LOUDON, NH — Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race was dubbed Christopher Bell vs. the field. Bell, had entered winning each of the last two series races on the Magic Mile and was making his first start of the 2021 season in Xfinity competition.
Without the PJ1 traction compound at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, how would that affect Bell. His previous success had come with the sticky surface. But, with rain chances high for Saturday night and through Sunday, track officials didn’t want to put the compound down this weekend with chances of it just washing off.
So, they elected to just use the normal track grip in Loudon. It didn’t faze Bell or his Joe Gibbs Racing team. Bell, led a race-high 151 of 200 laps en route to his third straight Loudon win and 17th on his Xfinity Series career. That ties him with Cup Series teammate Denny Hamlin for 17th all-time.
Bell, first took over the lead on Lap 44 and would lead all but six laps from there on out including sweeping both stages in the Ambetter Get Vaccinated 200. This was Joe Gibbs Racing’s sixth straight win in New Hampshire and 11th in the last 13 years. The only non JGR driver to win this race since 2008 was Brad Keselowski (2012, 2014).
Justin Allgaier had an intense battle with Daniel Hemric over the final half of the race but fended him off for his seventh top three result in his No. 7 Chevrolet this season. He crossed the finish line 6.241-seconds arrears to Bell for his best career New Hampshire finish but also his fourth top seven in his last five starts there too. Allgaier, also now has five top seven finishes in his last six starts on the year too. By comparison, he had four in the previous 13 races prior.
Hemric, had to settle for third in his No. 18 Toyota for his sixth top three of 2021. He was runner-up to Kyle Busch in Road America then had a shot at a win last weekend in Atlanta before crashing on a late race restart from the lead with Busch pushing him a little too hard at that moment. Hemric, now sits +266 in the playoff standings heading to the two week break.
Austin Cindric was fourth in his No. 22 Ford for his 15th top 10 finish of the year, including 12 of which being in the top five. Harrison Burton rounded out the top five in his No. 20 Toyota for his third top five finish in the last five races.
No. 54 Toyota Best Car This Season
That’s three cars in the top five on Saturday for JGR with Bell giving the No. 54 Toyota its eighth win during the 2021 campaign. Busch was a perfect 5-for-5. Ty Gibbs won the other two races. Martin Truex Jr. was runner-up in the car this past spring in Atlanta while John Hunter Nemechek and Ty Dillon have also taken the car for a ride this season.
This has no doubt been the top car in 2021.
Michael Annett missed Sunday’s race but he still sits ahead of the cutline in going from +59 to +32 heading to Watkins Glen in two weeks. Annett, had successful surgery on Tuesday for a leg injury but is fully expecting to use this two week break to recuperate and be ready to go next month on the upstate New York road course.
Riley Herbst is the first car out as he is -32. He battled back from being caught up in a Lap 25 crash on the first restart of the day to take his No. 98 Ford home with a top 10 result. It was Herbst’s third top 10 in the last five races.
Brandon Brown was 17th on Saturday and sits -41. Ryan Sieg was 13th and is 75 points behind. Alex Labbe is -141 after finishing a disappointing 36th. None of the four drivers below the cutline scored any stage points.
Jeremy Clements scored one stage point in the first stage but brought his No. 51 Chevrolet home in 15th. He’s +50. Brandon Jones was involved in that crash with Herbst on Lap 25 and saw his day end early in 38th. His last three finishes on the season now are 19th, 39th and 38th respectively. He had five straight top eight finishes prior as he’s now had seven finishes outside of the top 30 this season and is +71 as a result.
Noah Gragson had a top 10 day going before a late race incident which sent him up the track in Turn 3. He’d finish 14th because of that and lose two points on the day in going from +128 entering to +126 in the playoff standings leaving.
Justin Haley gained 13 points though going from +146 to +159. He was seventh in Stage 1 and sixth in Stage 2. He brought his No. 11 Chevrolet home in sixth for his sixth top 10 in the last nine starts on the season.
He, Hemric and Cindric all scored their first career New Hampshire top 10 on Saturday afternoon.
Haley’s Kaulig Racing teammates had better starting spots in sharing the front row but only came home 11th (Jeb Burton) and 12th (AJ Allmendinger) respectively. Burton, was eighth in Stage 1 and 10th in Stage 2. Allmendinger was second and fourth respectively in the two stages but struggled to remain in the top five in the second half of the race.
Championship Wide Open Still
Austin Cindric is obviously the favorite to win a second straight Xfinity Series championship this year. He leads the standings on the heels of four wins and currently has 27 playoff points entering the two week break. Next best is 15. But, should Cindric win the regular season championship too, he’d end up with 15 more playoff points which could really help him this Fall.
Still, I don’t really see him separating himself from the pack right now though. Yes, he has 15 top 10’s this season and 12 of them being in the top five, but the Team Penske driver also has just three top fives in the last seven races.
Justin Allgaier is catching fire now with four top three results in the last six races. AJ Allmendinger has had a struggling last two weeks (13th, 12th) but he had seven top six finishes in eight races prior.
Daniel Hemric is even there I feel too. He was second in Road America. Should have won in Atlanta. Was third on Saturday. Hemric, has 12 top 10’s this year including six in the top three.
These are my Championship 4 picks at the moment.
But, Harrison Burton is starting to get hot again with him having three top five results in the last five races now too. Justin Haley is too with him scoring 12 top 10’s in the season including six of which in the last nine races in general. I do think they’ll need to find victory lane in the playoffs to do much damage though.
The Chrome Horn award goes to Noah Gragson who’s had a lot of speed this year. He’s just had bad luck too. He was heading towards his sixth straight top 10 result on Saturday before late race contact with another driver forced him up into the Turn 3 wall. He finished 14th because of that. He had five top 10 finishes in his previous 13 races on the season but a lot of those he had top 10 cars before troubles.
Christopher Bell won both stages on Saturday to give him 29 and 30 for his Xfinity Series career. He’s the first driver to eclipse the 30 stage wins mark in the series.