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First Xfinity elimination race looms at Dover

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The Roval has come and gone and through the smoke emerges the first Xfinity Series playoff elimination race.

The series heads to Dover International Speedway for Saturday’s Bar Harbor 200 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and so far only one driver, Christopher Bell, has secured a spot in the second round after part-time driver Chase Briscoe won at the Roval.

The 200-lap race will whittle the playoff field from 12 to eight drivers.

Justin Allgaier, Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric are three drivers who are in precarious positions going into Dover.

Justin Allgaier (+11 above cutline)

The JR Motorsports driver entered the playoffs as one of the favorites to win the title. Behind a career-best five wins, he was the No. 1 seed and 36 points above the cutline.

Two races can make all the difference.

Allgaier opened the playoffs by wrecking out at Richmond with 26 laps left. At the Roval, Allgaier finished 15th after pitting during the last caution for repairs to his No. 7 Chevrolet. The repairs fixed leftover damage from an incident on Lap 28 when he was spun by Cindric while exiting pit road and then hit by Ryan Sieg.

After 14 straight top 10s to end the regular season, Allgaier has finished 15th or worse in both playoff races. He enters Dover 11 points above the cutline, tied with teammate Elliott Sadler.

Allgaier, who won at Dover in the spring, doesn’t feel secure ahead of the elimination race.

“Even a guy like Christopher Bell, whose won a race and is locked in, you still don’t go into these races feeling safe,” Allgaier said. “You want to go run good, you don’t want to get crashed. Try to gain as many points as you can. That’s what we tried to do today, figure out how to get as many points as we can. Dover’s been good for us. It’s a great race track for us. All in all, anything can happen. We can miss this first round. You never can say never.”

Allgaier has placed in the top five in four of his last five Dover starts. He is the only playoff driver with a win at Dover.

Ross Chastain (+9)

The JD Motorsports driver “wouldn’t change anything” about his Roval experience.

After qualifying 16th, Chastain intentionally fell back to the rear, treating the road course like a restrictor-plate race and opting to avoid the potential chaos.

He didn’t finish in the top 10 in either stage but survived to place 12th.

“To come away with a 12th and still have a shot (at advancing) and not crash, we can run this car again next year. It’s a job well done,” Chastain said. “We minimized the damage today and that’s what we needed to do.”

Chastain has finished 12th or better in six of his last seven races.

After winning at Las Vegas with Chip Ganassi Racing to qualify for the playoffs, Chastain finished second at Richmond before entering the Roval.

He heads to Dover as the last driver above the cutline with a nine-point advantage over Cindric.

While Chastain and Cindric have each earned 68 points through the first two playoff races, Chastain has the advantage of owning 10 playoff points to Cindric’s one.

What is Chastain’s strategy for Dover, a track where his best finish in seven starts is 12th twice?

“We go to win Dover,” Chastain said. “That’s all we can do. We run as good as we can, no laying back there. There’s going to be crashes there too. For Dover, you just have to go and run as fast as you can and out race these guys. That’s one thing the 4 team can do. Our race craft has really come a long way. Just minimize our mistakes and we’ll be OK.”

Austin Cindric (-9)

Even though he finished third, the Team Penske driver had a fairly miserable day on the Roval.

After starting from the pole, Cindric led the first 13 laps. He then spun in Turn 6 while facing pressure from Daniel Hemric in second. Cindric fell to fourth and was never the same.

Then there was the incident with Allgaier in Turn 3 as Allgaier merged into race traffic in front of Cindric.

Cindric took the blame, but doesn’t expect any retaliation from Allgaier.

“Justin and I talked about it on pit road,” Cindric said after the race. “He wasn’t happy, but it didn’t seem like something he wanted to fight about or anything. He said, ‘That was poor racing and we can do better than that’ and I said ‘Yeah, I completely agree.’ I’m sure that doesn’t help him super great in points.”

Cindric enters Dover the first driver outside the top eight. While nine points behind Chastain, he is 15 points ahead of Ryan Truex in 10th.

“I wish I would have had a better run at (Richmond) last weekend (finished 13th), I wish I would have been able to capitalize more today,” Cindric said after the race. “That’s all behind me.  … We had a really good run at Dover last time we were there (finished ninth). I don’t expect us to be anything but where we need to be. I don’t see this as a must win. Obviously you want to run as well as you can, but stage points are so critical in this deal. … There’s some mistakes that need to be minimized.”

