Below is an in-depth look at the four drivers who have qualified for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 and will race for the title at Phoenix Raceway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship race on Saturday, Nov. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
AJ Allmendinger (No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet)
Allmendinger has made 32 series starts in 2020, gathering five wins (Las Vegas-1, Mid-Ohio, Michigan, Bristol, Charlotte ROVAL). He’s accumulated 18 top fives, 22 top 10s and one pole award in those 32 starts. He’s led a total of 422 laps this season and has maintained an average start of 6.6 and an average finish of 9.5. In addition, Allmendinger has posted solid season-to-date loop data statistics, including a driver rating of 110.1 (second-best), an average running position of 9.158 (fourth-best), a total of 289 fastest laps run (fourth-best), and completed 85.5 percent of his laps (4,108) in the top 15 (fifth-best). Allmendinger also earned the 2021 Regular Season Championship.
Playoff Recap: Allmendinger has had a strong Playoff run this season, having finished outside of the top 10 in only one race (Talladega) in the Playoffs. In the first round, he finished seventh at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but the following week, he finished 39th at Talladega after being involved in an incident. The Round of 12 ended at the Charlotte Roval and Allmendinger took home the victory at the track to advance. He made his first start at the Roval in 2019 and has gone on to win the Playoff event at the road course three consecutive seasons (2019, 2020 and 2021). To open up the next round, Allmendinger finished sixth at Texas, third at Kansas and last weekend, he finished seventh at Martinsville Speedway clinching his spot in the Championship 4. This is the first time in his career that he has advanced to Playoffs’ final round.
Phoenix Raceway Outlook: Allmendinger has three races at Phoenix Raceway under his belt in the Xfinity Series. His first start came in 2007, he started 16th and finished 13th. In 2008, he started 28th and finished 12th. Earlier this season, he made his first start at Phoenix Raceway since 2008 for Kaulig Racing and he started fourth and finished fifth.
Crew Chief Corner: This season marks the first fulltime season as a crew chief for Jason Trinchere. In 2020, he was crew chief for Justin Haley in one race at Kansas Speedway, where they finished fourth. This season, he has been on top of the pit box for AJ Allmendinger and the No. 16 team for 31 of 32 races (Justin Cox was crew chief for Allmendinger at Nashville Superspeedway). In his 32 starts as a crew chief, Trinchere has five wins, 18 top fives, 22 top 10s and one pole. The season’s Playoff run marks the first of Trinchere’s career.
Team Talk: Kaulig Racing earned its first spot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff Championship 4 in 2020 with Justin Haley in the No. 11 Chevrolet. Haley finished the season an organizational best third in the series championship standings. Kaulig Racing has qualified for the Playoffs six times. In 2016 and 2017 with Blake Koch, in 2018 with Ryan Truex, in 2019 and 2020 with Justin Haley and in 2021 with all three of its drivers (Haley, AJ Allmendinger and Jeb Burton). Jeb Burton was eliminated in the Round of 12 this year in his first season with the team. Haley was eliminated in the Round of 8 and Almendinger is competing for the championship at Phoenix. Allmendinger was also named the 2021 Regular Season Champion.
Austin Cindric (No. 22 Team Penske Ford)
The 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion, Austin Cindric, is on the hunt for his second title this weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Cindric, who is coming off another extremely strong season with five wins, will go for back-to-back titles in the series for the final time before transitioning to Wood Brothers Racing next season in the NASCAR Cup Series. Cindric opened the season with a win at Daytona International Speedway, punching his ticket to the Playoffs from the start of the season. He went on to win four more times. If Cindric earns his second title this weekend he will become just the 10th different driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with two or more championships.
Cindric has made 32 series starts in 2021 gathering five wins (Daytona-1, Phoenix-1, Dover, Pocono, Indianapolis Road Course), 21 top fives, and 25 top 10s. He has also led 1,075 laps this season and has managed an average start of 4.3 and an average finish of 8.4. In addition, Cindric has posted great numbers in season-to-date loop data stats, including a driver rating of 116.7 (series-best), an average running position of 7.162 (series-best), a total of 504 fastest laps run (series-best), and completed 89.9 percent of his laps (4,323) in the top 15 (series-best).
