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Top three Xfinity drivers separated by three points entering New Hampshire

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Things have gotten pretty tight at the top of the food chain in the Xfinity Series.

Following last weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway, the point standings are not led by just one driver.

Through 17 races, the standings are led by both Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric, who are tied with 608 points.

To add to an already close situation, they have Cole Custer breathing down their necks is only three points behind them heading into Saturday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

How did this situation arise considering none of the drivers have claimed a win this year?

Consistency. It’s disappeared for Sadler while Hemric and Custer have used it to catch the JR Motorsports driver.

Following the June 2 race at Pocono Raceway, Sadler had a 62-point lead over second in the standings. His lead slipped away over the next five races thanks to finishing 12th or worst three times.

He placed 30th at Michigan, 28th at Iowa and 12th at Kentucky.

That was after entering Michigan with top-10 finishes in the first 12 races of the season.

In the five races since Pocono, Hemric hasn’t finished worse than eighth and has three top-three finishes. Custer has four top fives and a DNF (wreck, Daytona).

Compared to this point last year, Sadler has more top fives (10 to seven in 2017), the same number of top 10s (14) and his average finish is 7.9 compared to 8.8.

Sadler, is mired in a 56 race winless streak that began in October 2016. And this season he’s been the best finishing Xfinity regular just once and the best finishing JR Motorsports driver only seven times.

Hemric and Custer are each in their second full-time seasons in Xfinity and have shown significant improvement over this same point in their rookie campaigns.

Through 17 races, Hemric has two poles (one in 2017), nine top fives (two in 2017), 13 top 10s (six in 2017) and no DNFs (three in 2017).

Custer has four poles (none in 2017), seven top fives (two in 2017), 13 top 10s (seven in 2017) and two DNFs (three in 2017).

Over the last eight races Hemric and Custer are tied for the most top fives with six. In that stretch, Hemric leads the series in top 10s (eight), average finish (4.13) and race points earned (311).

The point standings would be even narrower if not for two penalties dealt out by NASCAR this season to two of the three Xfinity regulars who have won races.

Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier enter New Hampshire in fourth (-17 points) and fifth (-39).

Bell lost 10 points after the Charlotte race for a post-race heights violation.

Allgaier was dealt a 25-point penalty following his win at Dover for a post-race inspection violation.

The two drivers would be in the same spot in the standings without the penalties.

Among Sadler, Hemric and Custer, it may be Custer who is the favorite to leave New Hampshire with points lead.

Custer is the only one of the trio with any success at the 1-mile track.

He’s won there in the K&N Pro Series East (2013) and in the Camping World Truck Series (2014).

He placed ninth in his first Xfinity start there last year.

“I think we’ve had really good cars in the past at short tracks and I think it’s more natural to me than a mile-and-a-half,” Custer said in a media release. “It’s probably like that for most guys. We just grew up running short tracks and didn’t have to deal with aero as much. We took a lot of good notes from New Hampshire last year that we’ll build on.”

Meanwhile, in 14 career starts at New Hampshire, Sadler has only led 26 laps and he hasn’t finished better than sixth since he returned to full-time Xfinity competition in 2011.

“We’re bringing the car we ran in Richmond, which is one of my favorites,” Sadler said in a media release. “We know it’s fast and is capable of a top-three finish. The end of the regular season isn’t too far away, so we’ve got to stick to our strategy, earn stage points and ultimately get ourselves and our partners a win.”

Sadler led 30 laps and finished third at Richmond.

Hemric placed 12th in his first Xfinity start in Loudon last year. In two Truck Series starts, he placed sixth and 28th (DNF).

“New Hampshire is always a place I look forward going to each year, especially how our company is on the short tracks right now,” Hemric said in a media release. “I feel like I know what I want in terms of speed when I get to a place like New Hampshire, it’s just a matter of getting our race car where we want it. I feel good headed to New Hampshire this weekend.”

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Kentucky Xfinity race results, points report

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SPARTA, Kentucky – Christopher Bell came from the back of the field to win his second Xfinity race of the season, capturing the Alsco 300 Friday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Bell had to start at the rear of the 40-car field after spinning in qualifying. He worked his way toward the front and led the final 17 laps. Daniel Hemric was second, tying his career-best finish for the third time. Kyle Busch placed third.

Click here for race results

Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric are tied for the points lead. Sadler started the season with 12 consecutive top-10 finishes but has placed outside the top 10 in three of the last five races. He finished 12th Friday night. Cole Custer is three points behind Sadler and Hemric.

Click here for points report

 

Christopher Bell wins Kentucky Xfinity race after starting from rear

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Christopher Bell led the final 17 laps to win Friday’s Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway after starting from the rear of the field.

It is Bell’s second win of his rookie year.

Bell passed Justin Allgaier to take the lead with 17 to go and held off Daniel Hemric all the way to the checkered flag.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had to start in 40th after changing the tires on his No. 20 Toyota following a spin in qualifying.

“That was pretty special, man,” Bell told NBCSN. “I keep making mistakes and I’ve been feeling really bad for my team. Joe Gibbs Racing has been working really hard to build really fast race cars and I made another mistake there in qualifying, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get back on this repave. … It was just really working really good on the bottom of (Turns) 3 and 4 there. Hats off to Daniel, I know he’s been trying really hard to get a NASCAR win here for a long time.”