Below is the full playoff grid.

DGR-Crosley switches from Toyota to Ford beginning in 2020

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Ford Performance is strengthening its driver development program by joining forces with DGR-Crosley, which announced its move from Toyota to Ford Wednesday.

The multi-year agreement will see team co-owner David Gilliland, a former Cup Series driver, lead the team’s driver development program as it field entries in late models, the ARCA Menards Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

“We’re very excited to have DGR-Crosley come to Ford as part of our long-term efforts to develop drivers for NASCAR,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “We have just scratched the surface of what is possible in developing the next generation of Ford drivers with people like Chase Briscoe, and we believe a coordinated effort with a team like DGR-Crosley will help move that process forward successfully.

“David Gilliland was a trusted and valued Ford driver in NASCAR for many years, and we look forward to renewing that relationship with him in this new effort.”

Said Gilliland: “I’m super excited about the partnership with Ford and how things are lining up for 2020. I spent a lot of time racing Fords throughout my career, and it’s really special to now be able to bring them into our race shop. A lot of time and consideration was spent on this decision, and internally we know that this is the move that we needed to make in order to advance our program to the top level. We have a great group of hard-working, talented people at DGR-Crosley, and with Ford coming on board, our future is really bright. We’re excited for all the things ahead.”

DGR-Crosley will announce its driver lineup at a later date.

The team first entered the Truck Series in 2018. Tyler Ankrum won its first race this year at Kentucky Speedway, qualifying for the playoffs in the process.

It fielded a team record five entries in the playoff race at ISM Raceway.

Brennan Poole to compete full-time for Premium Motorsports in Cup Series

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Former Xfinity Series driver Brennan Poole will compete full-time in the Cup Series in 2020 with Premium Motorsports, Poole announced Wednesday on social media.

Poole, 28, will drive the No. 15 Chevrolet and would make his Cup debut in the Daytona 500.

He joins a rookie class that includes Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer.

“I’ve been working towards this moment since I was 5 and feel blessed to have the caliber of people surrounding me that I have in this next chapter of my racing career,” Poole said in a press release. “I look forward to the opportunity to showcase our sponsor partners, both new and existing, who are supporting me at the highest level of NASCAR competition.”

Poole takes over the car that was driven by Ross Chastain in a majority of his Cup starts in 2019.

A native of The Woodlands, Texas, Poole drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series from 2016-17. His best finish was second in the 2017 race at Kentucky Speedway.

He made 13 starts in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2019, driving for On Point Motorsports. His best result was second in the May race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m very happy to welcome Brennan and his group to the Premium Motorsports family,” team owner Jay Robinson said in the press release. “Brennan is a very talented and dedicated young man, I believe he has a very bright future in the NASCAR Cup Series.”

Bojangles’ ends sponsorship of Southern 500

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The fast food chain Bojangles’ will no longer sponsor the Southern 500.

Bojangles’ has sponsored the event at Darlington Raceway since 2012.

Since 2015, the Southern 500 has been the site of NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend, with Cup and Xfinity Series teams fielding retro paint schemes celebrating the sport’s history.

DarlingtonRaceway.com

“We’ve enjoyed a terrific relationship with Bojangles’ since 2012 and we look forward to their continued involvement in NASCAR for many years to come,” track president Kerry Tharp said in a statement. “Like Darlington, they are truly an authentic Southern brand.”

A logo for the race on Darlington’s website does not include a sponsor.

“Bojangles’ has enjoyed a long and successful partnership with the team at Darlington Raceway,” Bojangles’ said in a statement provided to NBC’s Myrtle Beach-affiliate WMBF. “While we will no longer be the title sponsor for the Southern 500, NASCAR remains an important part of our sports marketing strategy, and we look forward to announcing our plans for 2020 in the near future.”

The 2020 Southern 500 is scheduled for Sept. 6 on NBCSN.

NBC Sports Power Rankings: What were best NASCAR teams overall in 2019?

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As NASCAR Talk continues its post-season Power Rankings, here are the 10 teams we feel performed the best throughout the entire season across all three major series: Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

We made our picks based using a number of variables including which drivers work the best with their crew chiefs, which teams have the strongest pit crews, how a team was run, and assorted other elements that often spell the difference between success and lack thereof.

Note that we are selecting the best TEAMS, not necessarily the best organizations overall. But as you will soon find out, several of those best teams also came from within the same organization, as well.

