Brandon Brown

Xfinity playoff grid after Road America

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Brandon Brown extended his hold on the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid last weekend at Road America after struggles early in the race.

Brown needed to be pushed back to pit road before the field took the green because of a mechanical issue. He fell a lap down as his crew diagnosed the issue, got his lap back, scored four stage points in the second stage and finished 12th, one spot off his best career finish on a road course.

MORE: Brandon Brown wants to reward father with a special celebration

MORE: Austin Cindric wins at Road America 

Brown’s effort and Jeremy Clements misfortune in being collected in a crash to finish 29th led to Brown extending his lead on Clements for the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid to 53 points. Myatt Snider is 73 points behind Brown. Eight races remain until the Xfinity playoffs begin Sept. 26 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Here is a look at the playoff grid. Drivers shaded in green are locked in the playoffs. Those shaded in yellow are in a playoff spot based on their point total. Drivers shaded in red are outside a spot in the Xfinity playoff grid.

 

Brandon Brown wants to reward father with a special celebration

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A week after he begged his father to let him race a go-kart, the 9-year-old finished last and in tears. He complained that the loaned go-kart was not fast enough.

Jerry Brown saw a passion he had not seen from his son when Brandon played soccer, baseball or did any other activity. Jerry didn’t know much about racing but he bought a go-kart, beginning a father-son journey that took them to races across the country and all the way to the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

“It’s been my dad and I every single weekend since the age of nine,” Brandon Brown told NBC Sports.

It was that way until this year.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race at Road America: Start time, forecast, TV channel

Jerry attended this season’s first four Xfinity races before the COVID-19 pandemic paused the sport. Father and son were together in an Atlanta hotel in March when NASCAR announced it would not race there that weekend.

While much of the world stopped, Jerry’s life changed.

A simple procedure in April led to a cancer diagnosis. His routine now includes “aggressive” cancer treatments. Jerry, 60, isolates to avoid the coronavirus. If he were to be infected, his treatments would have to stop until he recovered from the virus.

Brandon, 27, admits his father’s condition was a key point in moving from Virginia, where the family resides, to the Mooresville, North Carolina area and being closer to the sport’s hub. Traveling each week to races, Brandon didn’t want to take the chance he could catch COVID-19 and infect his father. So it was better to be apart, something they’ve rarely been.

“It’s been quite the emotional roller coaster,” said Brandon, who talks with his father daily. “I haven’t really opened up to anyone … it’s a feeling of fear constantly just because I keep seeing posts about people that have passed away from (the coronavirus), people without health issues that are getting it and things are going bad.”

“Joy and the hugs”

Jerry Brown looks back to all those days driving to races with Brandon and the trips that also included wife Valorie and son William. Jerry says buying that first go-kart and getting into racing was the “best decision we ever made” because of the time spent with family.

Valorie Brown with son Brandon, husband Jerry and son William. (Photo: Brandon Brown)

“You actually get to be with your kids as they are growing up and doing what they love to do,” he told NBC Sports.

“The gleam that you get to see on their faces when they’re 10-11 years old and going out and competing against 20 karts and winning and the joy and the hugs you get to give right there, you just can’t beat that.”

It’s not just the good times that are memorable.

“You also got to be with them in the heartaches, when things didn’t go right,” Jerry said. “The first national race (Brandon) won, a plug in the carburetor had fallen out, so at post-tech we got disqualified. … It’s not the best memory, but it’s one of those things that when you’re a father, you want to be there for your sons for the good and the bad.”

As Brandon climbed from Late Models to the NASCAR Truck Series and then Xfinity Series, Jerry was there. The journey hasn’t been easy for Brandon, who last won a race in 2012 in Late Models. He went to college, graduating in 2018 from Coastal Carolina. He ran a partial schedule while in school with the family team, Brandonbilt Motorsports.

“When you’re here racing this type of competition, you’re not going to win when you are a part-timer,” Jerry said. “He understood that.”

Brandon ran his first full Xfinity Series season last year. Competing against organizations such as Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Team Penske, Richard Childress Racing and Kaulig Racing, is formidable for any team, let alone a family team with eight full-time employees.

Brown finished 15th in the points last year. He holds the final playoff spot entering Saturday’s Xfinity race at Road America (noon ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App).

“I’m not going to give up,” Brandon said. “That was something my dad has preached to me, among other things, thousands and thousands of times over. When you get a goal, you put your mind to it and get it done. Do the important things first and goof off later. I heard that a lot growing up.

