate and road course events often even the playing field.

While Daytona, Talladega, and Watkins Glen provide that opportunity, the increased presence of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers further limits the potential for surprise contenders.

Standalone events at Mid-Ohio and Road America are different because the focus is on the series regulars. 

“These road courses are wild races,” Clements said. “This one and Mid-Ohio are the ones in my mind that I come and can do really good at. Top-five, top-10. Maybe even win like we did today. You don’t have Cup guys here. You got just the regular teams, and that just gives you a shot. The road courses are wild. A lot of stuff happens.”

It’s less about the quality of the equipment and more about the ability of the driver and strategy that the team uses during road course events.

Clements entered the race knowing it could be one of his best performances of the year but having no idea that he would end the day in Victory Lane.

“Obviously I drive for a small family team and to get a win in any of these starts is amazing,” Clements said. “It’s a miracle. Feels like a dream come true.”

The feat is even more impressive considering the teams that he beat.

JR Motorsports occupies the top three positions in the points standings and will have some of the strongest Playoff contenders but came closest with Michael Annett in second-place.

Joe Gibbs Racing led a combined 17 circuits but Clements chased down Matt Tifft in the closing laps, and Tifft ended up third.

Richard Childress Racing won three consecutive races at Road America leading into Sunday but was unable to showcase the strength expected of the organization.

For the No. 51 team to prevail, it attests to their hard work and determination, given the weekly challenges they face.

“It’s very hard,” Clements said. “We’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices. We run old stuff every week. This car was literally built in 2008.”

This victory will go down as one of the biggest upsets in XFINITY Series history. While rare, these moments define racing and highlight why all 40 teams compete every week.

Now the outlook on Clements’ season and career have changed. He will take part in the Playoffs this fall, something his team didn’t even think about before Sunday.

“I wasn’t even looking at the Chase because we were so far back and we didn’t really have a shot honestly unless we won,” Clements said.

Winning one race is a meaningful accomplishment, but now his career will be driven by the motivation to return to Victory Lane and taste the champagne for the second time. 

Will it happen? It’s anyone’s guess. But Sunday proved that it is possible.

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.

Categories
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.