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Xfinity playoff primer ahead of Texas Motor Speedway

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After its second weekend off in three weeks, the Xfinity Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend to continue the Round of 8 in its postseason (8:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN).

It does so after a first-time winner and a post-race scuffle at Kansas Speedway.

Brandon Jones shook up the Round of 8 with his Kansas win, which came after his elimination from the playoffs.

He was the second non-playoff driver to find victory lane in the playoffs, following AJ Allmendinger‘s win at the Charlotte Roval.

The eight remaining playoff members only have two races left to secure a spot in the championship four, either through wins or points.

Here’s how the playoff field looks ahead of Saturday night’s race.

Drama at the Top

The “Big 3” of Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick have seemingly been racing among themselves most of the season.

After combining to win 19 of the first 30 races, only 12 points separate the three drivers heading into Texas. But the fourth driver in the standings, Justin Allgaier, is 35 points behind Reddick.

Then Custer and Reddick got into their pit road scuffle, adding a nice dose of drama to their championship battle.

Custer enters the weekend trying to defend his win in last year’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, which was his first victory of 2018.  Since then he has seven wins, two of them coming on 1.5-mile tracks (Chicago and Kentucky).

Bell and Reddick each have one win on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Bell enters the weekend with three straight finishes outside the top 10, the longest stretch of his career.

Bell said his team will “100%” be more conservative this weekend than they would be otherwise.

“This weekend winning would be ideal, but we need to go there and we need to survive,” Bell said Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “SiriusXM Speedway. “I think if we go there and survive and have a day like we should, we’ll be close to be locked in on points going into Phoenix then we can attack hard at a place we know we’re very capable of winning at.”

Reddick finished second at Texas in the spring and is the most recent winner on a 1.5-mile track.

“With the PJ1 (Texas) put down in the spring, it really opened up the second, third and even fourth lane in that compound up off the bottom groove when the balance of the cars would change,” Reddick said in a media release. “You don’t see a lot of tire fall-off there, but it’s similar to Kansas where you have a balance change in your car throughout a run. You have to stay on top of that to run well, and I think moving around throughout the race will be important. The pace will be very fast this weekend with the cooler temperatures we will have there.”

Cutting it Close 

While there’s a massive gap between him and the “Big 3,” Allgaier doesn’t have much wiggle room with the drivers behind him in the standings.

Allgaier, who is winless in the last 38 races, enters the weekend with only two points separating him and Chase Briscoe, the first driver below the cutline.

Briscoe, who placed fourth at Texas in the spring, will try to bounce back after he was involved in a controversial wreck with Bell and the lapped car of Garrett Smithley at Kansas while Briscoe led. He rebounded to finish third.

“Honestly, my confidence level is super high right now,” Briscoe said in a media release. “We have had one of the fastest cars, if not the fastest, the last three races. We keep knocking on the door of another win, but things just haven’t been falling our way when it comes down to it. I expect to have a great car once again at Texas and I think we’ll be able to put together a better weekend than we had in the spring for sure.”

Running out of Time

Two of the last three drivers in the standings are JR Motorsports’ Michael Annett (-12 points) and Noah Gragson (-17).

Sitting at the very bottom of the standings is Team Penske’s Austin Cindric, who is 30 points back from the cutline.

The gap is the result of a miserable Kansas race for Cindric, who was involved in three accidents and had multiple flat tires.

The only Xfinity regular outside the “Big 3” with more than one win this year, Cindric is in dire need of another win if wants to make the championship four.

Here are the playoff standings ahead of Texas.

Winners and losers from Las Vegas

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WINNERS

Paul Wolfe — Great call to have Joey Logano not pit before the final restart. Of course it helped that six other cars stayed out. Still, the top two cars came down pit road and Logano, running third, stayed out and won.

Matt DiBenedettoFinishes second in his second race with the Wood Brothers.

Jimmie JohnsonScored his first top-five finish since last summer’s Daytona race.

Bubba Wallace Decision not to pit allowed him to finish sixth, giving him his best Cup finish on a 1.5-mile track.

LOSERS

Todd Gordon and Greg Ives— For every high, there is a low. Gordon apologized on the radio to Ryan Blaney for calling him to pit road while leading before the final restart. Blaney finished 11th. Ives called Bowman to pit road while running second before the final restart. Bowman finished 13th. Ives tweeted that he was “VERY frustrated with my call at the end not to game on old tires, especially in Vegas.”

19 pit crew — Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew got him into the lead under caution after Stage 2 but he had to return to pit under that caution to tighten loose lug nuts. Said Truex after the race: “We just need to quit having mistakes on pit road.”

William ByronLined up second on the final restart but contact with Matt DiBenedetto led to a tire rub and Byron falling back before he was involved in the crash that ended race. He finished 22nd.

Ross Chastain says his finish ‘unacceptable’ in place of Newman

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He scored a 10th-place finish in the first stage and ran as high as fifth Sunday in a car he never raced before.