The top five was completed by Kyle Busch, Cole Custer and Allgaier.

The win is the third of Bell’s career and gives him 10 top 10s through 17 races.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: John Hunter Nemechek

MORE: race results and point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: John Hunter Nemechek managed to finish seventh after he lost power during a caution in the final stage, resulting in a battery change that put him a lap down … Tyler Reddick finished sixth, rebounding from two consecutive DNFs … Ryan Reed placed eighth for his second top 10 in nine races.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Blake Jones was spun by Josh Williams on Lap 100 for the first caution for an incident. Jones finished 25th … On the following restart, Brandon Jones spun on the backstretch and hit the inside wall. He finished 36th … Ty Majeski placed 27th after spinning through the infield grass on Lap 132.

NOTABLE: Elliott Sadler finished 12th. He started the season with 12 consecutive top 10s. He has finished outside the top 10 in three of the last five races. He is now tied with Daniel Hemric for the points lead with 608 points.

WHAT’S NEXT: Lakes Region 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway at 4 p.m. ET on July 21 on NBCSN.

Justin Haley: ‘In my belief, I still won – unofficially’

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NASCAR had dramatic finishes in back-to-back weeks at Chicagoland Speedway in Cup and Daytona International Speedway in the Xfinity series.

One will be part of the Cup highlight reels for decades. The other might be used by NASCAR to illustrate the yellow line rule.

Justin Haley’s last-lap pass on Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler was deemed illegal when the left-side tires of his Chevrolet crossed over the double yellow line. Larson, who crossed the finish line behind Haley, was crowned the winner, but one week later Haley still thinks the trophy should be his.

“I did cross the start/finish line first, so in my belief, I still won – unofficially,” Haley said in Kentucky Speedway’s media center after posting the fastest lap in Thursday’s final truck practice for the Buckle Up in Your Truck 225.

On the final restart at Daytona, Haley pushed Justin Allgaier in the outside groove. Haley remained dedicated to the outside lane as Larson pushed Allgaier out of position. Exiting Turn 4 on the white flag lap, Haley was momentarily shuffled to fourth, but that gave him a clear space through traffic to the bottom groove. Like a Jack-in-the-Box, he popped out of the pack and shot past the leaders. – but his momentum carried him across the double yellow line and out of bounds on a restrictor-plate track.

“I don’t know when it sunk in. It’s just kind of how it went. I don’t get the opportunity to go over there in Xfinity much.”

More: Justin Haley says it was ‘BS call’ by NASCAR to nullify win 

In order to progress up NASCAR’s ladder system from the Camping World Truck Series, Haley was given three opportunities with GMS Racing in the Xfinity series. He finished 12th at Iowa Speedway and came within inches of winning Daytona. His last scheduled opportunity will come at Watkins Glen International.

“Those were kind of my three shots to make something happen and if I didn’t, I wasn’t going to go too far in my career. So, I had to make the most of it and I think I have to this point.”

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Justin Haley says it was ‘BS call’ by NASCAR to nullify win

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Justin Haley called it a “pretty BS call,” but NASCAR said he clearly violated the yellow line rule, and that’s why he was not declared the winner of Friday night’s Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway.

Haley, in his second career Xfinity start, rocketed underneath Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler to cross the finish line first and seemingly win.

However, Haley’s path caused his left-side tires to go below both yellow lines that separate the apron from the racing surface. NASCAR warned competitors in the drivers meeting before the race – as series officials do before every restrictor-plate race – not to go below the yellow lines to pass or they will be penalized.

NASCAR penalized Haley for the move. Instead of winning, he was dropped to the last car on the lead lap. He finished 18th. Larson was declared the winner.

Haley was unclear of the rule and expressed his frustration after the race.

“I just wish NASCAR would be a little more, tell us how much of the car we could have under the yellow line,” Haley said. 

Section 10.8.3.c of the Xfinity Rule book states: “NASCAR defines beneath the double yellow lines as follows: when the vehicle’s left-side tires are beneath the left line of the inside double yellow lines that separate the apron from the racing surface while passing another vehicle.”

Said Haley: “There’s room for me to go up, so I don’t know why they’re calling me like that.”

Wayne Auton, managing director of the Xfinity Series, said video showed that Haley violated the rule.

“The 24 car’s left sides were clearly inside the lines, so we had to make the call,” Auton said of Haley.

Auton was asked about Haley’s position on the track, and if he was leading at the time, thus his position would have already been advanced.

“The rule states if you advance your position,” Auton said. “He clearly advanced his position at that time. It doesn’t matter if his nose is an inch out front or a foot out front, he’s still clearly inside the inside lane, and it’s a violation of the rule.”

Said Sadler on the ruling:  “It’s a rule, and I’m glad to see NASCAR stay behind their rules on restrictor-plate racing, because if not, I think you’re going to see people take advantage of it. So I think they set a precedent again tonight making sure we all know we race above the yellow line. They tell us every single time restrictor-plate racing. A lot of times we get runs, especially down the backstretch here where it’s one of those things where you’ve got to put your lefts right on the line or over it, and you just can’t do it. Because you don’t want to put it in their hands.”

GMS Racing officials met with NASCAR after the race and remained displeased with the result. Spencer Gallagher, who will return to driving for the team next weekend at Kentucky, expressed his anger on Twitter: