Breaking down the Xfinity playoff field ahead of Texas

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The Xfinity Series underwent a change in its playoff standings last week without the series even holding a race.

Daniel Hemric exited the Round of 8 opener at Kansas with a nine-point lead over Elliott Sadler. Then NASCAR handed Hemric a 10-point penalty and suspended his crew chief for one race after his No. 21 Chevrolet was found to be too low in post-race inspection.

After an off week, Hemric is second on the playoff grid, one point behind Sadler ahead of this weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN).

That points shift came after a major shakeup on the very first lap of the Kansas race. A multi-car wreck involved playoff drivers Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier, Austin Cindric and Cole Custer. Only Custer was able to finish the race.

The playoff field is separated by 56 points.

Here’s a look at the eight playoff drivers ahead of the series’ trip to the Lone Star State.

Elliott Sadler ( 14 points above cut line)

Sadler, who is winless so far in his final NASCAR season, leads all drivers with seven top-10 finishes in the eight races on 1.5 mile tracks in 2018.

His best finish on a 1.5-mile track this year is third at Kansas. He’s placed fifth three times.

He’s finished in the top six in seven of the last 10 races of 2018.

Sadler has just one top five in his last 14 Xfinity starts at Texas.

“Being able to head to Texas in our current points position gives us some relief, but we still need to go out there and give it our all,” Sadler said in a media release. “As we saw in Kansas, anything can happen in these playoff races. We still have a long way to go to get to Homestead and these next two races are crucial in making the championship four.”

Daniel Hemric (+13 above cut line)

Like Sadler, Hemric is winless through 30 races. But he’s finished in the top 10 in each of the four playoff races.

He leads the playoff drivers with an average finish of 5.5 through the playoff races, up from a regular season average of 9.9. His average is 2.5 positions better than any other playoff driver.

Hemric finished third at Texas in the spring and has four top fives on 1.5-mile tracks this season, fourth among playoff drivers.

“The guys that entered the Round of 8 with a solid points advantage thought they could cruise all the way to Homestead, well, we proved that theory wrong in the opening laps of the race at Kansas Speedway,” Hemric said in a media release. “Now everyone has to legitimately race every single lap and try to get to the end of these races in order to score points and at least get an opportunity to advance. It is no different than what we have been doing all year. We need to maximize our days and maximize the weekends.”

Tyler Reddick (+11)

Reddick is winless since he won the season opener at Daytona, but the JR Motorsports driver has finished in the top 10 in six of the last nine races, including a runner-up result at Indianapolis. He has top 10s in three of the four playoff races

Reddick will make his third start at Texas. He placed 33rd and 23rd in the first two. In the spring he was caught speeding after he pitted from third place on Lap 136.

“We had some good speed here in the spring and I am very confident that we can back that up and unload with that same speed this weekend,” Reddick said in a media release. “With our position in the Round of 8 right now, we all know what we need to do and if we can have a smooth, mistake-free weekend we should be able to leave here in an even stronger points position as Homestead approaches.”

Christopher Bell (+1)

Before he crashed on Lap 1 at Kansas, Bell was riding high through the playoffs with three top fives and two wins in the first round.

Now he’s hanging by a thread above the cut line.

The rookie returns to Texas where he finished second in the spring, one of six top fives he has this year on 1.5-mile tracks.

Though he has two victories in the playoffs, he’s only won two of the last 15 stages.

Matt Tifft (-1)

When it comes to average finish among the playoff drivers, Tifft has had the biggest improvement from the regular season. Through four playoff races his average is eighth, up six spots from his regular-season average.

He’s finished in the top 10 in eight of the last 10 races.

Tifft finished sixth at Texas in the spring. His four top 10s there are tied with Dover for his most at a track.

“Since they’ve paved Texas, it’s a lot more similar to Kentucky, where it’s a one to one-and-a-half lane track,” Tifft said in a media release. “It’s very narrow at Texas. Usually at intermediate tracks we have big, sweeping wide arcs. … The challenge with Texas is we run such a hard tire that we’re pushing the car to make it as free as possible, but there really is no slip in that tire so if you push it too far you’re done.”

