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Crowded Xfinity Series Set To Begin Playoffs

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 20 2018

Justin Allgaier is a multiple-race winner in in 2018 and has to be considered a championship contender. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

With Justin Allgaier and Christopher Bell winning nine of the first 26 races in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, the two are considered title favorites, but their challengers could make this year’s championship battle one of the most interesting since positions third to 12th are separated by only 11 points.

The 12 contenders range in age from 20 to 43 years old. The youngest are Cole Custer and Austin Cindric, both age 20. Elliott Sadler is the senior statesman at age 43. For Sadler, it’s the last time he will have a shot at the title.  He’s stepping away from full-time racing at the end of the season and looking forward to spending more time with his children. Still, he admits he will feel a void in his career if he doesn’t win the championship.

Even though Sadler begins the playoffs as the third seed, he’s in a playoff field that has an average age of 25.5 and five first-time title contenders. Cindric, Ryan Truex, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Ross Chastain are making their playoff debut.

Unlike the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup title contenders that have three playoff rounds before Homestead, the Xfinity Series only has two and the first round could be the most challenging. For the first time, Richmond is the opening playoff race, followed by an unknown – The ROVAL – and then the tough one-mile Dover track to conclude the first round. Eight drivers will advance to the second round composed of Kansas, Texas and Phoenix. Four more will then be eliminated and the final four will advance to Homestead.

If Allgaier and Bell continue on their current path, it could be a humdrum playoff. However, there are plenty in the field who believe they can upset the status quo.

JUSTIN ALLGAIER

Hometown: Riverton, Ill.

Team: JR Motorsports

Age: 32

Seeding: 1

No. of times in the playoffs: 3

Best finish this season: 1st (Dover, Iowa, Mid-Ohio, Road America, Indianapolis)

Allgaier’s thoughts on the playoffs: “Obviously for us, you have to feel good about where we’re at. We’ve had a lot of momentum on our side. We’ve had great finishes, great race cars. On the flip side, it’s the playoffs. We know how this goes. We’ve done our job. We’ve executed well. Until we get a win or enough points that nobody can pass me, I’m not going to be super pumped about it.”

 

CHRISTOPHER BELL

Hometown: Norman, Okla.

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Age: 23

Seeding: 2

No. of times in the playoffs: 1

Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Iowa)

Bell’s thoughts on the playoffs: “The schedule works out really well for me. We’ve got Richmond, The ROVAL and Dover. The ROVAL, nobody really knows what to expect. But Richmond and Dover, I feel like we’re going to be extremely fast at Richmond. I’ve already won there earlier this year. The second round is Kansas, Texas, Phoenix, which are all race tracks that I’ve run extremely well at and Joe Gibbs Racing runs extremely well at. I’m really happy with where we’re at.”

 

ELLIOTT SADLER

Hometown: Emporia, Va.

Team: JR Motorsports

Age: 43

Seeding: 3

No. of times in the playoffs: 3

Best finish this season: 2nd (Daytona, twice; Dover)

Sadler’s thoughts on the playoffs: “I feel good. I feel relieved. I’m glad all of this was out in the open (retirement) a couple of months ago. It’s one of the reasons why we did it, so when we get to the playoffs we can race. I can focus on trying to make it back to Homestead. As far as from a team concept, I feel like we have a lot of speed in our cars now. We’ve finished fifth or sixth in six of our last eight races, so we’ve got some speed on our side. We’ve got some optimism and we’ve got some good cars lined up, so we’ll see where it takes us.   

 

COLE CUSTER

Hometown: Ladera Ranch, Calif.

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Age: 20

Seeding: 4

No. of times in the playoffs: 2

Best finish this season: 2nd (Charlotte, Darlington)

Custer’s thoughts on the playoffs: There’s nobody else who has better speed than we do right now. It’s just a matter of doing all the little things right during the race. Last week (Las Vegas), we had a good shot at winning the race and we just made a couple of mistakes. I think as long as we clean that up, we can compete with anybody. It’s just focusing on the little things. That’s how you make it better.

 

TYLER REDDICK

Hometown: Corning, Calif.

Team: JR Motorsports

Age: 22

Seeding: 5

No. of times in the playoffs: 1

Best finish this season: 1st (Daytona)

Reddick’s thoughts on the playoffs: Winning the season opener has been nice, not having the stress of worrying about making the playoffs. But then the pressure of getting ready (for the playoffs) happened from week two for us. We’ve had to overcome a lot of things. We’ve been fast and that’s a very important thing to have in a race car. We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but we’ve done a lot of learning. We’re going to Richmond with the mindset that we need to have.”  

 

ROSS CHASTAIN

Team: JD Motorsports with Gary Keller/Chip Ganassi Racing

Hometown: Alva, Fla.

