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Xfinity Championship 4 made up of favorites and a surprise

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Unlike on the Cup side where there are no surprises, the Championship 4 in the Xfinity Series is not entirely what was expected when the playoffs started.

Justin Allgaier, who won the regular-season title, was eliminated at the end of the Round of 8. So was teammate Elliott Sadler, who had 24 top 10s in the first 32 races but no wins.

Rookie Christopher Bell got into the Championship 4 in walk-off fashion, winning Saturday at Phoenix after he entered the race 34 points below the final transfer spot.

Bell joins Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick in Saturday’s title race in Miami (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The drivers have an average age of 23 and have combined for nine wins since February, with Hemric the only winless among driver among them.

Here’s a look at each driver’s record ahead of Miami.

Christopher Bell (No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing)

Wins: Seven, a rookie record (Richmond I, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Iowa II, Richmond II, Dover II and Phoenix II)

Career Playoff wins: Four (Including win at Kansas last year as a part-time driver)

Miami record: Earned a DNF in first Xfinity start last year for an engine failure. Best finish of second in three Truck Series starts. Won the Truck Series title in 2017. Has been in the Championship 4 in each of his three full-time seasons in NASCAR.

Outlook: Bell enters as the favorite with his series-leading seven wins. Despite two DNFs in the Round of 8, he has won three of the last six races. Toyota has won two of the last five Miami races.

“I don’t know if you can take any momentum (to Miami),” Bell said after his win Saturday.  “The 00 (Cole Custer), they’re licking their chops because they won by (15.4) seconds last year so I’m sure they’re feeling good. We saw with the Cup deal, Jimmie Johnson won his championship (in 2016) because a couple guys beat themselves and took each other out and he was just at the right spot at the right time and he was definitely not the best out of the four. What we’re going to have to do next week if we are the best car, try not to beat yourself and if we’re not the best car, just wait for the opportunity for that last pit stop and you never know when the last restart is going to come.”

 

Cole Custer (No. 00 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing)

Wins: One (Texas II)

Career Playoff wins: Two (Won Miami last year when he was not part of Championship 4)

Miami record: Two starts in Xfinity. Finishes of 17th and a win. Started second in 2017 and led 182 laps on way to his first career Xfinity win.

Outlook: Despite only one win through 32 races, Custer placed in the top 10 a series-leading 25 times this season. And as Christopher Bell noted, Custer won at Miami by just over 15 seconds last year.

“All of the cars at Stewart-Haas (Racing), we build fantastic cars,” Custer said Saturday. “I could take any single car out of our fleet and I could take this car this weekend (at Phoenix) and I think it would be just as good as the car we’re taking to Homestead. I think the tires are gonna be a little bit different. I think it’s a different left-side tire. We have the flange-fit bodies this year, so that’s a little bit different. You have to account for those things and make sure that you’re adjusting and making your car as good as it can be.”

 

Daniel Hemric (No. 21 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing)

Wins: None

Career Playoff wins: None

Miami record: Finished 34th, 23 laps off the lead in 2017 due to an early mechanical problem. Three Truck Series starts with a best finish of fifth in 2016.

Outlook: For the second year in a row, Hemric enters the Championship 4 without a win to his name. Should he claim the title without winning in Miami he’d be the first driver to win a national NASCAR championship without having ever won a race.

Hemric leads the Championship 4 drivers in average finish (9.1). His five runner-up finishes without a win leads all winless drivers in Xfinity.

“You just hope you’re going to find yourself in position to have another shot at it like we did last year,” Hemric said after he finished second Saturday. “Now I can confidently say we do have that shot. It’s a tough situation to be in after the 10-point penalty we got after Kansas. It put you a little bit on edge and then we got into Texas and lost some points. We knew we had to come here (to Phoenix) today and be a solid as we could and give ourselves a shot to try to maximize our points as best we could and that’s what we did.

“… Having that taste in our mouth from having that taken away from us last year the way it was makes us that much more hungry when we go there next week.”

