Koch, 11th on the grid, is 35 points above the cutoff. Gaughan is 12th and just nine points above the cutoff in a season where the Richard Childress Racing veteran has four DNFs and only two top 10s in the last seven races.
Below is the playoff grid through 17 races.
Though he hasn’t competed in the last five Xfinity races, the presence of Darrell Wallace Jr. is still felt in the series’ points standings.
Wallace last made a start for Roush Fenway Racing at Pocono on June 10, finishing the race fourth in points. But since then he has only fallen to 12th in the points standings.
If not for the rule that decides whether a caution ends a race, the 26-year-old driver might not have earned the best finish of his NASCAR career two weeks ago at Daytona International Speedway.
The JGL Racing driver was third, tucked in behind Elliott Sadler and William Byron on the final restart of the Firecracker 250. But his No. 28 Toyota had a problem. His right-front fender had collided with Ryan Reed in the multi-car crash that caused a red flag and setup the two-lap finish.
“I thought our car was done,” Armstrong told NBC Sports. “I thought it destroyed it, but really all it did was push the front in and there was a little bit of drag on the right front so I was just hoping our car would hold on. … I couldn’t lift and I just had to drive through whatever happened.”
The eventual five-car wreck happened behind him, but the caution came out after Byron crossed the overtime line.
“The overtime line saved us cause our right front was actually chunked,” Armstrong said. “It had almost dragged apart. It wasn’t going to make it another lap.”
A veteran of 122 Xfinity starts, it was the New Castle, Indiana native’s third top five and his second in a row. At Iowa Speedway, he finished fifth behind the likes of Ryan Sieg in second and Ross Chastain in fourth. After a finish of 17th at Kentucky, Armstrong heads to New Hampshire ninth in the points standings.
It’s the best season to date for Armstrong, who grew up on a soybean and corn farm and has competed for Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and one race last year for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“This is good, it shows that we’re building and going in the right direction,” Armstrong said. “When we can run good at those other tracks, it doesn’t hurt us as bad when we finish 17th or 15th at a mile and a half, that’s still a good points day for us. That’s where it really helps in the long-term.”
This Q&A has been edited and condensed
NBC Sports: What’s been your highest high and your lowest low of your career?
Armstrong: As great as these top fives have been I would say my highest high really wasn’t even in the sport of NASCAR. It was when I was first starting out just racing stock cars. It was actually in ARCA when I won at Talladega (in 2010). That just really gave me a boost of confidence and it was the first real big track I had been at and to win there was something that was crazy. I can still go back and watch it now even though it was seven years ago and I’m like ‘Man, that was a really cool race,’ even though it was in ARCA and the way those plate races play out, there’s something about them that’s hard to describe.
As far as lowest low, that’s tough, there’s been a time where I haven’t been running good before in the sport and money’s been tight and just thinking you’re not going to be back the next year and that happens to almost everybody. Just not giving up and going out there and competing each week kind of brings you back. That’s the one thing about this sport, you can have a really good week but then it restarts on Monday and you’re right back at it. It always resets it on the good and the bad.
NBC Sports: You’re going to be a birthday boy this weekend (July 16). How are you celebrating turning 26?
Armstrong: Honestly, I doubt we’ll do anything, really. Just kind of let it go. Let it be. Just another number at this point. It’ll be good. I’m sure my wife will do something. I’ve always had birthdays right in the middle of racing. I’ve had a lot of races where it’s been my birthday or my birthday week and we’re going racing. That’s probably the best thing, at least that’s still happening. That’s the best present I guess.
NBC Sports: What’s the best birthday gift you’ve ever gotten?
Armstrong: Easily when I turned 16 my dad bought me my first vehicle, that’s pretty hard to beat. It was actually a 2004 Avalanche. That was pretty awesome. I drove that thing for a long time.
NBC Sports: Is the Avalanche a proper vehicle for a 16-year-old?
Armstrong: Probably not. I was OK with it but it was a big vehicle. My dad likes to have things really nice so he had it detailed out with some extra covers and he actually put 22-inch rims on it. I was like ‘this doesn’t fit.’ It didn’t fit for a country boy from the middle of Indiana, we’ll say that. It was still a really cool car.
NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car, whether it be a race car or street car?