“His push, his drive, his sacrifice, his determination is kind of in the back of my mind pushing me the entire time. It’s one of those things where I don’t want to fail.”

Brandon Brown’s best finish in the Xfinity Series is sixth at Daytona in 2019. His best finish this year is seventh at Daytona and Bristol. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Shocking phone call

Jerry went to the doctor’s office April 7 to have a swollen lymph node checked.

The node had to be removed and tested. After the procedure, the doctor told Jerry that he didn’t think the lymph node was cancerous.

Tests confirmed it was.

“Getting that call was devastating,” Jerry said.

Then came a series of tests to find the source before treatment could be set. Doctors determined that Jerry needed proton treatment, which is a new type of radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

He has had treatments every weekday since July 13. When he talked to NBC Sports on Thursday, he had completed treatment 19 earlier in the day. Jerry is scheduled to have 33 treatments, the last one set for Aug. 26.

“The chemo knocks you out really bad,” he said.

A special celebration

As his father goes through treatment, Brown goes to the track, seeking to make the Xfinity playoffs for the first time.

He goes to Road America 32 points ahead of Jeremy Clements but Clements scored his lone Xfinity win at this track in 2017. Nine races remain before the playoffs, including one race on the Daytona oval, two races on road courses and three on short tracks. There are many obstacles between Brown and a playoff spot. 

Brandon Brown holds the final Xfinity Series playoff spot heading into Saturday’s race at Road America. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“We can’t afford to make mistakes,” he said. “Jeremy is an excellent road course racer and also he’s run very, very strong at the short tracks. Just as he is going to have to give 110%, we’re going to have to give 111% just to keep that points buffer.”

Brown has built that margin on Clements and those behind him with consistent finishes. Brown has placed between 10th and 13th in five of the last seven races.

“Our goal is to show up, run all the laps, stay clean, finish the race,” he said. “With that mindset, we push to be right there in the 10th, 11th, 12th mark. We want to be be there to capitalize on if top-tier programs have incidents or wreck out or whatever, we have the ability to take advantage of the situation.”

Brown’s best Xfinity finish is sixth in 70 starts. He’s scored four of his five career top-10 finishes this season. The closer he gets to the front, the closer he gets to his first NASCAR win. 

“I’ve said if we win a race and dad is not there, I think it would be a bittersweet moment,” he said. “It would feel so good to finally win again and also prove to myself that I’m supposed to be here. It does get a little defeating when you’re best is some of those guys’ OK races. It can get a little defeating, but it would feel so good to climb that hurdle.”

And if he wins soon, he admits the “trophy would not leave my sight … I will throw it in the front seat of my truck and I will drive my butt to Virginia and I will do donuts in the cul-de-sac and celebrate with dad there.”

Jerry can’t wait.

“That would be awesome.”

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Jeremy Clements preps for Xfinity playoff push at road courses

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It’s Jeremy Clements‘ time of the year.

Clements’ best chance at qualifying for the Xfinity Series playoffs via a race win has arrived in the form of two consecutive road course races.

The first, Aug. 8 at Road America, represents Clements’ annual return to the high point of his Xfinity Series career. He won at the Wisconsin road course in dramatic fashion in 2017, beating Michael Annett and Matt Tifft for his only win through 349 career starts.

The following week, Clements will pilot his No. 51 Chevrolet in the series’ first race on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

The back-to-back road course races come as Clements sits 32 points behind the cutoff for the 12 driver playoff field. He’s chasing fellow independent driver Brandon Brown for the final spot.

Clements, 35, isn’t bothered by the attention that shifts his way every year when the series arrives at a road course, specifically the 4.048-mile Road America.

“I enjoy it,” Clements told NBC Sports. “I didn’t even grow up a road-course racer. I just kind of latched on to it after I did it a few times and really enjoy it and feel like I can make up for lack of speed that we have at a mile-and-a-half-track against the big teams. … The road courses just seem to fall in that category with what I’m in and I enjoy it. … I’m always excited for it and yeah, I like the attention. Hopefully we can win again, man, so we can just prove it wasn’t a fluke, which I feel like we can definitely do.”

Clements enters Road America with six consecutive top-13 finishes, which ties a career best. That’s on top of finishing 13th or better in 10 of the 13 races held since the series returned to action in May, including a third-place finish at Pocono.