 

Tyler Reddick (No. 9 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports)

Wins: One (Daytona I)

Career Playoff wins: One (At Kentucky last year as a part-time driver)

Miami record: Started from pole and finished fourth in first Xfinity start last year. In three Truck Series starts finished sixth, third and second.

Outlook: Reddick admitted he would have been “surprised” had you told him nine weeks ago he would be the only JR Motorsports driver in the Championship 4.

Nine races ago he finished 34th in race No. 23 at Road America. By that point he had just one top-five finish since he won the season-opener at Daytona. In the nine races after Road America he earned four top fives, three top 10s and announced he’ll compete for Richard Childress Racing in 2019.

“I (knew we had) the potential to get to (Miami) all year long,” Reddick said after placing sixth at Phoenix. “I guess we’ve just been getting our bugs out this year. Our regular reason had moments of greatness but never really seized it. We’d have speed, but something would happen. … The playoffs have been more about what this team is really about. We’ve done everything we needed to. We’ve done a very good job of staying out of trouble and minimizing mistakes. But we’ve been lucky too.  … Sometimes it never hurts to just be a little lucky.”

Results, stats after Xfinity playoff race at Phoenix

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Christopher Bell won Saturday’s Xfinity race at ISM Raceway, leading 94 laps after he started 38th.

Bell clinched a spot in the Championship 4 at Miami next weekend.

The top five was completed by Daniel Hemric, Austin Cindric, Matt Tifft and Ryan Preece.

Click here for race results.

Points

With his win Bell joins Cole Custer, Hemric and Tyler Reddick in the Championship 4.

Custer got in through his win at Texas. Hemric and Reddick secured spot through points.

Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Matt Tifft and Austin Cindric were eliminated from title contention.

Click here for the point standings.

Christopher Bell wins at Phoenix to clinch spot in Xfinity title race

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Facing a must-win situation, Christopher Bell did just that, winning Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at ISM Raceway to clinch a spot in the Championship 4 at Miami.

Bell entered the race 34 points out from the final transfer spot. He started 38th after his No. 20 Toyota did not get through inspection in time to qualify.

The rookie marched through the field and took the lead for good on Lap 108 when he passed John Hunter Nemechek.

Bell led 94 laps and beat Daniel Hemric, Matt Tifft, Austin Cindric and Ryan Preece.

It is Bell’s seventh win of the season, a rookie record.

“I’ll be honest after (DNFs at) Kansas and Texas I kind of just accepted we wouldn’t be able to get there,” Bell told NBC. “Just came over here with a ‘Let’s have fun attitude.’ … We didn’t really make our way up front that fast. I kind of got stalled out once I got into the top 15. I knew this thing was really fast because yesterday in practice it was really good. That clean air just meant so much. My pit crew did an amazing job … We’re going to (Miami), baby.”

Justin Allgaier, who won five races this season, was eliminated from title contention. He placed 24th, one laps down after he lost his brakes with about 20 laps to go.

Elliott Sadler, who will not compete full-time after the end of the season, was also eliminated.

Austin Cindric and Matt Tifft were the other drivers eliminated.

The Championship 4 will be Cole Custer, Bell, Hemric and Tyler Reddick

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

MORE: Race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Daniel Hemric earned his fifth runner-up finish without a Xfinity win … Matt Tifft placed third, his best result since he finished second at Road America … Austin Cindric earned his third top five in the last five races.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Akinori Ogata extended the series’ streak of incidents on Lap 1 to three races when he wrecked in Turn 3. He finished 33rd … After winning the first two stages, Justin Allgaier placed 24th, one lap down. He suffered damage from contact with John Hunter Nemechek on Lap 145. He then lost his brakes with about 20 laps to go, but finished the race.

NOTABLE: Chevrolet clinched its 19th manufacturer championship in the series at the start of the race … Christopher Bell’s seven wins are the most by a non-Cup driver in Xfinity since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won seven times in 1998.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: ”Disappointment. At the end of the day we did everything right this year. We had a great season. Today we did everything right at the beginning part of the race. That was probably the most frustrating part. We led a lot of laps. We won both stages. All things considered it was going to be a great day. Ultimately at the end, getting ourselves in that bad position, getting caught up in that little of a crash and losing brakes. At that point it was survival, gain as many points as we can gain.” – Justin Allgaier after he was eliminated for title contention.

