Christopher Bell wins Xfinity playoff opener at Richmond

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Christopher Bell put together a convincing win Friday night at Richmond Raceway to open the Xfinity Series playoffs.

Bell led 238 of 250 laps – a career high – and swept each stage to earn his seventh victory of the year, matching his total from 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has now won three of the last four races at Richmond and six of the last 11 short track races.

The top five was made up of pole-sitter Austin Cindric, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe.

“That one was pretty special,” Bell told NBCSN. “Going 92 laps straight there is really difficult, man. We were sliding all around. I felt like if I could get to traffic I was going to be in good shape. Because my car could really move around good. I could run up, I could run down. (Cole Custer) was keeping pressure on us pretty good, but this Rheem Supra was too good.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell

STAGE 2 WINNER: Christopher Bell

More: race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Harrison Burton was the highest finishing non-playoff driver in sixth … Austin Cindric earned his first top five in the last four races. He finished second in both Richmond races this year … In his 300th career Xfinity start, Justin Allgaier finished fourth after he had to start from the rear for changing a tire … Chase Briscoe earned his first top five in the last five races.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Mike Marlar wasn’t able to complete the first lap of his first Xfinity start. He was involved in an incident and finished last … Vinnie Miller had a mechanical failure with 25 laps left in the first stage. He finished 35th … Tyler Matthews finished 33rd after he wrecked in Stage 1 … Playoff driver Justin Haley had a pit road penalty and finished 17th … John Hunter Nemechek finished 15th after he spun while trying to intentionally spin Joe Graf Jr. right before the race’s conclusion. It was retaliation for a bump-and-run by Graf earlier in the lap.

NOTABLE: Christopher Bell has a win percentage of 22%, third all-time in the Xfinity Series.

WHAT’S NEXT: Drive for the Cure 200 on the Charlotte Roval at 3:30 p.m. ET Sept. 28 on NBCSN

 

Tonight’s Xfinity race at Richmond: Start time, lineup and more

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The Xfinity Series playoffs begin tonight at Richmond Raceway. Tyler Reddick seeks to score back-to-back series crowns, while Christopher Bell looks to add a championship in the Xfinity Series to go with his Truck Series title from 2017. They will battle 10 other drivers also seeking the glory of a championship.

Here is all the info for tonight’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 7:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:44 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opened at 8 a.m. Qualifying is at 4:35 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:45 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:30 p.m. by Pastor Joe Ellison Jr., chaplain of Sports Athletics, Virginia Union University. The National Anthem will be performed at 7:31 p.m. by Lyndsey Highlander.

DISTANCE: The race is 250 laps (187.5 miles) around the 0.75-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Countdown to Green. Motor Racing Network’s broadcast begins at 7 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

WATCH ONLINE: Click here for NBCSN broadcast 

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts sunny skies with a high of 74 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Cole Custer led 122 of 250 laps to win in April. He was followed by Austin Cindric and Justin Allgaier. Christopher Bell won last year’s playoff race, finishing ahead of Ross Chastain and Daniel Hemric.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Richmond Xfinity practice report

Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images
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RICHMOND, Va. – Gray Gaulding posted the fastest lap in Friday morning’s Xfinity practice at Richmond Raceway.

Gaulding topped the field with a lap of 121.397 mph. He was followed by Cole Custer (121.342 mph), Christopher Bell (121.000), Noah Gragson (120.621) and Harrison Burton (120.128).

“It feels good for the little guys to beat the big guys,” Gaulding told NBCSN at the end of the session.

Click here for practice results

Burton had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 118.644 mph. He was followed by Michael Annett (118.041 mph), Austin Cindric (117.897), Ryan Sieg (117.314) and Justin Allgaier (116.279).

Joe Graf Jr., driving the No. 21 for Richard Childress Racing, ran the most laps in the 80-minute session with 106 laps. He was 29th on the speed chart with a top lap of 116.109 mph.

Qualifying will be at 4:35 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The series races at 7:30 p.m. ET today on NBCSN. This is the series’ playoff opener.

Friday’s NASCAR schedule at Richmond

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It’ll be a busy day and night at Richmond Raceway.

While the NASCAR Cup Series will have two practices and qualifying for Saturday’s race, the Xfinity Series has an even busier day with one practice and qualifying during the day and its playoff opening race under the lights.

Wunderground.com predicts a temperature of 74 degrees Friday with 0% chance of precipitation when the green flag drops for the Xfinity race. Christopher Bell won last year’s race. Cole Custer won there in April.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All times Eastern)

8 a.m. – Xfinity garage open

8:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

9:35-10:55 a.m. – Xfinity final practice (NBCSN)

11:35 a.m. – 12:25 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

1:35 – 2:25 p.m. – Cup final practice (NBCSN, MRN)

4:35 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying impound (single vehicle/two laps all positions) (NBCSN)

5:45 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

6:05 p.m. – Cup qualifying impound (single vehicle/two laps all positions) (NBCSN, MRN)

7 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity race (Stages 75/150/250 laps = 187.5 miles) (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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Ryan Sieg, Shane Wilson ready for opportunity races in Xfinity playoffs

Ryan Sieg Racing
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When Shane Wilson answered his phone Tuesday he was in the process of leaving a UPS store, a weekly destination that’s part of his many crew chief duties at Ryan Sieg Racing.

