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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