Age: 25

Seeding: 6

No. of times in the playoffs: 1

Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas)

Chastain’s thoughts on the playoffs: “It’s not what I expected. Our goal at the beginning of the year was to make the playoffs in the (No.) 4 car and we did that. We were 11th. With the win, we ended up 10th, but straight up in the (No.) 4 car we were 11th in points. That’s impressive; that is insane. It’s unchartered territory for everybody. Go to Richmond, see how that goes. Come to The Roval. I don’t even know where the track goes around. After that, we get back to the regular oval tracks. So, we’ll see.

 

DANIEL HEMRIC

Hometown: Kannapolis, N.C.

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Age: 27

Seeding: 7

No. of times in the playoffs: 2

Best finish this season: 2nd (Michigan, Kentucky)

Hemric’s thoughts on the playoffs: For myself, there’s no better place to kick off the playoffs than Richmond. Richmond is a place that this (No.) 21 team feels like owes us one. We had a flat tire there leading earlier in the spring. That’s also where I sat on my first pole in the Xfinity Series. That place really just fits me well. It fits this race team well. To know we’re going to one of our strongest race tracks opening the playoffs and to know that we’ll have a fast race car that can contend and hopefully be able to solidify ourselves into the second round early on, it’s a huge deal to us and we want to take advantage of it.

BRANDON JONES

Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Age: 21

Seeding: 8

No. of times in the playoffs: 2

Best finish this season: 2nd (Talladega)

Jones’ thoughts on the playoffs: “I’m happy to be in the position we’re in. I would love to say we are the sleeper to come into the last round. I think it is possible. I think it’s going to take a ton of work. It’s not going to be a walk in the park or anything, but that’s our goal. I would love to get a win in this series. We’ve been in it three years now, so it would be cool to pick one up eventually. I don’t care what track it is; I’m not going to get greedy on that. But it would definitely be cool to get a win to transfer to the last round.  

 

MATT TIFFT

Hometown: Hinckley, Ohio

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Age: 22

Seeding: 9

No. of times in the playoffs: 2

Best finish this season: 2nd (Road America)

Tifft’s thoughts on the playoffs: I think the opportunity for our team is limitless right now for what we can do. These tracks were some really, really strong tracks for us in the beginning of the season. We’ve been just one spot out of grabbing a victory. I feel like right now we can go out and compete with anybody. It’s really a lot of confidence building with our team to go into this weekend in Richmond, but really building throughout the whole playoffs. Being there one time before certainly helps.  

 

RYAN TRUEX

Hometown: Mayetta, N.J.

Team: Kaulig Racing

Age: 26

Seeding: 10

No. of times in the playoffs: 1

Best finish this season: 5th (Mid-Ohio)

Truex’s thoughts on the playoffs: Kaulig Racing is kind of the underdog team coming into the playoffs. Single car team; we have an alliance with Richard Childress Racing, so I have some good semi-teammates to rely on. Obviously, (Daniel) Hemric’s been one of the best this season. I feel like over the past probably four or five weeks we’ve really had speed in our cars and gotten to where we can run in the top 10 every weekend. We’ve just had some bad luck, but we turned it around at Vegas, had an eighth-place finish and I felt had a really good car. So I feel like we are starting to peak at the right time. It’s just going to be a matter of being consistent, not having bad weekends, and just maximizing your points throughout the playoffs.

  

AUSTIN CINDRIC

Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

Team: Team Penske/Roush Fenway Racing

Age: 20

Seeding: 11

No. of times in the playoffs: 1

Best finish this season: 2nd (Mid-Ohio)

Cindric’s thoughts on the playoffs: Take a deep breath, new lease on life. I think I’m excited because of the ability to have continuity; that’s something I haven’t had all year. I’ve obviously driven three different cars for two different teams; had a lot of moving parts and now things kinda reset for me in a lot of ways and I think that’s a good place to start gaining momentum.   

 

RYAN REED

Hometown: Bakersfield, Calif.

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

Age: 25

Seeding: 12

No. of times in the playoffs: 3

Best finish this season: 3rd (Daytona)

Reed’s thoughts on the playoffs: I don’t think we’ve ever had a season-opener playoff round as important as we do in Richmond because it’s not necessarily about what happens at Richmond, but what happens the next week at The ROVAL. It’s such a wildcard that we don’t know. So going to Richmond and getting a good finish or winning the race is such a premium. You can’t go to Richmond and have a mistake because there’s no way to feel like you can go to The ROVAL and make it up. You just don’t know. The guy who gets to go to The ROVAL and not worry about what happens, that’s the luckiest man in the garage that weekend.

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| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 20 2018
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