NASCAR Xfinity playoffs: Round of 8 outlook

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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.