Justin Allgaier (-5)

The JR Motorsports veteran was on a hot streak entering the playoffs with three wins in the last six regular-season races.

But Allgaier’s fortunes have cratered since then. He crashed at Richmond and Kansas and placed 15th on the Charlotte Roval. His only positive was placing third at Dover where he won in the spring.

After an average finish of 8.7 in the regular season, his playoff average is 22nd.

Allgaier doesn’t have much to look forward to with Texas, where he has just one top-10 finish in 16 career starts. He placed 35th in the spring after his engine expired.

“Kansas definitely didn’t go the way we wanted it to and that’s on me,” Allgaier said in a media release. “We find ourselves in a hole going into these final two races in the Round of 8, but one thing is for sure, whenever this team has been down we’ve come back stronger than before. I have faith that we can finish strong this weekend and head to Phoenix with a solid shot at making it to (Miami) as part of the championship four.”

Cole Custer (-23)

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver hasn’t visited Victory Lane since last season’s finale in Miami.

He enters Texas with 12 top fives this season, including three runner-up finishes. His five top fives on 1.5-mile tracks trails only Bell (six).

Custer placed fourth at Texas in the spring. He’s finished in the top five in all three of his Texas starts, which is tied with Kyle Busch for the second most starts at Texas before a finish outside the top five.

“(Texas has) been a great track for us in the past and I’m looking forward to it probably more than any track right now,” Custer said in media release. “We definitely have to be on our game and be hunting for a win and stage points as much as possible. It’s doable to make the points up, but we’re going to really have to make some magic happen. We’ll go to Texas with a lot of speed because we always do at mile-and-a-half tracks, so there is no reason we won’t finish well as long as we don’t get involved in a wreck like last weekend.”

Austin Cindric (-43)

The rookie driver has had a harsh campaign with seven DNFs and only four top fives in the first 30 races.

In the playoffs alone, he has one top five and a top 10 in addition to his Kansas DNF and a 13th-place finish at Richmond.

He has the second worst average finish in the playoffs at 15.8.

Cindric finished ninth at Texas in the spring.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Glen Wood passes away

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Wood Brothers Racing patriarch Glen Wood, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012, died Friday. He was 93.

The team announced his passing Friday morning on social media.

Wood was a link to NASCAR’s early years.

A former driver – he won four times at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. – Glen Wood founded the Wood Brothers Racing team with brothers Leonard and Delano. In Wood’s first win at Bowman Gray Stadium in April 1960, he beat a field that included former champions Richard Petty, Rex White, Ned Jarrett and Lee Petty. Wood’s history also includes seeing Tim Flock race with a monkey and having Ralph Earnhardt drive convertible and sportsman cars for the team.

His racing career nearly ended as soon as it started. Wood and a friend paid $50 for a 1938 Ford coupe to go racing. The Stuart, Virginia, native ran his first race at a track near Martinsville. During the heat race, his car was hit and bent the rear-end housing. After the race, Wood and his friend hooked the race car to the vehicle they were driving and headed home.

But on the trip, the axle eventually broke, and the damage caused spilling fuel to ignite. The fire engulfed the back of the race car.

“Every once in a while one of them (gas cans) would blow up, and we would be afraid to get close to it because of that,” Wood recalled in a 2011 interview. “Finally we got it unhooked and got the car away from (the one pulling it) and let it burn because we couldn’t do anything about it.”

They salvaged the engine and repaired the car. A few weeks later, Wood was back racing.

While Leonard is often credited as the father of the modern pit stop, Glen was equally as responsible. The two developed a communication and strategy plan that was one of the best in NASCAR for several decades.