Here’s how we picked them:

1. Kyle Busch and No. 18 Cup team (30 points): Sure, this team slumped a bit in the second half of the season, going winless in 21 of the final 22 races (although they still were able to win the regular season championship), but when everything was on the line in the championship-deciding race at Miami, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens proved why they are the best … and why they are the champions.

2. Martin Truex Jr. and No. 19 Cup team (27 points): From an overall consistency standpoint, there are few teams like the one spearheaded by Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn. Truex won the championship in 2017 and finished second in 2018 and 2019. The No. 19 also had a combined 19 wins in those three seasons. No other team matched that kind of performance (although Busch came close with 18 wins and finishes of 2nd, 4th and 1st during that same period). Truex will have a new crew chief in 2020 after Pearn unexpectedly announced he was leaving his position with Joe Gibbs Racing on Monday.

3. Kevin Harvick and No. 4 Cup team (23 points): Even though most other teams would welcome the opportunity to have the kind of performance the No. 4 team has enjoyed, the No. 4 team is seemingly stuck in a loop of sorts. Even though Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have a team that has won 14 races in the last three seasons and have one of the best pit crews in the business, they’ve finished third in each of those last three seasons. This is a team that has made a few mistakes over that same time period, and it can be argued that may be one of the reasons why it finished third so frequently.

4. Denny Hamlin and No. 11 Cup team (22 points): The combination of Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart together for the first time in 2019 paid big dividends, particularly with six wins (including the Daytona 500). Not only was that the second-most number of wins in a single season for Hamlin – and the most races he’s won in a decade – but also was a big bounceback after Hamlin failed to win even one race in 2018 with former crew chief Mike Wheeler. Sadly, the season did not end the way Hamlin and company had hoped. And given he is now 39 years old, it may very well have been the last strong bid Hamlin will have to win that elusive Cup championship.

5. Christopher Bell and No. 20 Xfinity team (15 points): There’s domination, then there’s what this team did from 2018-19. No titles, but 15 wins, 38 top fives and 41 top 10s in 66 races. Bell now advances to the Cup Series for 2020 and he’s taking crew chief Jason Ratcliff with him, which is a no-brainer.

(tie) 6. Chase Elliott and No. 9 Cup team (7 points): Valiant comeback to advance past the second round was wasted when everything went wrong in the next round. Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson have become a strong team, winning a combined six races in the last two years, but there is still the issue of performing well under pressure. Elliott appeared a lock to advance to the Championship 4 round until he reached the third round and finished 36th, 32nd and 39th, ending his title hopes with a definitive thud.

(tie) 6. Ross Chastain and No. 45 Truck team (7 points): A team that opened the season not planning to run a full season with one driver, switched to a championship hunt after eight races, bounced back from having a win disqualified to win the next race and made it to the Championship 4.

(tie) 6. Cole Custer and No. 00 Xfinity team (7 points): Upgraded at crew chief with Mike Shiplett and went from a one-win-per-season team for the previous two seasons to finishing with seven wins in 2019, one less win than Christopher Bell. Not surprisingly, Custer and Shiplett will remain together when Custer jumps to the Cup series and the No. 41 in 2020.

(tie) 9. Joey Logano and No. 22 Cup team (6 points): It was a similar season to 2018 for Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon in 2019, but the end results were diametrically opposite. Whereas Logano went from underdog to champ in 2018, he fell short of running for a second career title in 2019, ultimately finishing fifth in the standings. Still, this duo works very well together. One thing that needs to be looked at if Logano wants to improve in 2020 is to cut down on the number of mistakes both he and his pit crew make.

(tie) 9. Tyler Reddick and No. 2 Xfinity team (6 points): This was an outstanding season for Reddick despite some challenges. Not only did Reddick move to Richard Childress Racing after he won the 2018 Xfinity championship for JR Motorsports, Reddick and crew chief Randall Burnett worked seamlessly throughout the season, winning five times and failing to finish in the top 10 just six times in 33 races. No surprise, they’ll stay together when Reddick drives the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing in 2020, with Burnett going with him.

Others receiving votes: Brad Keselowski and No. 2 Cup team (5 points), Austin Hill and No. 16 Truck team (5 points), Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Truck team (2 points), Kyle Larson and No. 42 Cup team (3 points) and Ryan Newman and No. 6 Cup team (1 point).

Follow @JerryBonkowski