Late surge has Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers contending for spot in championship round

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AVONDALE, Arizona — Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers have done something the past three weeks they hadn’t done all year.

Score consecutive top-10 finishes.

For Blaney and the Woods to have a chance to win the Cup title next weekend in Miami, they’ll have to extend that streak to a fourth consecutive race Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.

One spot remains in the championship round. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. already have secured spots.

Brad Keselowski holds the final transfer position. He leads Denny Hamlin by 19 points, Blaney by 22, Chase Elliott by 49 and Jimmie Johnson by 51.

MORE: Wood Brothers’ lifeline started with a phone call

Keselowski starts 16th Sunday — lowest among the remaining playoff contenders — while Blaney won the pole.

Blaney is in position to contend for that final transfer position because of the team’s recent surge. A third-place finish at Kansas was followed by an eighth at Martinsville and a sixth last weekend at Texas. It’s a big change from earlier this year.

“We’ve had great weekends and then we can never seem to really back it up,’’ Blaney said of the struggles to score back-to-back top-10 finishes until this month. “That’s something that’s frustrating. I think we’ve had mostly good cars all year, and I feel like what’s changed in the past few weeks is multiple things. 

“I think we’re getting better as a team. I think our cars are getting to where they need to be and we’re just cleaning up races, whether it’s on pit road or on the race track. We’re getting those better and we’re able to finish a lot better. 

“I think it’s just everybody working well together and things finally coming together for us, which is the right time for things to come together. It’s just been nice to kind of see these weekends get a little bit more steady and be able to put together these 400- or 500-mile races.’’

Blaney, though, says he doesn’t feel pressure with his situation.

“If we were like in a spot where we could get bumped out, that would be pressure,’’ Blaney said. “We really don’t have much to lose just because we’re not in a position to where we’re already locked in. I just think we’re up for the challenge. I think that’s when real teams show what they’re made of.”

That Kansas race was pivotal because Blaney had to relinquish his third starting spot and take the green flag at the rear of the field because his car failed inspection after qualifying. To come back and finish third was significant for the team.

“I thought the situation at Kansas was a big challenge for us,’’ Blaney said. “I thought the way that we handled it in overcoming it was a big statement for our team and a big realization for us that we can come from the back, we can race with the best teams and cars and we deserve that right.’’

They’ll have to do it again if Blaney hopes to lead the Wood Brothers into the title round and have a chance to win their first Cup crown since 1963 when they won the owner’s championship.

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Watch: Championship 4 drivers share thoughts on Miami outcome

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After 200 laps Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, William Byron claimed the Xfinity Series championship in his rookie year by finishing third in the Ford EcoBoost 300.

He finished ahead of his JR Motorsports teammates, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier, and Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric.

Watch the above video for Byron’s first interview as a NASCAR champion.

Below are interviews with the remaining Championship 4 drivers.

Elliott Sadler

Sadler placed eighth in the race after contact with Ryan Preece with less than 10 laps to go cut a tire on his No. 1 Chevrolet. It Sadler’s fourth runner-up result in the points in his Xfinity career.

Justin Allgaier

Allgaier finished 12th in the race after struggling for most 300-mile event. He was competing without his primary crew chief, who had been suspended for the race. Chad Knaus, the seven-time champion crew chief in the Cup Series with Jimmie Johnson, helped out on the pit box for the No. 7 Chevrolet.

Daniel Hemric

Hemric finished last among the Championship 4 drivers in 34th after his No. 21 Chevrolet experienced battery problems early in Stage 2. Hemric spent 12 laps on pit road before returning to the race.

JR Motorsports sweeps top three in final Xfinity Series standings

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William Byron finished third in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 to give JR Motorsports its second Xfinity title.

The team, co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., swept the top-three spots in the final standings with Elliott Sadler placing second and Justin Allgaier in third.

Daniel Hemric placed fourth after finishing last among the Championship 4 drivers in the race.

Race-winner Cole Custer ends the season in fifth.

Click here for the points results.

Results, stats for Xfinity season finale at Miami

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Cole Custer led 182 laps to win the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s his first Xfinity win and the first series win for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Custer swept all three stages of the race and beat Sam Hornish Jr., William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Ryan Preece.

Byron clinched the Xfinity title with his third-place finish.

Click here for results.

Devastated Elliott Sadler watches another title chance go away

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — Elliott Sadler’s fourth runner-up finish for the Xfinity title in the last seven years was a pain he had not felt before.

“I’d say tonight is the most devastating and down and out I’ve ever felt in my career,’’ Sadler said after finishing second to JR Motorsports teammate William Byron for the championship.

Sadler’s anger was directed at Ryan Preece, who slowed Sadler by challenging him for position and stalling Sadler’s momentum as Sadler tried to hold off Byron for the championship in the final 10 laps.

“We were in position to win this championship,’’ Sadler said. “We were there. He raced me hard and held me down and (Byron) got a run on us and he let (Byron) go. Very frustrating.’’

Byron took advantage by diving under Sadler and passing him. Sadler tried to get by Preece but made contact that caused his right front tire to go down. Sadler finished eighth, losing the championship to Byron, who placed third.

“To be that close and not win a championship is frustrating,’’ said the 42-year-old Sadler, who has not won a title in any of NASCAR’s top three national series. “I don’t have many years left, and I wanted to try to fulfill a childhood dream. I didn’t know it was going to come down to a guy that’s not even racing for anything to hold us down like that. No respect at all.’’

Preece said he was racing for something. He was in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing to compete for the car owner’s title.

“I’m just doing what I’m doing for Joe ,’’ Preece said. “They told me to race for the owners championship.’’

Sadler didn’t buy it when told what Preece said..

“He wasn’t because (Sam Hornish Jr.) was half a lap ahead of him,’’ Sadler said, referring to the Team Penske car that won the car owners title. “He wasn’t racing anybody.’’

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