5 key storylines for 2021 Xfinity Series season

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As NASCAR’s number two division, the Xfinity Series annually sees some of its best drivers make the jump to racing on (mostly) Sundays in the Cup Series.

But entering 2021, many of last year’s playoff and championship contenders are back for another run.

That leads off our five key storylines for the upcoming Xfinity season…

Stiff competition

Three of last year’s Championship 4 drivers – including series champion Austin Cindric – and six of the top eight drivers in the 2020 standings return.

Among this group are Cindric, Justin Allgaier, Justin Haley, Noah Gragson, Brandon Jones, and Harrison Burton, who combined to win 21 of 33 races last year.

Besides them, several other playoff drivers return, including Michael Annett, Ryan Sieg, Brandon Brown, and Riley Herbst.

Higher stakes

Herbst is one of several drivers entering situations with higher stakes for them.

After struggling to keep up with Jones and Burton as a rookie at Joe Gibbs Racing, he has moved to Stewart-Haas Racing, where he’ll drive the No. 98 that Cup Series-bound Chase Briscoe took to a series-best nine wins last year.

Herbst’s replacement at JGR is Daniel Hemric, who returns to full-time status after running 21 races last year for JR Motorsports. Hemric believes he finally has equipment that gives him the raw speed he needs to become a regular winner in NASCAR.

An uncommon career path has led to a full-time ride for Myatt Snider with Richard Childress Racing. Snider split the 2020 season between RCR and RSS Racing after competing in the NASCAR Euro Series the previous year.

Then there’s Jeb Burton, who replaces Cup-bound Ross Chastain in the No. 10 for Kaulig Racing. Burton has competed part-time in the Xfinity Series for the past five years, most recently in 2020 with JR Motorsports (11 races).

Kaulig rising

Speaking of Kaulig Racing, they’re building off their best season to date in the Xfinity Series by expanding to a three-car lineup in 2021 with Haley, Burton, and NBC Sports analyst AJ Allmendinger, who moves to full-time status.

Haley’s run to the Championship 4 showed that Kaulig is one of the series’ top teams, alongside JR Motorsports and Cup-adjacent programs from Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

They could be even better in 2021. The team has been formidable on superspeedways, and an expanded road course schedule gives Allmendinger more chances to win.

As for Burton, he may need time to jell with his new crew. But 12 top-10 finishes in 18 starts over the past two years with JR Motorsports shows that he’s capable.

Rule the road

Going back to those road courses, the Xfinity Series will – like the Cup Series – face seven of them this coming season.

Allmendinger and Cindric, who combined to win three of the four road races in 2020, stand to be the favorites in this part of the schedule.

But keep an eye on Gragson, who earned “podium” finishes on the road courses at Indianapolis (third), Daytona (third), and Charlotte (second behind Allmendinger). In his outlier at Road America, he still finished a respectable sixth.

Dash 4 Cash

Four vastly different tracks make up this season’s Xfinity Dash 4 Cash schedule, which will see select drivers compete for cash bonuses.

NASCAR’s smallest and biggest tracks, Martinsville Speedway (Apr. 9) and Talladega Superspeedway (Apr. 24), make up the first two events on the Dash schedule.

Darlington Raceway’s 1.366-mile egg-shaped asphalt oval comes next on May 8, followed by the May 15 finale on Dover International Speedway’s concrete mile.

AJ Allmendinger to return to NASCAR Cup Series

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AJ Allmendinger is getting another shot at success in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that Allmendinger, currently chasing the Xfinity Series championship, will drive full-time in Kaulig entries in the Cup Series next season.

Allmendinger raced in Cup from 2007 to 2018 but won only one time — at Watkins Glen International — across those years. He moved to the Xfinity Series part-time with Kaulig in 2019, winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He won twice in 2020 and five times in 2021 and is a favorite to win the Xfinity championship this year. He has won four Xfinity races this season.

Allmendinger, 40, will drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car in Cup next year. Justin Haley will drive the team’s No. 31.

Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s crazy how the last five years of my life have gone,” Allmendinger said. “More than anything, I love this organization. I know the fans get tired of me talking about all the men and women of Kaulig Racing. This is not a race team. This is a huge family.

“There will be tough times and growing pains, for sure. But I love what they’re about, and they believe in me. i’ll be OK whether it’s good or bad.”

Team owner Matt Kaulig said Allmendinger is “one of the best in the world at every type of track. He’s done so much for Kaulig Racing and our program. He’s a gigantic part of what we’re building.”

Team officials said Allmendinger has a multi-year contract.

 

 

 

 

 

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.