NASCAR Xfinity playoffs: Round of 8 outlook


Eight drivers remain in the hunt for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, which resumes Saturday with the Round of 8 opener at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

Following Texas, the round continues at another 1.5-mile track, Kansas Speedway, on October 23. The flat half-mile at Martinsville Speedway ends the round October 30 and determines the Championship 4 for the Nov. 6 season finale at Phoenix Raceway.

AJ Allmendinger and reigning series champion Austin Cindric are the only drivers starting the Round of 8 with double-digit cushions above the cutline (Allmendinger +34, Cindric +28). Behind them, only 18 points separate third-place Justin Allgaier (+5) from eighth-place Brandon Jones (-14).

As we head for Saturday, it’s time to size up their chances.

AJ Allmendinger – 3,050 points (34 points above cutline)

  • Texas Xfinity career: Finished sixth in first start this past June
  • Kansas Xfinity career: Finished 25th in lone start back in September 2007
  • Martinsville Xfinity career: Finished 26th and 13th in two career starts

While Allmendinger has extensive Cup experience at all Round of 8 tracks, that’s not the case in Xfinity equipment. Still, he enters the Round of 8 with momentum after his win last week at the Charlotte Roval. His five wins this season have come on multiple track types – including a 1.5-mile track (Las Vegas – March) and a paved short track (Bristol).

Austin Cindric – 3,044 points (28 points above cutline)

  • Texas Xfinity career: One win in seven starts (July 2020), avg. finish of 4.9
  • Kansas Xfinity career: Winless in four starts, avg. finish of 23.5, best finish of second (July 2020)
  • Martinsville Xfinity career: Finished 10th and sixth in two starts

Cindric has not won on a 1.5-mile track this season, but his average finish of 5.9 at those tracks is best among full-time drivers. A strong history at Texas makes that his best shot for a Round of 8 win.

Justin Allgaier – 3,021 points (5 points above cutline)

  • Texas Xfinity career: Winless in 22 starts, avg. finish of 12.4, best finish of second (June 2021)
  • Kansas Xfinity career: Winless in 11 starts, avg. finish of 10.7, best finish of fifth (three times)
  • Martinsville Xfinity career: Finished second and ninth in two starts

Seeking his fifth Championship 4 appearance, Allgaier should have fair opportunities to win throughout the Round of 8. He has a win (Atlanta – March) and two runner-up finishes (Texas – June, Las Vegas – September) on 1.5-mile tracks this season, and short tracks have always been a strength for him.

Noah Gragson – 3,017 points (1 point above cutline)

  • Texas Xfinity career: Winless in five starts, avg. finish of 16.4, best finish of second (Oct. 2020)
  • Kansas Xfinity career: Winless in three starts, avg. finish of 21.3, best finish of 13th (Oct. 2019)
  • Martinsville Xfinity career: Finished third and second in two career starts

Gragson has been steady on 1.5-mile tracks, finishing between third and seventh in five of his last six appearances on that type. If he can get that sort of result at Texas and Kansas, that’ll set him up well for Martinsville, which he’s quickly taken to in the Xfinity Series. It’s also worth noting that he’s won on a paved short track this season (Richmond – September).

Daniel Hemric – 3,016 points (1 point below cutline)

  • Texas Xfinity career: Winless in five starts, avg. finish of 12.6, best finish of third (Apr. 2018)
  • Kansas Xfinity career: Winless in four starts, avg. finish of 7.3, best finish of second (twice)
  • Martinsville Xfinity career: Finished third in lone start this past April

The first career win remains elusive, but Hemric posted finishes of fifth, fourth and third to advance out of the opening round. Earlier this season, he finished fourth at Texas and third at Martinsville. Those results aren’t flashy, but they can keep you around (we’re not just talking about the playoffs).

Justin Haley – 3,015 points (2 points below cutline)

  • Texas Xfinity career: Winless in five starts, avg. finish of 12.6, best finish of seventh (twice)
  • Kansas Xfinity career: Winless in three starts, avg. finish of 5.7, best finish of fourth (Oct. 2020)
  • Martinsville Xfinity career: Finished 12th and eighth in two starts

Like Hemric, consistency is keeping Haley rolling. His August win at Daytona began a stretch where he’s finished no worse than ninth. He finished inside the top 10 earlier this season at both Texas and Martinsville, and Kansas has been a solid track for him per recent history.

Harrison Burton – 3,008 points (9 points below cutline)

  • Texas Xfinity career: One win in four starts (Oct. 2020), avg. finish of 10.5
  • Kansas Xfinity career: Winless in three starts, avg. finish of 16.0, best finish of third (July 2020)
  • Martinsville Xfinity career: Won Oct. 2020 and finished seventh in two starts

After being eliminated from the playoffs last year, Harrison Burton won back-to-back at Texas and Martinsville. That’s why you can’t count him out, even if he hasn’t quite matched his 2020 performance. For him, it may all come down to Martinsville, where he had his most laps led in a single race this season (52 laps; finished seventh).

