CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The top two seeds in the Xfinity Series Chase have differing views on seeing the regular season come to an end.
For Erik Jones, there’s relief that the seven-race playoffs begin this weekend at Kentucky Speedway as he moves into the No. 1 seed. Jones won four of the first 26 races and leads Elliott Sadler by six points in the reseeded standings. Prior to the reset, Jones ranked fifth and was 94 points behind Sadler.
“I’m definitely happy the Chase closes it back up,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said Tuesday during Xfinity Series Media Day. “I don’t think we had a shot to win the championship racing like that if it would have been a straight up points format. So yeah, it’s nice to close everything up and reset it and go for it.”
For Sadler, it’s another story. The JR Motorsports driver has two wins, which are worth three points apiece to start the Chase, putting him behind Jones. His 59-point lead on second place disappeared following last Saturday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. His 23 top-10 finishes led the series.
“Oh man, that stunk, didn’t it?” Sadler said Tuesday about his points lead evaporating. “I’ve heard guys say this in the past on the (Sprint) Cup side, and I really didn’t buy it, but you all should do something for the regular season champion. We need a trophy or gift card, something. To take away, I think it was 59 points we lost Saturday after the race, man, that’s hard to swallow. That’s degrading.”
Of course, the points standings might have shaken out differently without the implementation of the Chase this year. Jones admits his No. 20 team changed their strategy after they locked up their Chase spot in April with a win at Bristol Motor Speedway. Points took a backseat as he and crew chief Chris Gabehart showed up each weekend looking for more wins.
“I feel like I’ve raced a lot different this year just in general, and I put myself in situations that I probably wouldn’t have if we were in a traditional points format,” Jones said. “But that’s just taking advantage of the hand you’re dealt. If you’re dealt a hand where you get a win, and you’re locked in, go for more wins, there’s no point in trying to grab a top five every week.
“I think I’ve looked at it as I have this open field to play in, and I can try to grab as many wins as I can and let’s go out and do it. That’s what we did, and we got four.”
Starting this weekend, Jones and Sadler both know winning will be just as important as surviving. Four drivers will be eliminated after the first round of Kentucky, Dover, and Charlotte. But each driver also holds the confidence that regardless of 12 drivers now back in the title hunt, their respective teams have a strength.
Which is what positioned Jones and Sadler as the early favorites at the top of the Chase grid.
“If we’re good enough to accumulate those kind of points during the regular season, if we keep doing those kind of things, we’ll be fine in the Chase,” Sadler said.