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.

Rain postpones Cup race at Talladega until Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The Cup Series playoff race at Talladega has been postponed due to rain. The race will resume Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The race was put under a rain delay after the completion of Stage 1.

57 of 188 laps have been completed. The race is not official until the end of Stage 2 (Lap 110).

William Byron won the first stage.

The top 10 is Byron, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney.

Blocking a key issue at Talladega for drivers

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — The question isn’t who to race with at Talladega, manufacturers have dictated that, but it is where to race.

Run at the front and hope the wreck is behind? Run at the back and hope to avoid the carnage?

The package used at Talladega and Daytona this season punches such a big hole that drivers say the closing rate between cars is quicker than before. That gives cars trying to block less time to make their move. Be late and it can lead to a wreck.

As it has at Talladega and Daytona this year.

“There’s been many evolutions in racing and blocking is one for me that I’ve had to evolve with, but blocking is a part of our sport now on a weekly basis,” Kevin Harvick said. “It’s not just here. I mean, you see it at the mile-and-a-half race tracks. 

“You’re just going to have wrecks blocking. Sometimes you’re going to make a bad move. It’s just something that’s a little bit newer in the pace of the car that’s approaching you and the style of block and how you throw it, but we’re going to wreck from a block because it’s just become part of what we do.”

Three wrecks this year at Talladega and Daytona can be traced to blocking at the front of the field.

“When you have the smaller spoiler, you’re able to get in front of them, that lead car would get the push before that (trailing) car would actually get to the back bumper of the lead car,” Joey Logano said. “Now, it seems like the trailing car can get to the back bumper and then some (with the larger spoiler), so the blocks have to be quicker and have to be precise. Even once you block them it doesn’t mean it’s over because now they’re still on your bumper and they’re pushing you around. It’s more challenging from that standpoint.”

The late April race at Talladega debuted this package and saw a crash at the front of the field early in the event. Bubba Wallace was third when he and Ryan Blaney, running second, got out of shape and triggered a crash that damaged six cars. Wallace said the accident was a result of “the amount of runs and the force of it. All I was trying to do was just some wreck avoidance.”

The Daytona race in July saw two crashes that started at the front of the field because of blocking.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was leading when he was late on a block on Kurt Busch and they made contact, spinning Stenhouse.

Late in the race, Austin Dillon, in the lead, blocked as Clint Bowyer went low to try pass. They made contact, triggering an 18-car crash.

Dillon notes that blocking is a part of speedway racing.

“You’re going to do it,” he said. “Somebody has got a run at you at the end of the race. There’s not much else you can do. You can give up certain times of the race, but if it’s a last-lap situation you’re going to be held accountable for the actions you make and you’re going to feel bad if you go home not making the block that could win you the race … or you’re going to feel bad if you’re wrecked. I’ve been on both sides of it. It’s speedway racing. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Blocking, to Ryan Newman, is nothing new.

“What was it ’08 when (Tony) Stewart won blocking Regan Smith?” Newman said of the fall 2008 Talladega race where Smith crossed the finish line first but Stewart was given the win because Smith went below the yellow line. “Stewart got the win and blocked Regan and everything was fine. Here we are 11 years later still talking about the same thing. Does it do any good to talk about it?”

Harvick was encouraged how NASCAR reacted at the end of Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. NASCAR penalized leader Johnny Sauter for forcing Riley Herbst below the yellow line on the final lap. Spencer Boyd was declared the winner.

“I can’t stand blocking,” Harvick said. “We didn’t use to penalize the blockers  very much. It was always the guy that was trying to make the move. So, you know, the guy had a lane … Johnny was trying to win the race. You can’t blame for him for trying to block. I like when the blockers get called. I don’t like it for Johnny Sauter. You’ve got to have a lane to race.”

 

Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega: Start time, lineup and more

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One of the first things Kyle Larson said after winning last weekend at Dover was that “everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressing at Talladega … except me.”

Talladega is here and it’s time for many drivers to stress. Except Larson, of course.

The playoff standings could be jumbled by the time the 500-mile journey at Talladega Superspeedway ends. Who will be collected in a crash? Who will get through the carnage and contend for the win?

Here is all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Edward Graham, assistant VP of Operation Christmas Child for Samaritan’s Purse, will give the command to start engines at 1:48 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:03 p.m.

PRERACE: The Cup garage opens at 10 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at noon. Driver introductions are at 1:15 p.m. The invocation will be given at 1:41 p.m. by Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. The National Anthem will be performed at 1:42 p.m. by the 313th United States Army Band out of Birmingham, Alabama.

DISTANCE: The race is 188 laps (500.08 miles) around the 2.66-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 55. Stage 2 ends on Lap 110.

TV/RADIO: NBC will televise the race at 2 p.m. Coverage begins with NASCAR America at 1 p.m. on NBC. Countdown to Green follows at 1:30 p.m. on NBC, leading into race coverage. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING ONLINE: Click here for NBC’s live stream of the race.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts mostly cloudy conditions with a temperature of 68 degrees and a 0% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Chase Elliott led a 1-2-3 Chevrolet sweep in late April, finishing ahead of Alex Bowman and Ryan Preece. Aric Almirola won this playoff race a year ago, giving Ford a 1-2-3 sweep with Clint Bowyer second and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. third. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Jagger Jones, grandson of Parnelli Jones, scores first NASCAR win

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Jagger Jones, the 17-year-old grandson of famed racer Parnelli Jones, scored his first NASCAR victory, taking the checkered flag in Saturday night’s K&N Pro Series West race at All American Speedway in Roseville, California.

In a statement to NBC Sports, the 86-year-old Parnelli Jones, who won the 1963 Indianapolis 500, said of his grandson’s achievement: “I just knew it was a matter of time until Jagger rose to the top and won at this level. I’m very proud of him. Jagger has worked hard on his racing skills this year and continues to improve and learn.

“Not only is Jagger a good driver but he’s a very good student. I’ve been impressed by both Jagger and Jace (his younger brother) – they continue to work hard and balance their driving with their work in the classroom. They’re outstanding young men on and off the track and I’m truly a very proud grandfather. Jagger and his team earned this win after a successful season and hopefully it’s a building block for the future.”

Hailie Deegan, who started on the pole, overcame an early spin and finished second.

This is Jones’ first season in the series. He had finished runner-up twice, scoring those finishes in his first career series race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track in March and at Douglas County Speedway in Roseburg, Oregon, in June.

Trevor Huddleston placed third Saturday night, points leader Derek Kraus was fourth and Todd Souza was fifth.

Race results