Noah Gragson won Friday night’s Food City 300 in the final race of the NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season. That 26th event set the 12 driver field for this year’s playoffs.
We have 6 teams represented with Chevrolet taking 8 of the 12 spots between 3 different organizations. JGR have the only 2 Toyota’s while Ford has just SHR’s single car operation and RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg as their only playoff participants.
With that said, who are the early ones to watch to march their ways to the Phoenix Raceway this Fall to vie for the championship?
The first round will consist of Texas, Talladega and the Charlotte ROVAL. 2 of the 3 being wildcard tracks. The Round of 8 will be Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville.
While it’s tough to predict the 4 drivers to get eliminated in Round 1 due to Talladega and Charlotte being in it, the writing is clear on who on paper says will be bounced.
For Jeremy Clements 2 of the 3 races in this round suit him. Among his 2 wins is one on a road course and one on a superspeedway. While we don’t go to either of those tracks, what he did at each can translate over to these races. That’s why I’m not worried that he finished 16th at Texas back in May and 23rd a month prior at Talladega. This year, he was 9th in Road America and 10th in Watkins Glen.
Ryan Sieg was 35th at Texas back in the spring and while he was 4th in Talladega, he also doesn’t have a car that is known as a road course ringer. At Vegas, another 1.5-mile track, he finished 36th. Sieg has no top 10 finishes in his last 10 starts on the year at that.
Defending series champion Daniel Hemric has 3 straight Championship 4 appearances in this series but has finished 22nd, 8th, 31st, 19th, 13th, 15th and 20th in his last 7 starts on the season. He was also 11th in Texas but 34th in Talladega. He does have a Kaulig car so maybe he and Cassill could steal a win in Talladega to get to the Round of 8.
Riley Herbst has just 1 top 10’s in his last 4 and a single top 5 in his last 11. Brandon Jones has 3 finishes of 14th or worse in his last 4 starts on the season. Austin Hill has 2 top 5’s in his last 9 and 2 top 10 in the last 5. Sam Mayer has no top 5’s in his last 11 races and 2 top 10’s over the last 6.
These would be the drivers that I think could get eliminated in Round 1. But whom?
I do think the Championship 4 front runners are clear. AJ Allmendinger made the final round last year and has 8 top 7 finishes in his last 8 starts on the season, 5 of which being in the top 4. He’s almost a shoo-in for a ROVAL victory. Then he was 9th in Vegas and 3rd in Martinsville earlier this year.
Ty Gibbs has 6 top 8 finishes in his last 8 starts and while these first round tracks don’t suit him, his playoff points will. He won Vegas earlier this year and was 8th in Martinsville. Justin Allgaier has 4 Championship 4 appearances in the last 6 years and has 7 top 7’s in his last 10 tries on the season including 4 top 4’s in the last 6. Noah Gragson won Phoenix earlier this year and has 4 wins over the last 8 races including 3 in-a-row and 5 top 4’s over the last 6 races overall too.
These are your Championship 4 drivers unless someone can pull off an upset in the Round of 8.
I look to Gragson to dominate Homestead, Gibbs and Gragson to battle for the win in Vegas and anyone of them being in the hunt to win Martinsville.
The other 4 drivers I feel in the Round of 8 will be Hemric, Jones, Berry and Cassill.