Brandon Jones – 3,003 points (14 points below cutline)

  • Texas Xfinity career: Winless in 11 starts, avg. finish of 17.4, best finish of fourth (Nov. 2019)
  • Kansas Xfinity career: Two wins in six starts (Oct. 2019, July 2020), avg. finish of 11th
  • Martinsville Xfinity career: Finished ninth and fifth in two starts

With finishes of fifth, sixth, second and fifth over the last four races, Brandon Jones is in a nice groove. But with just three playoff points on hand, he needs to bank stage points at every opportunity. Two previous wins at Kansas give him hope of avoiding potential elimination at Martinsville.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s three major series return to the road this weekend with races scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series races are Saturday, and the Cup Series is scheduled to race Sunday afternoon.

MORE: Drivers expect North Wilkesboro surface to be challenging

Joey Logano, winner of last Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, has led laps in both COTA races and will be among the favorites Sunday.

As the first road course of the year, COTA will begin a new approach by NASCAR to stage racing on road circuits. There will no longer be a caution to end stages, but points will be awarded for the finish order. In another change, the “choose” rule will be in effect on road courses.

A look at the weekend schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning, sun later in the day. High of 86. 80% chance of rain.

Saturday: Sunny. High of 83.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. Temperature of 81 degrees with a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, March 25

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 2 – 10:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 26

Garage open

  • 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (68 laps, 231.88 miles; Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)




North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers


NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.

Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.

The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.

“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”

Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”

Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”

Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.

“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”

“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”

Chris Buescher runs laps during a Goodyear tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway, while Austin Dillon is on pit road. (Photo: Dustin Long)

One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.

While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.

In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.

“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup race at COTA


Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has attracted an entry list that includes talent beyond that of the tour regulars.

Jordan Taylor, who is substituting in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott, brings a resume that includes 31 IMSA class wins, two 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins and two IMSA wins at COTA.

MORE: NBC Driver Rankings: Christopher Bell is No. 1

Jenson Button won the Formula One championship in 2009 and has five F1 starts at COTA. He is scheduled to be a driver for the NASCAR entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kimi Raikkonen, entered by Trackhouse Racing as part of its Project 91 program, won the 2007 F1 championship and has eight F1 starts at the Austin track.

They will draw attention at COTA this weekend, along with these other drivers to watch:


Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best seasonal finish: 2nd (Atlanta I)
  • Past at COTA: 19th and 14th in two career starts

Keselowski hasn’t been a star in road course racing, but his 2023 season has started well, and he figures to be in the mix at the front Sunday. He led the white-flag lap at Atlanta last Sunday before Joey Logano passed him for the win.

AJ Allmendinger

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 5th and 33rd in two starts

The Dinger is a road course expert. Last year at COTA, he was involved in tight racing on the final lap with Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman before Chastain emerged with the victory.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top fours, including a win

Chastain lifted Trackhouse Racing’s profile by scoring his — and the team’s — first Cup victory at COTA last season. He’s not shy about participating in the last-lap bumping and thumping that often mark road course races.


Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 13th and 21st in two starts

Buescher has never led a lap at COTA and is coming off a 35th-place finish at Atlanta after being swept up in a Lap 190 crash. Although he has shown the power to run near the front this year, he has four consecutive finishes of 13th or worse.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas I)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top 10s

Bowman’s four-race run of consistent excellence (finishes of fifth, eighth, third and ninth) ended at Atlanta as he came home 14th and failed to lead a lap. At COTA, he is one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in both races.

William Byron

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I)
  • Past at COTA: 11th and 12th in two starts

Involvement in an accident at Atlanta ended Byron’s two-race winning streak. He’ll be looking to lead a lap at COTA for the first time.



Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended by NASCAR


Three members of the Reaume Brothers Racing No. 33 Craftsman Truck Series team have been suspended for three races by NASCAR after a piece of tungsten ballast came off their truck during last Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The suspensions were announced Tuesday.

Crew chief Gregory Rayl and crew members Matthew Crossman and Travis Armstrong were suspended because of the safety violation. Mason Massey is the team’s driver.

MORE: Xfinity driver Josh Williams suspended for one race

In a tweet following the announcement of the penalty, the team said it will not file an appeal. “The ballast became dislodged only after the left side ballast container had significant contact with the racing surface,” according to the statement. “We would like to be clear that there was no negligence on the part of RBR personnel.”

NASCAR also announced Tuesday that Truck Series owner/driver Cory Roper, who had been suspended indefinitely for violating the substance abuse policy, has been reinstated.

The Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series are scheduled to race this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.