Justin Haley

Justin Allgaier wins, advances to Xfinity championship race

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All season long, Justin Allgaier wanted a win, needed a win – and finally he got the win he coveted in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race at ISM Raceway.

One season after winning a career-best five races, Allgaier and his No. 7 JR Motorsports team notched their first checkered flag of 2019 and it was huge, moving him into next week’s championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Allgaier led 85 laps and joins Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick in the title race.

“It’s just incredible, man,” Allgaier told NBC Sports. “To do what we’ve done all year, to have the speed that we’ve had but not been able to pull it off has been disappointing, but these guys have rallied behind it. We said when we came here that we needed a win to get to Homestead and we got it.

“Not only is it a chance for the championship but to get the momentum from a win. That’s special. The weight on your shoulder, you can’t even begin to describe it.”

Added Reddick, defending Xfinity Series champion: “When I heard we were one lap to the good (on fuel), we figured where we’re at, might as well just be smart. We could win a race or we could run out of gas and not go to Homestead. We didn’t lose sight of what’s important.”

Chase Briscoe, Michael Annett, Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson were eliminated from the playoffs.

“I don’t want this one race or whole round to define who we are,” Briscoe told NBC. “We proved especially the last half of the season we’re capable to being that fourth guy, just didn’t get it done.”

The top 10 finishers in Saturday’s win were Allgaier, Custer, Reddick, John Hunter Nemechek, Zane Smith, Cindric, Justin Haley, Briscoe, Annett and Gragson.

Click here for race results.

Click here for updated/reseeded standings.

Bell looked like he would seal a perfect weekend with a win. He was fastest in both of Friday’s practices and started Saturday’s race from the pole. He dominated the first two stages of Saturday’s race, leading all but one of the first 90 laps.

But Bell, who won this race last fall, was caught speeding on pit road at the end of Stage 2 and was sent to the back. While he started making progress, he spun after a tire went down on Lap 117 of the 200-lap race and finished 16th.

“I don’t think we could have beat the 20 today, but when he made that mistake, we capitalized on it and that’s what it’s all about,” Allgaier said of Bell.

Stage 1 winner: Christopher Bell (21st stage win of season)

Stage 2 winner: Christopher Bell (22nd stage win of season)

Who else had a good race: Give credit to John Hunter Nemechek and Zane Smith for their fourth- and fifth-place runs, respectively.

Who had a bad race: It’s a rarity that Bell has a bad run, but finishing 16th was definitely not the finish he wanted. But two things that were self-inflicted (speeding on pit road and a spin) sealed his bid to cap off what had been up to the end of Stage 2, a perfect weekend.

Notable: At 33, Allgaier has age and experience going for him heading to Miami. His other three rivals are all under 25: Bell is 24, Reddick 23 and Custer 21.

What’s next: The season-ending Xfinity Series championship race takes place next Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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Xfinity practice report at ISM Raceway

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FINAL SESSION:

It was Christopher Bell‘s day Friday at ISM Raceway, as the Norman, Oklahoma driver swept both NASCAR Xfinity practice sessions ahead of Saturday’s Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Bell paced the 33 cars that took to the track in the final practice session with a speed of 130.147 mph, faster than what he did in the first practice (129.795 mph).

Tyler Reddick was second-fastest (130.011 mph), followed by Cole Custer (129.618 mph), Justin Allgaier (129.613), Austin Cindric (129.385), Zane Smith (129.282), Noah Gragson (129.231), John Hunter Nemechek (128.977), Justin Haley (128.917) and Riley Herbst (128.742).

Qualifying for Saturday’s race will take place at 12:35 p.m. ET (televised on NBCSN). The green flag for the race will fall shortly after 3:30 p.m. ET (televised on NBC).

Click here for the full final practice results.

FIRST SESSION:

Christopher Bell was fastest in the first of two NASCAR Xfinity Series practices Friday afternoon at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

Bell circled the one-mile oval at a speed of 129.795 mph, just a tick faster than Cole Custer’s effort of 129.716 mph.