Armstrong: Other than numbers, I never have. Just never have gotten really that attached to any of them. There is a sprint car that we kept. We’ve never named it, but it was such bad luck for a while we wouldn’t even talk about it. Because every time it went out something would break on it. It was always the fastest thing there, no matter where we unloaded it was always the top five, top-three car. But every time in the race something would break. Even if we finished, the shock would be broke, we’d have a right front go down, just something crazy would go wrong with that thing. That was a car we’d never talk about. That was really our only superstition.
NBC Sports: If you were in the Cup Series race at Bristol, what would you choose as your intro song?
Armstrong: Oh man, that’s really tough. I’ve always thought about it. I kind of want to come down to the Hulk Hogan wrestling song he’s had, “The Real American.” There’s a lot to choose. I feel the way you come down the (driver entrance) the wrestling songs would be the best, because that’s exactly what they’re for and they always get people hyped. They still get me even though I don’t watch wrestling anymore. When I was a kid watching I thought that was awesome. I’d probably steal some wrestler’s song.
NBC Sports: What’s the last song you got stuck in your head?
Armstrong: Me and my wife have been playing “Guitar Hero” a lot recently, so we were playing, I don’t know if you know “Through the Fire and Flames” but I had that stuck in my head because it’s one of the hardest songs on there and we do terrible on it. So we played it about 10 times in a row trying to get better so it was stuck in my head for a while.
NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing? And it can’t be sky diving.
Armstrong: Oh man, that was exactly where I was going to go with it. I have a huge fear of the ocean and sharks. I still want to kind of do cage diving with great whites even though I’m terrified of it. But the adrenaline from it would probably be crazy for me. I kind of want to do that in Australia or somewhere where they have a lot of great whites.
NBC Sports: What’s the most fun you’ve ever had in a race?
Armstrong: Probably racing at Irwindale Speedway in California in our USAC midgets. I always felt that was the best track. I can’t remember what year it was but there was a race. I was really fast there for a while but my car fell off pretty bad, but it was still fun diving down, passing people running three wide. Every time I’ve went there the track’s been great.
NBC Sports: Which phone app do you use the most that’s not social media?
Armstrong: Does YouTube count? I feel like I’m on YouTube 24/7. I like to hear what people have to say on different things, I actually watch a lot of YouTube as far as people reviewing stuff or just reading comments of different videos. I’m all over the place. I watch YouTube video for about anything you can think of. … Games or what people say about the election. I want to hear random people’s thoughts about it.
NBC Sports: If you could give any advice to Dakoda Armstrong from a year ago, what would it be?
Armstrong: Really, just not to worry. Just go out and do your job. I try not to worry every year. I’m just going to go out there and race. But whether it’s sponsor stuff, trying to get renewed or worrying about finishing or results, all that stuff just weighs down on you and actually really does hurt your performance. Even on the Cup side, I think that hurts a lot of people and they know it. Really just not worrying and trusting everything’s going to be all right and doing the best you can.
Blaney’s chances of winning ended on a pit stop on Lap 168. He was second when he pitted but penalized for having his right front tire on the outside half of the pit box. He restarted 21st.
STAGES: Erik Jones won Stage 1. Ryan Blaney won Stage 2
HOW DID KYLE BUSCH WIN: Pit strategy. The key was a pit stop on Lap 132. Busch’s team changed four tires while many took two tires. That allowed Busch to stay out and take the lead on Lap 168 after a spin by Ray Black Jr. Busch pulled away, taking advantage of track position.
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Blaney left disappointed after a pit road penalty dropped him to 21st with less than 35 laps left, but he rallied to finish second — his sixth top-two finish of the year. … Ty Dillon’s fifth-place finish was his first top-five result of the season.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Richard Childress Racing. Brandon Jones was eliminated on the crash at the start and finished 40th. Brendan Gaughan, who was involved in a crash at the start, crashed a few laps later after a tire rub sent him into the wall. He finished 39th. Paul Menard spun while running on the high side in the corner and crashed. Menard placed 34th.
NOTABLE: William Byron was the top-finishing Xfinity regular for the fourth consecutive race. He placed seventh.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It is a disappointing day of not getting the win with what I thought was the fastest car,’’ runner-up Ryan Blaney said.
WHAT’S NEXT: Overton’s 200, 4 p.m. ET July 15 on NBCSN, New Hampshire Motor Speedway.