Wood Brothers Racing, which has 99 Cup victories, remains the oldest continuous racing team in NASCAR. Among the drivers that have raced for the team are Hall of Famers David Pearson, Curtis Turner, Junior Johnson, Joe Weatherly, Fred Lorenzen, Cale Yarborough, Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott.

Born on July 18, 1925, Glen retired as a driver at the age of 39, assuming full-time duties as the team’s chief administrator, a role that he handled for nearly 30 years before relegating the role to sons Eddie and Len.

Through the years, Wood’s name mysteriously changed. His birth certificate lists his first name as Glenn, but somewhere along the way the last letter was dropped.

Wood received the colorful nickname of “Wood Chopper” early on for how he used to cut timber at a Virginia sawmill. But when Glen started racing, that nickname followed him and became somewhat of a calling card for his winning ways.

“When he pulled into a racetrack, and the announcer would say, ‘Here comes the Wood Chopper from Stuart, Virginia,’ you knew you had a challenger that night,” Ned Jarrett, a fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer, said of Glen Wood in a 2012 NASCAR Hall video of Glen Wood’s career. “Glen Wood, he was the master.”

Kyle Petty, who drove for the Wood Brothers during his career, was a Hall of Fame voter when the group discussed who to induct in the 2012 class. Behind the closed doors, Petty made an impassioned speech for the voters to select Wood for induction.

“I think people forget the breadth of somebody’s career sometimes when it spans as long as his,” Kyle Petty said that day in 2011.

In a statement, Edsel B. Ford II, member of the Board of Directors for Ford Motor Company, said of Wood’s passing:

“This is a difficult day for all of us at Ford Motor Company. Glen Wood was the founding patriarch of the oldest continuously operating NASCAR Cup Series team and we consider Wood Brothers Racing a part of our family, the Ford Family. The Wood Brothers race team, by any measure, has been one of the most successful racing operations in the history of NASCAR. Most importantly for our company, Glen and his family have remained loyal to Ford throughout their 69-year history.

“Glen was an innovator who, along with his family, changed the sport itself.  But, more importantly, he was a true Southern gentleman who was quick with a smile and a handshake and he was a man of his word.   I will cherish the memories of our chats in the NASCAR garage, at their race shop in Mooresville or the racing museum in Stuart.  My most memorable moment with Glen was with he and his family in the #21 pit box watching Trevor Bayne win the 2011 Daytona 500 and the celebration that followed in victory lane.”

Jerry Bonkowski contributed to this report

Friday 5: Key questions leading into 2019 Cup season

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Cup teams test in two weeks in Las Vegas. The Daytona 500 is a month away. The new rules package debuts in five weeks in Atlanta.

There are many questions to ponder with the Cup season nearing. Here are five key questions.

1. What will the racing be like?

NASCAR made the decision to go with a new rules package that should make the racing tighter.

Will it? Can this package lead to more side-by-side racing, more beating and banging and more drivers upset with one another?

If it does, this could be among the steps to attract more fans. If not, then what?

2. What’s next from NASCAR?

It could be argued that this year will be among the most pivotal for NASCAR.

Steve Phelps enters his first full season as President. Jim France remains interim Chairman, having taken over after Brian France went on an indefinite leave after his arrest Aug. 5 for aggravated driving while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance in the 7th degree.

Phelps and Jim France will be among those who decide NASCAR’s direction. Phelps has twice said publicly since late September that “everything is in play” when looking at the Cup schedule for 2020 and beyond.

There has been talk of starting the season earlier and ending it sooner, midweek racing and doubleheaders.

How fans accept what NASCAR does — or doesn’t do — will be key.

3. Can Ford teams — particularly Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske — avoid the new-car blues that Toyota and Chevrolet teams experienced the past two years?

Both Toyota (2017) and Chevrolet (2018) struggled at times with their new cars in their debut seasons. If the same thing happens to Ford this year with the Mustang, it could allow Chevy and Toyota teams a chance to win races, qualify for the playoffs and build playoff points. That could be significant.