Tyler Reddick was third-fastest (129.711 mph) followed by Zane Smith (129.478) and Justin Allgaier (129.399 mph).

A total of 35 cars and drivers took to the track for the 50-minute session.

The final Xfinity practice is slated to take place this evening from 6:05 – 6:55 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Click here for first Xfinity practice results

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Friday 5: With pressure on, time for Denny Hamlin to perform

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For all that Denny Hamlin has accomplished, what he does this weekend at ISM Raceway could alter the narrative for one of NASCAR’s most successful drivers without a Cup championship.

Among the favorites to win the title when the playoffs began in September, Hamlin is in danger of seeing his championship hopes end with Sunday’s race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Hamlin trails rival Joey Logano, a driver he’s feuded with in these playoffs and over the years, by 20 points for the final spot in the Championship 4 field despite a stellar season that ranks among the best in Hamlin’s 14 seasons in Cup.

Hamlin is in this position after a crash last weekend at Texas dropped him from a transfer spot. Kevin Harvick is the only driver to race his way into the championship race at ISM Raceway, winning that event in 2014 and then claiming the title a week later.

While the pressure is on now, Hamlin professed before the playoffs began “pressure doesn’t get to me, nothing like it probably did 10, 12 years ago.”

Hamlin’s best chance for a title before this season came in 2010 when he led the points going into the season’s penultimate race at ISM Raceway but had to make an extra pit stop for fuel late. That allowed Jimmie Johnson and Harvick to close the points gap.

Miami weekend started with the press conference for the title contenders. Johnson and Harvick ganged up on Hamlin. Harvick said of Hamlin: “He definitely seems like the most nervous.”

While Hamlin still led going into Miami, he had a poor qualifying effort and an incident early in the race that doomed his title hopes, allowing Johnson to win his fifth consecutive title in a row.

That late-season collapse will always be a part of Hamlin’s history. He made the championship race in 2014 but hasn’t been back since.

If he doesn’t advance this year, it does not diminish the two Daytona 500 wins, two Southern 500 victories and 36 career Cup victories, but it leaves a gap for a driver who likely is Hall of Fame bound (just maybe not as soon as others without a championship). Only Junior Johnson (50 Cup wins) and Mark Martin (40) have more Cup wins than Hamlin and also not a title.

“I’ve seen it all,” Hamlin told NBC Sports before the playoffs of his postseason disappointments. “Any way I can get taken out of a championship battle, I’ve had happen.

“But I know as long as I prepare each week, the way I’ve been doing, as long as I do the work during practices, give the right feedback like I’ve been doing, we’re going to be fine. That makes me rest easier than anything.”

Those experiences help Hamlin, who will turn 39 the day after the title race. While it’s easy to wonder what might have been, Hamlin says he’s moved past that in regards to 2010.

“It probably took a year to get over that,” Hamlin said earlier this week at Toyota’s national headquarters in Plano, Texas. “After that, you’re so week-to-week, you can’t let stuff linger, and if you do, you’re not doing your job 100 percent.”

Few thought Hamlin would be in this position based on his season and his playoffs. His five wins trail only teammate Martin Truex Jr. for the most this season. Hamlin has finished third or better in 10 of the season’s 34 races. In the playoffs, Hamlin has a win and five top-five finishes in eight races. Yet, that might not be good enough after finishing 28th at Texas.

Hamlin, the NBA fan, can look to LeBron James and the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers for inspiration this weekend.

Hamlin says his favorite moment in sports came in the NBA Finals between the Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors that year. Golden State led the best-of-seven series three games to one before Cleveland rallied to force a seventh game.

Late in that series-deciding contest came the play that Hamlin says “I remember like it was yesterday.”

“(Andre) Igoudala fast break at the end of the game, and LeBron chasing him down,” Hamlin said. “If (Igoudala) makes that basket, it’s over. LeBron chases him down, beats it off the backboard, and they (later) go down and score and change the whole game.

“Anyone down 3-1, they always talk about the odds and statistics of how impossible it is to come back, but that was the moment that someone just wanted it more.”

Such is the position Hamlin is in. Can he provide a memorable moment Sunday?