This week the team had to: prepare three cars for Friday’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond – including a car for Hermie Sadler, who is making his first Xfinity start since 2016 and the first ever for RSR, as well as repair a wrecked No. 93 car from Las Vegas and get Ryan Sieg’s No. 39 Chevrolet ready for a playoff run.

“Shoooo, we’re busy,” Wilson tells NBC Sports. “But, you know, good busy.”

That’s all been done with seven crew members at the team’s shop located just outside of Atlanta.

“We can go with seven-and-a-half to make sure I don’t leave anybody out,” jokes Wilson.

At the UPS store he had mailed a shock destined for Vermont. Its recipient would be Steve Hibberd, the team’s shock guy.

Hibberd is a former employee of Orleans Racing, the Truck Series effort for Brendan Gaughan in the early 2000s that Wilson led. He’s one of Wilson’s two “secret weapons.”

The other is another Orleans team member and former Dodge employee, Ryan Isabel, who provides engineering support for the team in identifying trends via a database of car setups.

This small, spread out operation helped Sieg produce the best season in his six years of full-time Xfinity competition and his second playoff berth, following his 2016 campaign.

He enters Richmond with two top fives and nine top 10s (matching his top 10s from the rest of his Xfinity career). His previous best total for top 10s was three in 2016, the first time he went to the playoffs.

But Wilson, a former long-time employee at Richard Childress Racing who crew chiefed for Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, doesn’t seem too stressed about the playoffs before him or his limited resources. In fact, he’s having his most fun in NASCAR in “a long time.”

For a former electrician apprentice from Vermont, he could be doing worse.

“Whenever I have a bad day in racing I think about running pipe in December in Vermont along the Connecticut River,” Wilson says with a chuckle.

Ryan Sieg has made the Xfinity playoffs for the second time in his career. (Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sieg and Wilson don’t want to hype up a potential Cinderella story for the Xfinity Series playoffs, even if it does have a few ingredients for that.

Sieg and his small team will start their playoff run at the track he had his best non-superspeedway performance earlier this year.

The April 12th race at Richmond saw Sieg start 13th, finish Stage 2 in fifth and then finish the race in fifth for his second top five of the year.

That leads into the Sept. 28 race on the Charlotte Roval. The opening round then closes out at Dover International Speedway.

Wilson sees the first round as three “opportunity races.”

“They’re not cookie cutter mile-and-a-halves, like Vegas,” Wilson says. “I really feel like we can go there and do well.

“I like road racing, Ryan doesn’t necessarily like road racing. I’m trying to get him in the state of mind and that’s a good opportunity race.”

But….

There are a few of those.

They make Wilson a “realist” about their situation, especially when it comes to facing the juggernauts of Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and the other Cup-affiliated teams.

First, there’s the cars.

Those Cup-affiliated teams will likely be bringing new or updated cars to the track as the playoffs open.

Meanwhile, Sieg’s team will be using the same three cars they’ve been rotating through all year. Luckily for Wilson, they’re relatively new chassis the team purchased from Richard Childress Racing before this season, so he’s familiar with them.

“Here we will be running the same cars as we have been because that’s what we have,” Wilson says. “But I don’t think I’d ever switch that anyway, you gotta kind of ride the horse that got you there and try not to out trick yourself or race something that’s a little bit better cause you really need to bring something you know and that you’ve raced all year then see where you land.”

Then there’s the playoff points.

Sieg enters Richmond 11th in the standings with 2,001 points after the standings were reset. That one playoff point is a result of Sieg winning Stage 2 at Texas Motor Speedway in March.

“Looking at it, those top three cars (Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick) have such a big advantage, you almost have to pencil them into Homestead,” Sieg says. “To make it through the first (round), that’s what we want to do and need to do. But if we don’t, be consistent over the seven races and get top 10 in points, I think we got eliminated in the first round in 2016, but we still finished ninth in the standings. So it’s always nice to be top 10 in points. … Anything can happen.”

However, with all that, there’s one additional tool in the No. 39 team’s utility belt they didn’t have in April.

They return to Richmond with a Cup pit crew, which they began using in May at Charlotte.

Why is that notable?

Shane Wilson, right, has been a NASCAR crew chief since the early 2000s in Truck Series. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

“We lost I think 30 spots on pit road that first race and still finished top five,” Sieg says.

Well, maybe it felt like 30.

“It wasn’t quite 30, but it was like 17 though,” Wilson says with a hearty laugh. “Which is still a lot.”

Even with a more experienced pit crew, Sieg’s philosophy on what happens on pit road has been drilled into him.

“We don’t want to gain spots on pit road, we don’t want to lose any either,” Sieg says. “We just want to maintain. I bet you in my career if you counted the number of times I’ve come off pit road I’ve probably lost more positions than I want to count. That’s part of being a small team. If we come in eighth and Brandon Jones is ninth, he’s got a Joe Gibbs pit crew. If they beat us by two seconds, you’re going to lose that spot. I’ve kind of dealt with that a lot in my career. I’m not complaining, cause it’s part of what it is. So I just want to come in 10th and go out 10th. Yeah, it would be great to come out fourth, but that’s less realistic.”

And what if that Cup pit crew had been in place at Richmond six months ago?

“We might of won,” Wilson says. “Or we would have finished second. Because we passed two guys who finished in front of us about three different times. The only one we never passed was (winner Cole Custer).”

While advancing to the next round would be huge for Sieg’s team, Wilson’s goal for the next three races is straightforward: “finish ahead of four of those guys every week” and “accumulate enough points to make them have to race us at Dover.”