All three national divisions of NASCAR are lined up now. The Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Cup Series all begin the Round of 8 this weekend at the Kansas Speedway. They’ll all remain together from here on out. It’s Kansas-Texas-Martinsville this round to set up the Championship 4 for all three levels on the second weekend of November at Phoenix.
But, lets focus on the Xfinity and Truck levels for right now. Both have concluded their first rounds. Eight drivers remain for each in terms of the championship. Who’s getting to Phoenix?
We saw a non playoff driver win two of the three first round races with Sam Mayer at Bristol and Raphael Lessard in Talladega. I don’t think that’s going to happen this round though. With two 1.5-mile tracks coming up, I can see a path to where the eight remaining playoff eligible drivers can win out.
First up it’s to Kansas where I wouldn’t be shocked to see Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger or Austin Hill win.
Crafton, had one top six finish in his first 12 Kansas starts. He’s had eight in his last nine efforts including five of them being in the top two. He was fourth and first respectively this past summer on the 1.5-mile track and has six straight top 10 finishes on 1.5-mile tracks in general including four of his last five being in the top four.
Enfinger, was third in both races this past July and has four consecutive top eight finishes in the Sunflower State. He also has four straight top eight finishes on 1.5-mile tracks this season including a win in Atlanta too.
Then you have Hill who just won at Vegas and has won two of the last three races on 1.5-mile tracks overall. He won the first race of the doubleheader weekend at Kansas with Crafton earning the second win. Hill, has three straight top six finishes on the 1.5-mile track and a top 10 in all but nine of his 1.5-mile starts this season on them overall.
I’ll take Hill for the win on Saturday and a spot into the Championship 4 at Phoenix.
For Texas, give me Crafton to win and join Hill in the final round on Nov. 6.
At Martinsville, I’ll take Brett Moffitt to score his first win of the season and third straight Championship 4 berth.
So, who joins them on points?
Sheldon Creed (+12) and Zane Smith (+6) are the only two above the cutline now that I haven’t mentioned. Creed, only has three top 10’s over his last 10 starts on the season and only three top five’s in his last 12 starts overall. But, those three are two wins and a runner-up. He was runner-up in Vegas and won on a 1.5-mile track at Kentucky. He was also only eighth and 26th respectively in his two starts this year at Kansas too.
Smith, has just two top five finishes in his last 15 tries, both of those being wins too. He was a solid top 10 on both days in Kansas back in July and can be a threat to win at Texas too. But, he’s points racing. Those finishes lately aren’t there to make me feel good about his chances.
What about Ben Rhodes? He has four top five finishes in his last seven tries. He also has four top 10 finishes in his last five starts on 1.5-mile tracks including seven in nine tries in 2020.
Tyler Ankrum has five top eight finishes in his last eight starts but has just one top five and only three top 10’s on 1.5-mile tracks this year.
I’ll take Rhodes to escape by to Phoenix on points as he can easily make up five points in three races.
This is going to be an intense fight to widdle this down from eight to four. Kaulig Racing has two straight wins now. Joe Gibbs Racing saw two of their three cars eliminated in the opening round, the top two drivers in the series combined for one top five after having 31 between them in the regular season with Noah Gragson being the top performer with a top three finish in all three first round races.
What happens now?
I do think Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric turn it back on again. Briscoe only has two top 10 finishes in his last seven starts on the season, but both of those being wins. He’s also been good on 1.5-mile tracks with four wins on them to go along with two runner-ups as well and we start this round on two of them. Overall, he has nine top 10’s in 11 starts on intermediate tracks in 2020.
Cindric has been great on these tracks too. He’s won three times with two runner-ups as well. He has five straight top six finishes on them including eight top 10’s, six of those being in the top three at that, in his last nine tries.
With the first two races being on 1.5-mile tracks, I would be shocked if both are shutout over the next two weeks.
But, one driver that they’re going to have a fierce rivalry with this weekend at Kansas is Brandon Jones. He’s won the last two trips there and is going to get all of JGR’s attention with him being their only playoff representative now. He’s had four top 19 finishes in his last five starts on the season with all being in the top 11 at that. His main issue is, he’s had one top five in his last five starts on 1.5-mile tracks with that being his Kansas win back in July. He’s also only had six top 10’s in 11 starts on 1.5-mile tracks in general in 2020 as well. If he doesn’t win at Kansas on Saturday, this may be the end of his road.
Justin Allgaier is +10 entering this round and has seven top 10 finishes in his last 10 starts on the season. But, he had two finishes of 23rd or worse in the first round. Still, he’s been solid on 1.5-mile tracks with four straight top 10’s, three of those being in the top five and eight top 10’s in 11 starts on intermediate tracks this season.
Noah Gragson has seven straight top eight finishes and 11 in his last 12 starts. His only drawback is he’s struggled at Kansas in the Xfinity Series and has just one top five in his last five 1.5-mile starts too. But, that top five was a runner-up at Vegas to go along with five top fives on 1.5-mile tracks over the course of the season as well. He and Allgaier will be in an intense battle for pointsing their way in.
Justin Haley has four top six finishes in his last eight tries and six straight top 10’s on 1.5-mile tracks.
Ryan Sieg has 10 top 10 finishes all year, but two of those came in the playoffs with a pair of top fives. He’s also had three top 10’s over his last five starts on 1.5-mile tracks overall too.
That leaves Ross Chastain who’s -15. He’s not won all year but has nine top six finishes over his last 10 starts overall and 20 top 10’s in his last 22 tries. He’s a top 10 machine on 1.5-mile tracks with one in every race with the exception of the last race at Vegas.
So, who gets into the Championship 4?
It’s interesting that six of the eight drivers left have all won this year, four of those six in the last six races and the two that haven’t won, Chastain hasn’t won since July 2019 and Sieg has never won.
I think Briscoe and Cindric win the first two races and I’ll take Gragson at Martinsville. I’ll pick Allgaier to advance to the Championship 4 on points narrowly over Chastain. Chastain is -15 and Allgaier +10. That’s a lot for Chastain to make up on Allgaier so long as Allgaier remains consistent up front. Both will make up and lose ground on one another, but so long as both are staying in the top 10 in all three races, it will be a tough gap to close for Chastain.