Playoff Recap: Cindric had an extremely strong showing every single week during the Playoffs. To kick off the Round of 12, he started first at Las Vegas and finished fourth. The following week at Talladega Superspeedway, he started second and finished eighth. At the Charlotte Road Course, the conclusion of the Round of 12, he started first and finished runner-up to AJ Allmendinger. He clinched a spot in the Round of 8 based on points and his performances each week. At Texas to start the Round of 8, he started second and finished fifth and the following weekend at Kansas Speedway, he started second and finished runner-up. Last weekend at Martinsville, he started first and finished runner-up to Noah Gragson and during Stage 1, he clinched a spot in the Championship 4 based on points.
Phoenix Outlook: Phoenix Raceway is a pretty good track for Cindric, who won the first race at Phoenix this season, and will look to win again this weekend to get back-to-back titles. He made his first start at the track in 2019 and finished 16th. Since then, he’s made six more starts and has never finished outside of the top-10 since his debut. He has two wins (this race in 2020 and earlier this season), four top fives and six top 10s. He has an average start of 5.6 and an average finish of 5.9. As the winner of the last two events at the track, Cindric will head into Saturday’s race with a lot of momentum on his side.
Crew Chief Corner: Brian Wilson, crew chief or the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, joined Team Penske in 2004. He first served as a shock specialist with the team. Since then, he has served as a race engineer on the No. 22 NASCAR Xfinity Series team as well as the No. 2 NASCAR Cup Series team. Wilson played a role in the first two championships. He was the race engineer on the No. 22 team that won the Xfinity Series title in 2010 and was also the race engineer in 2012 on the No. 2 Cup Series team. In 2016, Team Penske announced that Wilson would be the crew chief for the No. 22 Xfinity Series Ford. Since he was named crew chief in 2016, he has 162 starts, 23 wins, 88 top fives and 125 top 10s. If Wilson and Cindric win the title this weekend, Wilson will become the 11th different crew chief to win multiple championships in the Xfinity Series.
Team Talk: Team Penske has won five NASCAR Xfinity Series owner championships (2013-15, 2017, 2020) and two Xfinity Series driver championships with Brad Keselowski (2010) and Austin Cindric (2020). Team Penske make their Xfinity Series debut in 1997 with NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace. This year marks Team Penske’s 19th year competing in the Xfinity Series. The team has 663 starts, 81 victories, 317 top fives and 462 top 10s.
Noah Gragson (No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet)
The 2021 season started out tough for Noah Gragson, with a 32nd-place finish to open the season at Daytona International Speedway followed by a 28th-place finish and 33rd-place finish in the next two events. However, the driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet started to rally back from the bad luck soon after. But it wasn’t until the 24th race of the season until Gragson got his first victory of the season and secured his spot in the Playoffs.
This season, Gragson has racked up three wins, including last weekend at Martinsville Speedway in a must-win situation, to secure his spot in the Championship 4. This is the first time in his career that he has advanced to the final round of the Playoffs. This season marks his third full-time season in the Xfinity Series – all with JR Motorsports. In 101 series starts, he has five wins, 41 top fives and 70 top 10s. It was announced a few months ago that Gragson would be back with JR Motorsports in 2022, once again piloting the No. 9 Chevrolet.
This season, Gragson has made 32 starts, racking up three wins (Darlington-2, Richmond, Martinsville-2), 13 top fives and 20 top 10s. He led 360 laps total throughout the season and has held onto an average start of 11.8 and an average finish of 13.4. In addition, Gragson has posted positive numbers in season-to-date loop data stats, including a driver rating of 96.9 (sixth-best), an average running position of 10.717 (seventh-best), a total of 188 fastest laps run (sixth-best), and completed 84.8 percent of his laps (4,078) in the top 15 (sixth-best).
Playoff Recap: It was a long road to get to the Playoffs for Gragson after a very up-and-down season from the start. But, with the win at Darlington Raceway late in the season, he was able to secure his spot with only two races left in the regular season. He kicked off the Round of 12 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his home track, with a third-place finish but the following weekend at Talladega Superspeedway wasn’t as good to him with a 30th-place finish. Gragson needed a strong showing at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course for the final race of the Round of 12 and he finished sixth, ultimately getting him a spot in the Round of 8 on points.
