John Hunter Nemechek

Christopher Bell takes third Xfinity win of season at Dover

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Christopher Bell rallied in the second half to win his second straight race at Dover International Speedway, the third win of this season and the 11th of his Xfinity Series career in Saturday’s Allied Steel Buildings 200.

In addition to the win, Bell also earned a cool $100,000 as the highest finishing Xfinity Dash 4 Cash driver, out-dueling Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe and Gray Gaulding.

Bell led 44 of the race’s 200 laps around the 1-mile concrete oval. Justin Allgaier finished second, followed by Reddick, Cole Custer and Briscoe.

“Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had really fast race cars but just weren’t able to capitalize on it,” Bell told Fox Sports 1. “This one is really out to my pit crew. They did a great job to get me out first to control the restarts. I knew once we got to the front, we were going to be tough to beat.

“This is one of my favorite tracks because you can move around, kind of find different lines and get going.”

Click here for full results.

Click here for the updated Xfinity Series point standings.

Custer led a race-high 156 laps but fell back in the latter quarter of the race as Bell would not be denied.

“It’s really frustrating when you lead that many laps,” Custer told FS1. “You just can’t give up your track position here. Everybody wants to win here at Dover, that’s why it’s so frustrating.

“It’s about the hardest track to pass at that we go to. We just couldn’t get it all back. We were so good and feel like we didn’t take advantage of a great car today. It’s good we had so much speed to compete with those guys, but we need to figure out a way of beating them every weekend.”

Finishing sixth through 10th were Austin Cindric, Brandon Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, Zane Smith and Michael Annett.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Cole Custer (led all 45 laps)

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer (led all 45 laps)

NOTABLE: Saturday was the final of the four Dash 4 Cash races. It’s also the second time Bell has won the $100,000 top prize this year in those four races.

WHAT’S NEXT: Alsco 300, May 25, Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Friday 5: Is time running out for Cup playoff hopefuls?

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While the Cup playoff field won’t be set for another four months, there is a shrinking window for those not already in the top 16 in points as the series heads this weekend to Dover International Speedway.

Since 2017 — when stage racing and stage points were added — 84.3 percent of the drivers who were in a playoff spot after 10 races made the playoffs that year.

Take out those who already had wins to be playoff eligible at this point in the season and 81.8 percent of the remaining drivers in a playoff spot after 10 races made it to NASCAR’s postseason the previous two years.

That’s good news for the drivers in the top 16 in points now. Last weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway was the 10th of the Cup season.

What’s also telling is that 13 of last year’s 16 playoff drivers are in the top 16 at this point in the season. That’s despite rule changes intended to make the racing tighter and possibly give more drivers chances for better finishes or wins.

The three drivers in a playoff spot this year who were not in that position at this time last year are Chase Elliott (seventh in points this season), Daniel Suarez (12th) and Austin Dillon (14th). They replace Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who were all in a playoff spot at this time last year.

So far, those who have earned a playoff spot with a win this season (provided they start every race) are Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Elliott.

With NASCAR’s system of win and you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. A fuel-mileage race can create a surprise winner or a pit gamble can help someone score an unexpected victory. Maybe a rain-shortened race leads to a new winner.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Last season, no driver outside a playoff spot won any of the final 16 regular-season races.

In 2017, two drivers outside playoff spots won in the final 16 regular-season races to make the postseason. Dillon was 22nd in points entering the Coca-Cola 600 and won that race on a fuel-mileage gamble. Kasey Kahne was 22nd in points later that season entering the Brickyard 400. He won that race in the second overtime.

The question becomes how much will those not in a playoff spot now gamble to score a win and secure a spot instead of having to rely on points to make it? This will be worth watching in the coming weeks.

2. A year later

Talladega winner Chase Elliott has made the biggest jump in the standings compared to where he was after 10 races last year.

A year ago, Elliott was 18th. He is seventh this year, moving up 11 spots. Other big gainers among the top 30 from last year are: Daniel Suarez (up nine spots to 12th this year), Ty Dillon (up five spots to 22nd), Denny Hamlin (up four spots to third) and Austin Dillon (up three spots to 14th).

Those who have fallen the most this year from this point last season: Kyle Larson (dropped 11 spots to 21st), Clint Bowyer (down six spots to 10th this year), Bubba Wallace (down six spots to 28th this year), Erik Jones (down five spots to 18th this season) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (down five spots to 20th this season).

3. Familiar ground

It has been nearly two years since Jimmie Johnson last won a Cup race, but he’s back this weekend at Dover International Speedway, the site of his most recent victory.

Jimmie Johnson winning at Dover in 2017. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Johnson won his 83rd career Cup race June 4, 2017, at Dover to tie him with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the career victory list. That win was Johnson’s 11th at Dover, most of any driver.

In the 69 races since, Johnson has four top-five finishes and 21 top-10 finishes. He’s led 149 laps during that time. His best finish since that last win is third. He placed third at the fall Dover race in 2017 and third at the spring Bristol race last year. His best finish this season is fifth at Texas. He has four top-10 finishes in the first 10 races of this year.

“The first couple of downforce races we were not where we needed to be,” Johnson said of this season. “I think we’ve kind of rallied back and put some speed in our cars and are going the right way. Based on performance, I would say we are at a ‘C’ but I know the distance we’ve made up here recently.

