Chase Briscoe routed the field in the Xfinity Series playoff opener to earn his eighth win of the season, the number he’s said should earn him a promotion to NASCAR’s top level.
Briscoe, in a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, won all three stages Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway then beat hometown driver Noah Gragson on a late restart to grab control of the Xfinity Series title race.
Briscoe earned an automatic berth into the second round of the playoffs and expanded his series-best win total. There will be a new Xfinity Series champion for the first time in three years this season and Briscoe is one of the favorites.
“An incredible car by everybody at Stewart-Haas. That made my job way too easy, honestly,” Briscoe said. “We have had a lot of wins this year, but this is by far our most dominant car.”
The Indiana native has been an inspiring story for underdogs and this season was in doubt until sponsorship developed during the offseason to secure a second season at SHR.
Briscoe went into the year determined to win eight races and prove he deserves a spot in the Cup Series.
Briscoe joined Jack Ingram and Sam Ard with a record eight wins; both Ingram and Ard won eight apiece in 1984. He also won last week at Bristol.
Now that Briscoe has hit his mark of eight wins, he’s got his sights set on grabbing every trophy he can over the final six races of the season. He knew his No. 98 team was capable of a dominant season, which is why he felt comfortable making eight wins the mark to hit to argue his case for a Cup ride.
“I knew this team was fully capable of achieving that and even more,” Briscoe said. “It has been an unbelievable season and we still have a lot, six more wins that we can try to get and a championship. That is what we are going to try to do.”
Gragson, a Las Vegas native, finished second in a Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. He suffered a bloody nose in the middle of the race and it was bothersome over the final stretch. When a caution came out with 14 laps to go, Gragson got his shot to go head-to-head for the win with Briscoe.
It took Briscoe a full lap to take control on the restart, and Gragson had nothing for him. Briscoe had built a lead of more than six seconds over Austin Cindric before the late caution, Gragson came off pit road in second and had his only chance at Briscoe on the restart.
“Good day for us overall. I felt like we were really good, the best I’ve ever been here,” Gragson said. “I just didn’t have anything for the 98 — a lot of race cars out here and only one space shuttle.”
Cindric, the regular season champion, didn’t have as strong of a Ford as Briscoe, but still was running second before the final caution. Team Penske told him he should do the opposite strategy as Briscoe but the let Cindric make the final decision. Cindric followed Briscoe down pit road for the service but a slow stop cost him four positions.
Cindric finished sixth.
“Frustrated, man, I definitely don’t believe we deserved to finish where we did,” Cindric said.
Here are my main takeaways.
Sieg Has Solid Night
Ryan Sieg entered this weekend’s opening race of the Xfinity Series season eight points below the cutoff line. He leaves +9 as he made up a good chunk on Saturday night with a fifth place finish in the Alsco 300.
Sieg, ran in the top five for a majority of the evening with his No. 39 Chevrolet finishing third in Stage 1 and fourth in Stage 2. That was a big 15 bonus points in the two stages to which further helped his cause. He only had one top 10 finish in his last eight starts on the season entering this weekend’s race. So, to come out and look this good bodes well with his chances of advancing to the second round of the postseason.
Burton’s 2nd to Last Pit Call Helps, Final Caution Takes Away A Top 5 Though
Harrison Burton didn’t have a very fast race car for much of Saturday night’s Alsco 300. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver scored no stage points with a finish of 12th and 11th respectively in each of them run. So, they took a risk towards the end of Saturday’s race. Under the second to last caution, his crew chief called him down pit road for his final fresh set of tires.
Burton, moved up to the top five and was heading towards a top five finish before the final caution came out on Lap 186 for Alex Labbe stalling on pit road. That meant that pit call was all for not now. Everyone else would come to get fresh tires. Burton, only had 10 lapped scuffed tires left. So, while he restarted in the top five, he didn’t stay there long.
He’d finish ninth in the end and his +2 in the playoff standings heading to Talladega next week.
JRM Puts All 4 Cars In The Top 7
It wasn’t a victorious night for JR Motorsports on Saturday, but they did put all four cars in the top seven of the final finishing order including three of the top four overall in general. Noah Gragson came home second in his No. 9 Chevrolet for his fifth consecutive top eight finish on the season and fourth top six in as many tries on his home track in the Xfinity Series. It was also his sixth top five finish in 11 starts on 1.5-mile circuits in 2020 too. Gragson, is +36 now in the playoff standings going into the second race of the opening round next Saturday.
Daniel Hemric was third in his No. 8 Chevrolet. He finished eighth in both stages run on Saturday and now has his first top five in five career NXS starts on this track. He was sixth and second in two Truck Series starts though. It was much needed for him as eight of his previous 16 starts on the season saw him finish 24th or worse. Six of those eight were 30th or worse. So, a top five was very beneficial for this teams’ psyche.
Justin Allgaier overcame a rough night in scoring only two stage points to come away with a top five in his No. 7 Chevrolet. It was his fourth straight top five finish on the season too and seventh top 10 in his last nine tries overall. He’s also had 11 top 10 finishes in 13 NXS starts in Vegas including five of his last seven being in the top five. He’s +28 in the standings heading to Talladega next week as his car came to him as the conditions cooled as the race went on.
Michael Annett finished seventh in his No. 1 Chevrolet. He benefitted from a caution while trying to run what they thought would be the second to last stint long. He was able to pit and come out inside of the top 10 which led to his seventh top 10 in his last eight tries and 14th in his last 16 starts on the season overall.
Contact With Cindric In The End Puts Chastain Below The Cut Line
Ross Chastain was emotional following a runner-up finish last Friday night at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway. It was his fourth straight top five on the season and fifth top three finish in his last seven starts in general. He’s came home runner-up five times already in 2020 but has no wins despite that. Chastain, so badly wanted to taste victory again as it’s been since Daytona in July 2019 as the last time that he has.
Still, he was a sleeper for these playoffs though. Chastain had seven straight top six finishes, three runner-ups in his last six tries and 18 top 10’s overall in his last 19 starts on the season. In Vegas, his last three finishes were first, seventh and 10th respectively.
He came out of the gates hot too in finishing second in Stage 1. He fell to 11th for Stage 2. In the end, he was 16th, worst among the 12 playoff drivers. Late race contact with Austin Cindric pushed his No. 10 Chevrolet high and loose at Turn 4 exit and he lost several spots as a result. This was just the second time since June 1 that he didn’t come away with a top 10 result.
He’s now below the cut line at -2 by virtue of that.