To kick off the Round of 8, Gragson finished third at Texas Motor Speedway and then unfortunately, due to a crash at Kansas Speedway, he finished 35th, putting him in a must-win situation at Martinsville. Gragson went to Martinsville with a ton of confidence and even said in a pre-race interview with NBC that he was going to win the race. And he did. He started ninth and battled from the front all day for the victory and will now compete at Phoenix for the title for the first time in his career.
Phoenix Outlook: Gragson will make his sixth Xfinity Series start on Saturday at Phoenix Raceway. He made his first start in 2019 and started sixth and finished 11th. Most recently, earlier this season Gragson started 10th and had an engine issue that put him out of the race early and resulted in a 39th-place finish. In this race in 2020, he started sixth and finished runner-up to Austin Cindric, who won the championship that year. Gragson has one top five and three top 10s in his five starts at Phoenix. He has an average start of 8.2 and an average finish of 13.8. Lucky for him, he’s coming off of a ton of momentum from his win at Martinsville and can carry that with him for a better result this weekend.
Crew Chief Corner: In his fifth full-time season as crew chief for JR Motorsports and his third season atop the pit box for Noah Gragson, Dave Elenz heads to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship race in Phoenix looking for his third title as a crew chief. In 2017, Elenz helped lead William Byron to JR Motorsports’ second series championship, NXS Rookie of the Year honors and a JRM rookie-record of four wins. From there, in 2018, Elenz led Tyler Reddick to JRM’s second consecutive Xfinity Series championship. Since then, he has been working with Gragson and looking for their first championship as a crew chief/driver duo. Prior to the 2017 season, his first as a full-time crew chief, Elenz worked with multiple driver on JRM’s “All Star” car with multiple drivers, scoring four victories, 19 top fives and 41 top-10 finished in two seasons (2016-16). In total, Elenz now has 227 starts as a crew chief with 15 wins, 77 top fives, 149 top 10s and three pole awards. Elenz is no stranger to the Championship 4 and the pressure that comes with it. If Elenz wins the title this weekend he will move solely into second on the all-time crew chief champions list for the NASCAR Xfinity Series behind series leader Steve Byrd with four titles (1989, ’95, ’96, ’97).
Team Talk: JR Motorsports got their first NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship in 2014 with Chase Elliott and followed that up with back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018 with William Byron and Tyler Reddick, totaling three championships for the organization. JR Motorsports has been competing in the series for 17 years and has 1,449 starts, 58 total wins, 398 top fives, 818 top 10s and 18 poles in those starts. In 2017, the organization made NXS history by becoming the first team to claim the top three spots in the championship standings after locking four teams in the Round of 12. The trend marked the fourth consecutive season (2014-17) that the team places at least two cars in the top four in the final standings. The team is also the only Xfinity Series team to produce rookie champions (Elliott-2014, Byron-2017, Reddick-2018).
Daniel Hemric (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota)
Daniel Hemric has still never won a NASCAR national series race in his career but is competing for the championship this weekend in hopes of getting that first win in the same day he takes home his first championship title.
This season marks Hemric’s fourth full-time season in the Xfinity Series. He was fulltime from 2017-2018 before making the jump to the Cup Series. However, after his first full-time season in the Cup Series in 2019, he made his way back to the Xfinity Series to fight for a title and the first win. In 2020, he competed in 21 races on part-time schedule for JR Motorsports and this season, he has run all 32 races for Joe Gibbs Racing. It was announced a few weeks ago that Hemric will join Kaulig Racing in 2022, making the jump from Toyota to Chevrolet, in hopes of adding onto his resume.
Hemric has made 32 series starts in 2021 gathering 14 top fives and 20 top 10s. He has led 615 laps this season and has managed an average start of 6.6 and an average finish of 11.1. Hemric has been so close to that first win in so many races this season but has just come up short. In addition, Hemric has posted really good season-to-date loop data stats, including a driver rating of 104.5 (fourth-best), an average running position of 8.318 (second-best), a total of 358 fastest laps run (second-most), and completed 89.2 percent of his laps (4,287) in the top 15 (third-best).