“If there’s an effort score, I want to score my team really high because we’re working really hard to get there. But at the end of the day, the results are results and we know we’ve got to get better. I feel like we’re headed into ‘B’ territory right now.”

4. Tight rookie battle 

In the Xfinity Series, the rookie race features a tie for first. John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Briscoe are tied for first with 295 points each. Noah Gragson is third with 284 points. Justin Haley is next with 273 points. Brandon Brown completes the top five with 180 points.

5. All for some popcorn?

According to LehighValleyLive.com, two eighth graders have been accused of arson after lighting an abandoned building at Nazareth Speedway on fire last weekend.

Nazareth Speedway hosted what is now the Xfinity Series from 1988-2004 but has sat abandoned since. Martin Truex Jr. won the last NASCAR race there.

Police said that the boys, one age 14 and the other 15, showed up on Snapchat recorded by one of the boys at the scene as the fire burned. According to police, the story says that before the fire, one of the boys stole lighter fluid, a lighter and Jiffy Pop popcorn from a nearby supermarket. According to police, the boys attempted to heat the Jiffy Pop from the fire.

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Sieg, Chastain fastest in two Xfinity practices at Talladega

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Ryan Sieg was fastest in Friday’s second and final Xfinity Series practice at Talladega Superspeedway.

Sieg recorded a speed of 187.824 mph, followed by Ross Chastain (187.108 mph), who was fastest in the first practice earlier in the day.

Third through fifth fastest were John Hunter Nemechek (184.754), Josh Williams (184.726) and Timmy Hill (184.324).

Only 13 drivers took to the track for the session. As was the case in the first practice, Chevrolet dominated the second practice with eight Camaros in the top 10.

Qualifying and the MoneyLion 300 race will take place Saturday.

Click here for the full second practice speed chart.

In Friday’s first practice:

Ross Chastain was fastest in the first Xfinity practice session Friday.

Chastain, driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, was the only driver to turn a lap over 193 mph around the 2.66-mile superspeedway, at 193.779 mph.

In addition to Chastain, four of the next five fastest cars were also Chevrolets: Noah Gragson was second (192.874 mph), Justin Haley was fourth (192.820), Justin Allgaier was fifth (192.451) and Tyler Reddick was sixth (192.235).

The only non-Chevy driver in the top 6 was Ford pilot Chase Briscoe, who was third-fastest at 192.823 mph.

Toyotas struggled for speed, with 12th-ranked Timmy Hill the fastest at 191.172 mph.

Thirty-five cars took to the track for the session.

Click here for the full first practice speed chart.

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Two-day Xfinity Series tire test concludes at Iowa Speedway

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While the Xfinity Series — as well as the Trucks and Cup teams — are off this weekend for Easter, five Xfinity teams were still in action Tuesday and Wednesday for a Goodyear tire test at Iowa Speedway.

The test on the 7/8-mile oval was in preparation for the speedway’s race weekend on June 15-16.

Teams that took part in the test were the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (driver: Cole Custer), the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet (Tyler Reddick), the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet (Justin Haley), the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (Christopher Bell) and the No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet (John Hunter Nemechek).

Custer, Bell and Nemechek are all past winners at Iowa. Custer, who won there in the K&N East Series, is looking forward to returning to the track in hopes of securing another win there.

We were able to do a lot of different things and I think we found a little bit, for sure,” Custer said. “Our team has always struggled a little bit on short tracks so to get to come and test at one is a huge deal for us and I think it will help us a ton when we come for the race. We still have to get it a little better to be with that 20 car (Christopher Bell), but we’re right in the ballpark and just need a few more adjustments.

Everybody has worked so hard to get us where we are right now. Every single track we go to, we can compete for wins. I love the surface here, it’s so bumpy and so wore out it makes for good racing. It’s one of the best tracks we go to.”

Rain threatened to disrupt Wednesday’s action, but held off until the session was completed.

“It’s a good thing we came and did this tire test because we would have rolled into this race a good bit off the pace of the guys we need to compete with for the championship this year,” Reddick said. “We know we have to work on something and hopefully with all this data we were able to acquire, we’ll have a good sense of direction in the next coming weeks.

We found out we have some work to do compared to Cole (Custer) and Chris (Bell), especially. They were just able to be a lot more consistent and fire off faster and end the run faster, almost faster than we could start ours. That’s not very good for us but gives us something to chase after and work for.”

The next Xfinity Series race is the Dash 4 Cash event at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday, April 27. Custer, Reddick, Austin Cindric and Justin Allgaier will compete for the $100,000 bonus to the highest-finishing driver in that race.

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Xfinity practice report at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. – Noah Gragson posted the fastest lap in the only practice session for the Xfinity Series on Friday at Richmond.

Gragson led the way with a lap of 119.776 mph. He was followed by Chase Briscoe (119.1968 mph), Cole Custer (118.963), Zane Smith (118.827) and Justin Haley (118.561).

Click here for practice report

John Hunter Nemechek ran the most laps at 149. He was eighth on the speed chart with a top lap of 118.452 mph.

Elliott Sadler, who is making the first of two scheduled starts this season, was 12th on the speed chart with a top lap of 117.672 mph.

Briscoe had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 117.943 mph. He was followed by Custer (117.892) and Nemechek (117.618).

Xfinity qualifying will take place at 3:40 p.m. The race is scheduled for 7 p.m. today.