2. A NEW APPROACH

Austin Dillon’s 13th-place finish last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway wasn’t particularly noteworthy on the surface, but it was significant in other ways.

Dillon’s result marked one of his team’s better finishes on a 1.5-mile speedway this season.

“I feel like we need to try to find a baseline that we can kind of go to, and we haven’t had that this year,” Dillon said before the race. “We have had some fast cars but haven’t been able to race very well with them. We’re trying to kind of tune our cars to more a race-style setup. (At Texas) and Homestead we’re going to try to develop a little more of that baseline.”

The Richard Childress Racing cars were set up with less downforce easier in the season, giving them more speed in qualifying, but when they fell into the pack during a race, the cars were more unstable and harder to drive.

Dillon qualified in the top 10 in eight of the nine 1.5-mile races before Texas, including a pole at Chicago, but never finished better than 10th in any of those races. He showed that speed also at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in March, winning the pole but failing to score any stage points despite the favorable track position and pit stall.

At Texas last weekend, Dillon qualified 21st, his worst starting spot at a 1.5-mile track this year. He joked ahead of qualifying that if they were any better than 15th to 20th, “we will have tricked ourselves.”

The point being is the team put more downforce in the car to make it more stable in traffic, knowing it would hurt the qualifying speed.

“It’s been pretty obvious where our cars are and what they’ve had,” Dillon said of the setup. “There’s a happy medium in there. You see some of the guys that make it work and the other teams that don’t even try to run that concept. The Chevys that are fast don’t seem to be doing what we were doing.”

Another change is that crew chief Danny Stockman will give way to Justin Alexander after this season. Alexander was at Texas and will be with at the track the final two races to assess the team.

3. LOOKING AHEAD

As Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finishes the season with Roush Fenway Racing, he’s looking ahead to 2020 with JTG Daugherty Racing.

Stenhouse joins JTG in a virtual swap that sees Chris Buescher taking over Stenhouse’s ride in the No. 17 next year.

Stenhouse says he’s begun preparing for his ride by talking to Ernie Cope, competition director at JTG Daugherty Racing, and team owner Tad Geschickter after races.

Stenhouse says he’s discussed with Cope and Geschickter “the things that they fought through (with the car) in the weekend, kind of compare that to what I’m feeling and then also just looking at the potential that they have.

“I thought both their cars had really good short-run speed at Martinsville. We had better long run speed. Going over there it’s like, ‘Alright, how do we get that long-run better and keep that short-run speed?’ I look at Kansas … we raced around (Buescher) a lot and felt like in the end they were probably a little bit better overall.

“I’m interested to see how Phoenix goes. We ran decent there in their spring, but (JTG Daugherty Racing’s) short track stuff, I feel like, seems better than what we have right now and that’s an area that I feel like needs to get better.”

Until Stenhouse finished last after a crash last weekend at Texas, he had placed in the top 20 in six consecutive races, his longest stretch since 2017 when he won two races and made the playoffs.

“I am focused on making sure we finish the job here,” Stenhouse said of his final races with Roush Fenway Racing. “We’ve had some solid runs. We haven’t had any stellar runs, but we’ve had solid runs since the announcement came out in Charlotte. Just looking to continue that … and end on a decent note.”

4. BETTER HELP

One of the issues with the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, particularly at Daytona and Talladega, is that its pointed nose made it more challenging to push as compared to the Fords and Toyotas, which each had flatter noses.

While Chevrolet won at Daytona (Justin Haley in July) and at Talladega (Chase Elliott in the spring), the nose on the Camaro ZL1 1LE that Chevy teams will use in 2020 should prove beneficial at those tracks.

“It was definitely a challenge for us being able to push like some of our competitors were doing,” Elliott said. “I think all the drivers wanted (a flatter nose). We’re just lucky that Chevrolet saw it and wanted to make an effort and try to make it a little better. I think they did. We’ll see when we get to Daytona how it affects things, but I certainly think with all the pushing and how aggressive restarts are … hopefully that helps us.”