Playoff Recap: Hemric secured his spot in the Playoffs based off of points and had a strong showing week after week in the postseason. In the first race of the Round of 12 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he started seventh and finished fifth and then he went to Talladega Superspeedway the following weekend, stayed out of trouble, and finished fourth. At the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course to finish out the Round of 12, he started third and finished third and made his way into the Round of 8. The Round of 8 kicked off at Texas Motor Speedway and Hemric finished runner-up. Kansas Speedway was up next and Hemric started from the first position and finished 15th – his worst finish in the Playoffs all season long. At Martinsville, a win would have obviously been the first choice but his third-place finish and managing to stay out of all the on-track incidents, locked him in on points into the Championship 4 Round. This is the third time in his career that he has advanced to the final round of the Playoffs (2017, 2018, 2021). He finished a career-best second in the 2018 Xfinity Series final standings.
Phoenix Outlook: Saturday will mark Hemric’s eighth Xfinity Series start at Phoenix Raceway. In his seven starts, he has two top fives and four top 10s and an average start of 12.7 and an average finish of 14.0. His first start came in 2017 and he finished seventh. Most recently, he started from the pole earlier this season at Phoenix but finished 23rd. In this race in 2020, he started 18th and finished 25th.
Crew Chief Corner: Dave Rogers is in his eighth year as a crew chief in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and his first season with Daniel Hemric. He has 193 career starts as a crew chief in the series with 20 wins, 69 top fives, 119 top 10s and 24 poles. Rogers hasn’t won a championship yet but has been crew chief for Cup Series champions Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano as well as a handful of races for Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin, who is fighting for the series title this weekend as well. Prior to being a crew chief, Rogers worked as the technical director for JGR’s Xfinity operations.
Team Talk: Joe Gibbs Racing is a two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series driver champion with Kyle Busch in 2009 and Daniel Suarez in 2016. The team has a combined 10 national series owner championships (five Cup Series in 2000, 2002, 2015, 2019 and five Xfinity Series in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2016). Joe Gibbs Racing now has five Xfinity Series Championship 4 round appearances and in 2018, Christopher Bell set the Xfinity Series single season wins record for a rookie with seven victories. JGR started in 1997 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte. JGR has 1,874 Xfinity Series starts and 184 wins, 642 top fives, 1,055 top 10 and 168 poles.
NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.
ARCA Menards Series ties to NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 – Three of the four Championship 4 contenders have stock car racing roots in the ARCA Menards Series platform, developing their skills in at least one of the series that currently races under the ARCA Menards Series banner.
Noah Gragson recorded two top fives in 10 starts in the ARCA Menards Series and tallied a total of seven wins between what is now the ARCA Menards Series West and the ARCA Menards Series East.
He won five West races, including one in the state of Arizona at Tucson Speedway in 2015. He had a pair of wins in the East, at Stafford and Martinsville in 2016.
Austin Cindric has one win in eight ARCA Menards Series starts, recorded at Kentucky in 2016. He was perfect in his performance in the East, winning both races he entered in 2016 – at Virginia International Raceway and Watkins Glen International.
Daniel Hemric made one ARCA Menards Series start (finishing 12th at Daytona in 2015), one start in the West (finishing runner-up at Sonoma in 2019), and three East starts in 2016 (finishing in the top 10 in all three races, placing fifth at Greenville).
Sunoco Rookie of the Year finale – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs has mathematically clinched the NASCAR Xfinity Series 2021 Sunoco Rookie of the Year title. He has earned 10 awards and 662 points. Up until recently, he and Josh Berry, who sits second in the standings, were in a close battle for the title but Gibbs has extended his lead to 123 points. In 18 starts, he has four wins, nine top fives and 10 top 10s, which are very impressive numbers for a rookie. He won in his first-ever career start at the Daytona Road Course in February.
Xfinity Owner championship update – The No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota isn’t in the driver Championship 4 but is competing for the owner championship title. Along with the No. 54 is the JR Motorsports No. 9, Team Penske No. 22 and the Kaulig Racing No. 16. As a result, this means that there is a chance that the owner champion and driver champion are not unified.
Xfinity Manufacturers Championship – Chevrolet, on the strength of 16 wins, has captured the 2021 Bill France Performance Cup, its series leading 22nd manufacturers title, and fifth in a row.
Chevrolet is currently leading the OEM championship standings with 1,190 points. Toyota is in second with 11 wins and 1,141 points and Ford wraps up the standings in third with five wins and 1,064 points.
In total, four different manufacturers have won the title in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.