Toyota debuted the Camry in 2017 to mixed results. Although Martin Truex Jr. won three times in the first 18 races with the car at Furniture Row Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing could not get any of its Toyotas to Victory Lane until the 19th race of the season.

Things changed in the second half of the season. Toyota cars won 14 of the last 19 races and also the championship.

Chevrolet debuted the Camaro last year and also struggled in the first half of the season. Chevy teams won once — the Daytona 500 — in the first 21 races last year. Chevrolet won three times after that — all by Chase Elliott.

So can Ford teams be strong all season or will they need some time to become dominant or will they struggle much of the year?

4. Will new driver-crew chief pairings lead to wins?

The focus this season will be on Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus no longer working together on the No. 48 team — Johnson will be with rookie Cup crew chief Kevin Meendering and Knaus will be paired with sophomore Cup driver William Byron — but there are other pairings to watch.

After going winless last year, Denny Hamlin will be with crew chief Chris Gabehart, who has won in the Xfinity Series with Hamlin, Erik Jones and Ryan Preece.

Kurt Busch moves to Chip Ganassi Racing for what could be his final Cup season. He’ll look to crew chief Matt McCall to help make this year memorable.

Austin Dillon is reunited with crew chief Danny Stockman. They combined for championships in the Truck and Xfinity Series. While Dillon won last year’s Daytona 500, he wasn’t much of a threat at many other tracks. Can this pairing have success again?

Daniel Suarez lost his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing to make room for Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn. Suarez moves to Stewart-Haas Racing and looks to crew chief Billy Scott to help him succeed.

Ryan Newman moves to Roush Fenway Racing and will have Scott Graves as his crew chief. Graves came from Joe Gibbs Racing. Can these two help raise Roush Fenway Racing’s profile?

5.  Who wins first?

It was shocking that Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson each went winless last year.

Don’t count on that happening this year. Don’t be surprised to see all three win this year. As for who will be the first to win? You don’t have much longer to find out. The season is approaching quickly.

Christopher Bell wins Chili Bowl preliminary race

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Justin Allgaier placed 13th in the 24-car field.

Even though he is in position to win a third consecutive Chili Bowl title, Bell says he has work to do.

“I kind of felt rusty tonight,” Bell said in the press conference afterward. “I don’t know why that was. … The longer you’re on top, the harder it is to stay there and the easier it is to lose. I’m going to do my best to try to figure out why I didn’t feel as good as I normally do and why I didn’t run as good of a race as I normally do.”

Golobic noted the challenges of racing against Bell.

“It’s kind of frustrating to race with Christopher sometimes, he’s just so darn good,” Golobic said in the press conference. “I think he’s the best there is hands down right now in a midget.”

Karsyn Elledge, daughter of JR Motorsports co-owner Kelley Earnhardt Miller, was collected in an incident in her B main and finished 11th. She won her heat earlier in the evening, finishing ahead of Golobic.

MORE: Thursday night race results

MORE: Wednesday night race results

MORE: Tuesday night race results

MORE: Monday night race results

 

NASCAR Heat Pro League draft moved to March

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Qualifications for the NASCAR Heat Pro League ended earlier this week, but the 100 players hoping to be drafted by one of the NASCAR teams participating will have to wait a little bit longer.

The draft, originally scheduled for February, has been moved back to March. The rescheduling was noted in the latest episode of the NASCAR Heat Pro League web series, which you can watch above.

The league will feature 16 races with up to 16 teams and 32 drivers. Each team will be owned and operated by a NASCAR race team. Each team will field two drivers, one competing on Xbox One and the other on a PlayStation 4.

With the end of qualifications, the top 100 players will get to participate in “Showcase Races.”

The 100 players will consist of the 50 best XBox One players, and the 50 best PlayStation 4 players.

Players will receive an email in the coming weeks informing them if they are eligible for the showcase. Eligible players will then have to fill out paperwork, go through an interview and a background check before having full eligibility for the showcase.

The move of the draft date is intended to allow for more races and to give teams more time to make their decisions.