WHAT’S NEXT: Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway at 3:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 17 on NBCSN

 

NASCAR America: Justin Allgaier, Christopher Bell in trouble ahead of Phoenix Xfinity race

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The two best drivers in the Xfinity Series this season are in dire straits ahead of Saturday’s playoff elimination race in Phoenix (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Christopher Bell, who has a rookie record six wins, and Justin Allgaier (five wins) each find themselves outside the championship four that will advance to the title round in Miami.

Allgaier is 12 points out of the final transfer spot and Bell, coming off two straight DNFs, is 34 points out.

On NASCAR America, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte discussed whether both drivers would be able to qualify for the championship round.

“Nope,” Letarte said bluntly, adding he thinks neither will qualify. “Christopher Bell has to be your favorite going into it … Christopher Bell’s only option is to win. Sometimes you have to wonder what that does to the psyche of a team, to a young racer. This isn’t Kevin Harvick we’re talking about. This isn’t Joey Logano. While he’s as talented as such, probably so. Definitely doesn’t have the experience.

“How will he handle the moment?”

Burton predicted Bell will go to Phoenix and win the race.

“You look at the points, I see the opportunity for anything to happen,” Burton said. “This race is going to be crazy.”

Watch the above video for more.

Bump & Run: Debating Cup, Xfinity playoff picture

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Who do you see as the favorite to win the Cup title, and who do you see as their biggest potential threat?

Nate Ryan: Kevin Harvick is the favorite, and it seems as if anyone driving a Ford would be his biggest threat, so Joey Logano trumps the remainder of the (formerly?) Big Three. If they advance to Miami, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. will have to prove their championship mettle.

Dustin Long: Kevin Harvick is the favorite. He’s ranked No. 1 in green-flag speed in the three playoff races on 1.5-mile tracks and it’s hard to think that speed will drop in Miami at that 1.5-mile track. Biggest threat: Themselves. If Harvick and his team don’t make mistakes, this is their championship.

Daniel McFadin: Kevin Harvick is the favorite and as of now Joey Logano will be his biggest threat given how the rest of the title favorites have been racing.

Dan Beaver: Given the current state of points and most likely drivers to contend for the championship, I have to say Harvick. If Chase Elliott makes it into the championship 4, however, he has been my pick since the start to the playoffs. 

What impact will relocating the start/finish line at Phoenix make there this weekend?

Nate Ryan: Probably minimal unless there’s an opportunity for a playoff driver in a must-win situation and running second to cut the dogleg on the last lap.

Dustin Long: More than people think. I’ll go with what Aric Almirola said about how he sees the change impacting the racing: “I would imagine that we will cross the start-finish line and be nine-wide going though the dogleg and then try to figure out how to get back to two-wide by the time we get to the new Turn 1.”

Daniel McFadin: Phoenix will probably have the most interesting restarts on the circuit starting this weekend. I’m hoping for a possible overtime restart to really see how drivers approach it.

Dan Beaver: Minimal. There will be some improved optics as drivers are now able to fan out, but the racing will be pretty much unchanged. 

Both Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier have combined to win 11 of the 31 Xfintiy races this season but both are outside a transfer spot to Miami entering this weekend’s Xfinity race at Phoenix. Will they advance to the championship race? Will only one? Or will both fail to advance?

Nate Ryan: It seems as if one still could make it via a victory, and Bell seemed to be in a good frame of mind despite his crash at Texas.

Dustin Long: Both make it. Bell wins. Allgaier makes it on points.

Daniel McFadin: I think only one of them advances and it will be Allgaier by the smallest of points margins.

Dan Beaver: Bell makes it in on the strength of a top five or a win. Allgaier finishes well, but will not earn quite enough points.