“I think it’s pretty good,” Clements said. “I want to be a top 10 every week. But man, we’re just right there, outside the line there, racing against the big teams. In my opinion, I want to try to be the first small, non-big team that finishes right behind those guys. And if you can beat a few of them, that’s even a better day. So we’ve done that here and there. Then we’ve had other little problems, of course, which everybody has.”

Jeremy Clements Pocono
Jeremy Clements’ best finish of the year was third at Pocono. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Clements believes he’ll have “a little bit of an advantage” at the road courses over Brown. In nine starts at Road America, Clements has three tops 10s, all coming in the last six starts.

Brown will make just his second Road America start. Last year, he dropped out on Lap 10 due to a suspension issue.

Earlier this month in the race on the Indianapolis road course, Clements finished 13th and Brown placed 11th.

“We can get some stage points and just try to reel off a top 10 or better (at Road America)” Clements said. “We finished eighth there last year, we’ve won there before, obviously. We can run good at Road America.”

One difference between the Jeremy Clements Racing that won at Road America in 2017 and now is the quality of the cars it owns. When Chip Ganassi Racing closed its Xfinity program at the start of 2019, JCR purchased some of its cars and has been fielding them since.

“We never had equipment like that, “Clements said. “They were about to race those cars. Usually we get the chassis, and then you don’t get the good suspension or the right suspension for it, so you got a puzzle and you got like half the pieces for it. So we got cars that came with everything like they’re supposed to.”

Like almost everyone else in the field, Clements will soon get his first shot at the Daytona road course with no practice or qualifying beforehand, just like every remaining race this season.

“With no practice, really don’t know how that’s gonna go,” Clements said. “Especially when you got a draw, you don’t qualify and you’re starting wherever. So going into Turn 1 at Daytona should be really interesting and hopefully everybody will … have some patience.”

In preparing for the Daytona race, Clements’ approach will be slightly different than it was for Indianapolis road course.

This time he’ll have more than an Xbox game at his disposal. While larger teams had access to simulators to get acclimated with the course, Clements couldn’t even use iRacing, which did not have the updated course. Instead, he could only make laps on the latest version of the Forza racing series.

“They had NASCAR-style cars and just drove for a couple hours, literally a day or two before (the race),” Clements said. “And shoot it was really accurate, I was surprised. I mean, I played a bunch of tracks on those kind of games and you get familiar with them that way. So I knew if I could just get familiar with the track that would help. So it really helped, first lap out in practice was fast, we were fifth fastest. It was really cool. And I’ll definitely do that again for the Daytona road course. And I’m pretty sure iRacing has that track on it because it’s been around forever.”

Regardless of how he’s preparing for the road courses, Clements doesn’t want to worry himself with how he’s performing in relation to Brown, who has four top 10s this year and has finished 13th or better in five of the last seven races.

“I just want to do the best I can and not make mistakes and hopefully, mechanical gremlins stay away because if we have one of those we will be out of contention,” Clements said. “I’m just gonna do my thing and not make mistakes, stay on track, not doing anything stupid. …

“So just gonna do all that like I usually do and really not worry about that part and what happens will happen. So we’ll just race our tails off and hopefully it’ll be enough.”

Xfinity Series playoff grid after Kansas

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The Xfinity Series heads into its first off weekend since May following Brandon Jones’ overtime win Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

The victory was Jones’ second of the season and kept any new drivers from locking themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Six playoff spots remain up for grabs on the Xfinity Series playoff grid with nine races left in the regular season. Brandon Brown is 12th on the playoff grid after his 11th-place finish at Kansas. Brown is 32 points above the cutline and Jeremy Clements. Clements finished 12th at Kansas.

In the graphic below, drivers in green have won at least a race to earn a playoff spot, those drivers in yellow don’t have a win but have enough points to be in a playoff spot at the moment, those drivers in the red are currently outside a playoff spot.

Xfinity Series playoff grid

Xfinity Series playoff grid

Xfinity Series playoff grid after Texas

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For the third straight race the Xfinity Series saw Austin Cindric claim a victory, this time after Kyle Busch’s car failed post-race inspection Saturday in Texas.

Cindric’s win meant no other driver locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff grid with eight races left in the regular season.

Going into Saturday’s race at Kansas Speedway (5 p.m. ET on NBCSN), the last driver among the top 12 on the playoff grid is Brandon Brown.

The independent driver is 31 points above the cutline after his 10th-place finish in Texas. That’s an increase of 17 points from last week after the Kentucky doubleheader.

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Jeremy Clements (-31 points from cutline), Myatt Snider (-38), Jesse Little (-51) and Alex Labbe (-63 points).