What a difference a year makes in the Xfinity Series.
The series enters this weekend’s championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with only a slight change to its Championship 4 driver lineup but with a massive difference in their record. (Watch at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)
Last season, Miami arrived with the four drivers – Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric and Tyler Reddick – owning just nine wins among them. Hemric had none, Reddick and Custer each had one and Bell hoarded a rookie record seven victories.
Twelve months later only one name has changed in the final four, with Justin Allgaier entering the fray through his win last Saturday at ISM Raceway.
Together the four drivers have won 21 of the 32 races held this year, with 20 victories claimed by the “Big 3” of Bell, Custer and defending champion Reddick.
Here’s a more detailed analysis of the Championship 4 field.
Christopher Bell (No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing)
Wins: Eight (Atlanta, Bristol I, Dover I, Iowa I, New Hampshire, Road America, Richmond II, Texas II)
Career Playoff Wins: Six (including Kansas win in 2017 as part-time driver)
Miami Record: Has a DNF (engine) and an 11th-place finish in two Xfinity starts. Was plagued by a pit stop for a flat tire with 10 laps to go last year. Best finish of second in three Truck Series starts. Won the Truck Series title in 2017. Has been in the Championship 4 in each of his four full-time seasons in NASCAR.
Championship-Caliber Moment(s): When Bell is on, he’s on. Twice this year – New Hampshire and Richmond II – he has led all but 14 or less laps.
Outlook: There was no sophomore slump for Bell. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver matched and exceed almost all of his major stats from 2018 and then added to them (he tied his total for top 10s). Notably, he led 1,968 laps compared to his 2018 total of 759. Can Bell get his coveted Xfinity title before making the jump to Cup in the offseason?
“I like where we are at, that’s for sure,” Bell said after his win at Texas two weeks ago. “There were a couple of places earlier in the year that the car drove really, really nice and we just weren’t able to compete with some of the other competitors, but right now, I feel like we can be a little off on balance and still be competitive. So that’s means whenever we hit it we are going to be really good.”
Cole Custer (No. 00 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing)
Wins: Seven (Auto Club Speedway, Richmond I, Pocono I, Chicago, Kentucky, Darlington, Dover II)
Career Playoff wins: Three (Won at Miami in 2017 when he wasn’t a Championship 4 driver)
Miami record: Three starts in Xfinity. Finishes of 17th, second (2018) and a win (2017). Started second in 2017 and led 182 laps on the way to his first career Xfinity win.
Championship-caliber moment(s): In an overtime shootout to decide the Pocono race in June, Custer capitalized on a bobble by Tyler Reddick in the final turn to pass him and take the win. He also delayed Kyle Busch earning his 200th national series win by a day when he beat him in March at Auto Club Speedway.
Outlook: Cole Custer is really good in Miami, leading 277 laps and finishing in the top two in his last two starts there. That was before he was paired with crew chief Mike Shiplett and stormed to a seven-win season this year. Watch out.
“I think we can go there and win,” Custer said after his runner-up finish Saturday at ISM Raceway. “There’s no reason why we can’t. Last year we led the most laps and this year we’re probably better, so I think we can go there and really compete for a championship.”
Tyler Reddick (No. 2 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing)
Wins: Five (Talladega, Charlotte I, Michigan, Bristol II and Las Vegas II)
Career Playoff wins: Two (one was as a part-time driver in 2017 at Kentucky)
Miami record: Two Xfinity starts with finishes of fourth and a win last year to claim a surprise championship. In three Truck Series starts he never finished worse than sixth.
Championship-caliber moment(s): Held off a swarm of threats on the final lap to win at Talladega. Conserved enough fuel to ward off Christopher Bell and win at Las Vegas. Started last in the Bristol night race (due to inspection failures) and had a pass through penalty on the first lap and still managed to win the race. Reddick has won in every imaginable way this year.
Outlook: Reddick is a proven commodity at Homestead and he solidified that last year when he rode the high line against the wall to a championship no one expected him to claim. He’s also proved you can win a championship and arguably be the most improved driver the following year.
“Just had to play it safe at the end to make sure we had enough fuel to get to the checkered flag,” Reddick said after he finished third Saturday. “It’s definitely not the way we normally like to race, but we did what we had to do to get to Miami next week. That was the goal all season, and now we’re there. I’m proud to keep RCR’s streak of making the Championship 4 in the Xfinity Series alive for another year. We’ll be ready to race for the title next weekend, and I know my No. 2 team is up for the challenge.”
Justin Allgaier (No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports)
Wins: One (Phoenix II)
Career Playoff wins: One
Miami record: In nine Xfinity starts since 2008, Allgaier’s best two finishes are sixth and seventh, coming in the last three seasons. He’s only led seven laps in those nine starts.
Championship-caliber moment(s): If you’re going to end a 39-race winless streak you might as well do it in the last race that can send you to the Championship 4. Allgaier’s Phoenix win put him into the title round for the third time in four years.
Outlook: The oldest driver in the Championship 4 by nine years, the 33-year-old Allgaier has a chance to put a dent into the “youth movement” narrative that’s driven the Xfinity Series for years. Should he hoist the championship trophy Saturday, he’d give JR Motorsports its third consecutive title.
“We needed this momentum. We’ve had an off year, no questions asked. Every time we think we’re going to be in a great shot to go win a race things have gone completely the opposite of what we thought,” Allgaier said Saturday. “I think we go into next week with a new mentality, a new energy and we got a shot at winning a championship.”