Ross Chastain still had a harsh evaluation of his 27th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the No. 6 Ford, which he drove in place of an injured Ryan Newman.

Chastain finished two laps down after causing the final caution on a Lap 262 spin, which he judged “unacceptable,” along with his restart performance (“guys kind of ate me alive”) as a substitute for Roush Fenway Racing.

“It’s hard to get out of the car after you have a top-10 car, and you go and run into people and pick the wrong lanes on restarts and then spin it out at the end,” Chastain said. “That’s pretty silly. Just a lot of mistakes on my end and then at the end just overdriving and for one position to be the first car a lap down. That’s unacceptable.”

Chastain had an average running position of 16.87 over the 400-mile race, which went south after he pitted under green from 15th on Lap 217 of 267. The yellow flag flew five laps later, and Chastain took a wavearound to restart 21st.

(Photo by Will Lester/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On the restart, he made contact with Kurt Busch and pitted under green to fix a tire rub, which left him a lap down when he spun with five laps remaining.

“There were a lot of small mistakes on my end, but I learned a ton,” he said. “The car deserved a lot better finish.  Obviously, we showed that early and I just didn’t have great restarts. I just have to be better.

“RFR and everybody puts so much into these cars, and ultimately I’m the one holding the wheel.  We had such a good first stage and had so much confidence and from there I just started making mistakes.”

Chastain, who finished 10th in Sunday night’s rain-delayed Xfinity race, will be driving the No. 6 for Roush while Newman recovers from his Daytona 500 crash. In a statement from the team Sunday morning, Newman indicated he plans to drive again this season, but no timetable has been provided for his return.

Chase Briscoe wins rain-delayed Xfinity race in Las Vegas

Chase Briscoe
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Chase Briscoe won Sunday’s rain-delayed Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, beating fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric by almost three seconds to claim his third career Xfinity win.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led 89 laps in the race, which began late Saturday afternoon but was red flagged on Lap 51 due to rain.

Briscoe and Cindric were the only Ford drivers in the field.

Ryan Sieg placed third to earn his sixth career top-five finish and his first on a 1.5-mile track.

The top five was completed by Daytona winner Noah Gragson and Harrison Burton.

“That was really a team win,” Briscoe told Fox Sports. “We were really good, then as soon as the sun went down when we were in dirty air, we just weren’t really good. In clean air, obviously there at the end we were really good. … This is something I feel we can do all year long.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

More: Click here for race results.

More: Click here for the point standings.

WHAT’S NEXT: Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway at 4 p.m. ET Feb. 29 on FS1.

Chevy drivers positive about new Camaro body after Las Vegas

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Positive reviews are in from a few Chevrolet Cup drivers after their first race on an intermediate track with the updated Camaro ZL1 1LE body, which was introduced this year in an effort to improve the manufacturer’s performance after two lackluster seasons.

Those reviews are backed by the final results for Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After the chaos created by a last-lap crash, six Chevrolets finished in the top 10. They were led by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson placing in the top five.

That followed Chase Elliott leading 70 laps and winning both stages before his one-car incident in the middle of the final stage.

In last year’s spring race on the 1.5-mile track, only two Chevys – Kurt Busch (fifth) and Elliott (ninth) – finished in the top 10. Three Chevy drivers combined to lead 23 of the race’s 267 laps.

“We’re trying to just understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it,” said Johnson. “We’re close, but there’s still a little bit more work for us to do on our car to get the balance between the clean air and the traffic closer. But for the first try on a downforce track, the guys did a really nice job.”

Johnson earned his first top five since last July’s race at Daytona. He placed 19th in this race last year.

“It’s really rewarding to see,” Johnson said. “Last year when we left here, we had quite the opposite feeling and were pretty worried about what the year was going to hold for us. So, it’s really nice to have that change of perspective now. There’s a lot of Chevys up front, one of our Hendrick cars led for a while. So, we’re going the right way.”

Johnson’s teammate, Alex Bowman, was running in second when the final caution came out inside 10 laps to go. After his team chose to pit, Bowman placed 13th.

“This new Camaro, for its first time on a downforce track, I’m just really pleased with it so far,” Bowman said. “I think it’s going to be really good for us. Obviously, I’m bummed out to finish 13th after staring at a second place or a win. But it’s part of it; it’s how racing goes. We win as a team and lose as a team. It just didn’t go our way there at the end.”

Last year, Chevrolet only earned seven wins, with two coming on 1.5-mile tracks. Bowman claimed one of those at Chicagoland Speedway.

Added Bowman: “Compared to how we started the last two seasons, I think we’ve got something for them this year.”

One Chevrolet driver said it was “still early” for assessing the new bodies.

“I think the Hendrick cars were really good,” said Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, who placed ninth. “I felt about the same as last year. So, we just have to continue to get better.”