Cars pushing one another could become more important at those tracks in 2020. The Talladega playoff race showed more cars could form a two-car tandem and pull away briefly from the pack. With the rules stable for next season, teams will have more time to maximize that, and the tandem could play greater role in those races next year.

5. LAST CHANCE

Chevrolet will need a big day Sunday from Kyle Larson or Chase Elliott to avoid missing the Cup championship race for a third year in a row.

Chevrolet last had a team racing for the Cup title in 2016 when Jimmie Johnson won his record-tying seventh series crown.

In 2017, the Chevy teams of Elliott and Johnson were eliminated in the Round of 8 at ISM Raceway. Last year, Elliott was eliminated in the Round of 8 at ISM Raceway.

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Christopher Bell wins Xfinity playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway

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Christopher Bell won Saturday night’s Xfinity Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway and locked himself into the championship race in Miami.

Bell swept every stage of the race and claimed his series-leading eighth victory of the year, topping his total from his rookie season.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 101 of 200 laps and beat Ross Chastain, Austin Cindric, Brandon Jones and John Hunter Nemechek.

A native of Oklahoma, Texas Motor Speedway is Bell’s home track.

“That was pretty special to win here at Texas,” Bell told NBCSN. “I got a lot of family over there in the background. This (checkered flag) is for my nephew. I promised him years ago that if I ever won I’d give him the flag at Texas. … I knew we were competitive. Us and (Tyler Reddick) were really similar early on. Then I started having brake problems. Whenever I got those brake problems I just wasn’t as good. I could keep the car underneath me, I got really loose. Had to work a little bit harder.”

Bell has 16 wins through 72 Xfinity starts, which is tied for the most with Sam Ard and Jack Ingram.

This is the fourth time this year Bell has swept every stage of the race and won. He’s the only driver to do it.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell

STAGE 2 WINNER: Christopher Bell

More: Race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Austin Cindric has finished in the top three in four of the five playoff races and has top-10 finishes in three of four Texas starts … John Hunter Nemechek has top-10 finishes in five of the last six races, including the last four … Justin Allgaier finished sixth. He has top-10 finishes in the last 15 races, the longest streak of his career.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Playoff driver Noah Gragson finished 30th after contact with Harrison Burton with 50 laps to go sent him through the infield grass and damaged his No. 9 Chevrolet. It is his first DNF of the year … A few laps into the ensuing green flag run, Tyler Reddick wrecked on the backstretch while racing with Chase Briscoe and Brandon Jones. He finished 29th … Briscoe finished 22nd after he had a late pit stop for a right-front tire problem … Bobby Earnhardt brought out the first caution on Lap 19 when he spun and experienced a hard wreck in Turn 2. He finished 37th … On Lap 60 Brandon Brown wrecked after a spin in Turn 2 … With 11 laps left in Stage 2, David Starr wrecked after making contact with Stefan Parsons and plowing through the infield grass. He finished 33rd … Justin Haley finished 32nd due to a mechanical failure on his backup car.

WHAT’S NEXT: Desert Diamond West Valley Casino 200 at ISM Raceway at 3:30 p.m. ET Nov. 9 on NBC

 

Tyler Reddick wins pole for Xfinity race at Texas

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Playoff driver Tyler Reddick won the pole for tonight’s Xfinity Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Reddick claimed his fourth pole of the year with a top speed of 190.705 mph.

The top five was completed by Harrison Burton, Christopher Bell (playoffs), Cole Custer (playoffs) and Chase Briscoe (playoffs).

Briscoe qualified in the top five after his car failed inspection three times. His car chief, Nick Hutchins, was ejected from the event. Briscoe will lose 30 minutes of practice next weekend at Phoenix.

Rounding out the top 10 is Justin Allgaier (playoffs), Ross Chastain, Jeb Burton, Brandon Jones and Noah Gragson (playoffs).

Justin Haley will start from the rear in a backup car after he spun and backed into the Turn 4 wall during his warmup lap.

Michael Annett was the lowest qualifying playoff driver. He’ll start 19th.

Stefan Parsons qualified 16th for his best career start in his sixth race.

Click here for the starting lineup.