5 storylines for this year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs

The 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs begin this weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway. The 7 week push to the championship begins in Saturday’s Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 (3:30 p.m. ET, USA, PRN).

With that said, here are the top 5 things to watch for this year’s playoffs.

MORE: Round of 12 Preview

Gragson’s Championship To Lose?

There’s no doubt about it, the favorite for this year’s championship goes through JR Motorsports, most notably Noah Gragson. The 24-year-old has won three straight races entering the postseason but also won the spring trip to Phoenix back in March. Not only that, but he was also runner-up in the Championship 4 race back in 2020 too.

With 4 wins in the last 8 regular season races in general, including 5 top 4 results in the last 6, I expect big things out of his No. 9 Chevrolet during these playoffs.

Just look at the tracks in each round. He won Talladega in the spring and has finished 5th, 2nd and 6th respectively at the ROVAL. In the 2nd round, he was 2nd in Vegas this past spring for his 7th straight top 6 on his hometrack, then it’s to Homestead to where he dominated in 2021 and had the race won if not for a late race incident, was 3rd and 5th in 2020 and 4th last year. Finally, it’s to Martinsville to where he’s the defending race winner and has 3 top 3 finishes in his last 4 starts there.

This is shaping up to be a big season for him and he’s hoping to be the latest driver to win a championship in the 9 car.

That ride has won three championships (2014, 2017-18) and tallied 21 of the company’s 70 overall victories since 2014.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 05: Ty Gibbs, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco Uniforms 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 05, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Gibbs Flying Under The Radar

Noah Gragson’s dominance lately has pushed Ty Gibbs to flying under the radar. That could be dangerous. Gibbs has won 5 times himself this season and has 10 top 5’s and 15 top 10’s this year to go along with 6 top 8’s over the last 8 races. He won Las Vegas, was 8th in Martinsville and 6th in Phoenix this regular season.

Don’t sleep on him.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 25: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Nutrien Ag Solutions Chevrolet, and Sam Mayer, driver of the #1 Accelerate Pros Talent Chevrolet, drive during qualifying for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pit Boss 250 at Circuit of The Americas on March 25, 2022 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Is This Allmendinger Or Allgaier’s Year?

AJ Allmendinger isn’t new to this. The 40-year-old was in the Championship 4 last year. Now, he’s hoping to go back for a second consecutive season. He has an astounding 12 top 5 finishes and a series-best 23 top 10’s. He’s not finished worse than 7th since the middle of July. Can he march to his first career NASCAR title this Fall?

It’s almost certain he’s going to be in the running at the ROVAL. He’s undefeated there while also having all 3 of his 2022 wins come on road courses. He was also 9th at Texas and 3rd at Talladega this spring too.

What about Justin Allgaier?

The 36-year-old Illinois driver has filled the seat of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet for seven seasons, including the current one. From a numerology standpoint, that’s a good omen, but omens only go so far.

Allgaier has qualified for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 Round in four of the previous six seasons, but his best finish in the final standings is second behind series champion Austin Cindric in 2020.

This year, Allgaier enters the Playoffs third in the standings, 28 points above Jeremy Clements and Sam Mayer, who are tied for eighth. JR Motorsports has enjoyed a singularly productive season, winning 12 of the first 26 races and putting all four of its full-time drivers in the Playoffs.

But, as Allgaier points out, there are no “gimmies.”

“This is the best position I’ve ever been in,” Allgaier said during Xfinity Series Playoffs Media Day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “But nothing’s guaranteed… I learned a long time ago that the more and more you feel like the universe owes you something, the less and less you really succeed.

“I think, for me, we’ve put the work in. We’ve put the effort in. The definition of luck is when opportunity meets preparation. We’re more prepared in 2022 than I’ve ever been. We just need the opportunity. And if we get the right opportunity, we will go win a championship.”

Allgaier will have plenty of competition, most notably from teammate Noah Gragson, who leads the standings thanks to six victories, and from five-time winner Ty Gibbs and regular-season champion AJ Allmendinger.

“We have a great group of drivers this year for the Playoffs,” said Allgaier, who won three times during the regular season. “We just have to go execute, do our job, and if we do that, I think we’ve got a good shot.”

Allgaier enters these playoffs on the heels of 7 top 7 finishes in the last 10 races including 4 top 4’s in the last 6. He finished 4th at Texas back in the spring race and while he was only 22nd at Talladega, it’s not like he can build enough of a cushion to skate by there before going to the ROVAL to where he has a pair of top 10 finishes in his last 3 tries.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – AUGUST 26: Jeremy Clements, driver of the #51 One Stop/ASE Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag under caution to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series Wawa 250 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on August 26, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Family Teams

A feel-good story for this year’s playoffs is that there’s not one, but two smaller teams in the postseason field. Jeremy Clements’ Daytona win ending up standing following an appeal and for the 2nd time of his career he’s in the playoffs.

In all actuality, the Round of 12 racetracks suit him.

Among his 2 career wins are one on a road course and one on a superspeedway. While we don’t go to either of those tracks that he necessarily won at, 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 joins him in the field for the 3rd playoff appearance in the last 4 years. Neither of his past experiences got him out of the opening round. Can he now?

He was 4th in Talladega back in the spring race.

Hemric Repeat?

Only 1 driver in the 12-driver playoff field has won a Xfinity Series championship before and that’s Daniel Hemric. How much does that stat help? Hemric says not much. This is a new team for him (Kaulig Racing) as he won last year’s title with Joe Gibbs Racing. This group has never won a championship so it’s a learning experience all over again.

However, the North Carolina native has been here 3 times prior with all of his playoff runs in the Xfinity Series landing him in the final round. Does this one?

He’s winless this year with just a pair of top 5 finishes and 9 top 10’s. It’s not how you start though; it’s how you finish.

He has 1 top 10 since late July but if he can get out of the first round, the 2nd round tracks suit him well. He was 3rd in Vegas back in March, 2nd and 5th last year, 3rd in the playoff race of 2020 as well as 3rd at Homestead last year too. He also 3rd in both Martinsville races a year ago as well.

It’s just surviving the Round of 12 for him.

Top Stats

  • 3 of the 12 drivers in this field have never won a race before. 1 other has just 1 win. Sam Mayer is 0-for-44, Riley Herbst is 0-for-142, Ryan Sieg is 0-for-408. It’s going to take a win to take home this year’s title. Daniel Hemric is 1-for-241 himself.
  • We’ve seen 4 straight years with a different organization winning the championship. JR Motorsports (2018), Richard Childress Racing (2019), Team Penske (2020), Joe Gibbs Racing (2021).

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