Defining moments of the Xfinity Series season

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It took five months, but the Xfinity Series has reached the halfway point in its regular season following last Sunday’s event at Pocono Raceway.

The series has completed 12 races ahead of Saturday’s inaugural race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

A year after it was dominated by the “Big 3” of Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer, the series is not lacking dominant drivers, controversy and excitement.

Here’s a look back the season so far through key quotes, moments and stats.

Key quotes

“I’m speechless right now, I didn’t think this would come. … I spent a lot of time with (team owner) Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. this week, talking for about two hours. Wanted to be a better speedway race. He told me ‘Go have fun. Wreckers or checkers, you got to manage your gaps, be there at the end and just go lead the damn the thing.’ That’s what we did.” – Noah Gragson after winning his first career Xfinity Series race in February at Daytona.

“I’m the kind of guy that believes in racing people how you’re raced. I’m not going to take any kind of stuff like that. If (Gragson) wants to send that kind of message early, then game on.” – Myatt Snider a few days after he was spun by Gragson during the Xfinity race at Las Vegas.

“This is more than a race win, it’s the biggest day of my life after the toughest day of my life. To beat the best there is just so satisfying.” – Briscoe after his emotional win over Kyle Busch at Darlington.

“When you’re a man and you throw a punch, you better be able to take a punch.” – Gragson following his contact with Allgaier and win at Bristol.

“Oh my God, oh my God, I won on an oval. Do you like that? Whoo!” – Allmendinger after his victory at Atlanta.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Key Moments

– Gragson held off Burton and Timmy Hill in a two-lap shootout to win the season-opener at Daytona for his first career Xfinity victory. His celebration included sliding across the hood of his car like Bo and Luke Duke from “The Dukes of Hazzard” and performing a burnout until he caught the track on fire.

– Burton kept teammate Riley Herbst at bay in the closing laps to win at Auto Club Speedway for his first career Xfinity victory. He joined his uncle Ward Burton in earning his first Xfinity win on Leap Day (Feb. 29).

Brandon Jones passed teammate Kyle Busch with 20 laps to go at Phoenix and went on to secure his second career Xfinity win.

– In one of the most memorable and emotional finishes in recent memory, Chase Briscoe engaged in a duel with Busch over the last few laps at Darlington, making contact multiple times before Briscoe took the checkered flag. The win came days after Briscoe and his wife learned she had experienced a miscarriage.

– While battling for the lead with five laps to go in the scheduled distance at Bristol, teammates Gragson and Allgaier made contact, causing Allgaier to lose control and crash, eliminating him. In overtime, Gragson beat Briscoe and Jones for his second win of the year.

A.J. Allmendinger led the final 37 laps and won at Atlanta, scoring his first ever motorsports victory on an oval track.

– During the four races that made up the Dash 4 Cash program, Kaulig Racing claimed three of the four $100,000 bonuses, as Ross Chastain claimed $200,000 and Allmendinger claimed $100,000. It scored two wins (Allmendinger at Atlanta and Justin Haley at Talladega) and seven top fives.

– Briscoe used his front bumper to get Chastain loose on the first lap of the overtime finish for Sunday’s race at Pocono, passed him in Turn 2 and went on to a series-leading fourth victory.

Key Stats

– Through 12 races, there have been three first-time Xfinity winners. Noah Gragson opened the year with his win at Daytona and has been followed by Harrison Burton (Auto Club Speedway) and Justin Haley (Talladega).

Chase Briscoe in victory lane after his win at Pocono. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

– Through 12 races, there have been seven different winners, with Chase Briscoe leading with four wins. Last year, there were five different winners at this point. Busch, Bell and Custer were tied with three wins each at that point.

– Briscoe’s four wins put him in a five-way tie for second all-time among Xfinity regulars for most wins through 12 races. Sam Ard is the leader with five (1984).

– Burton and Ross Chastain are tied with 10 top-10 finishes each. Burton set a series rookie record by opening the season with 10 consecutive top 10s. He’s crashed and finished 32nd in the last two races.

– The final lead change came with less than 10 laps to go in seven of the last eight races and with two laps to go or less in five of the last eight races.

– Lead changes in the last eight races are up 23% compared to the prior eight races.

Power Rankings after Pocono: Denny Hamlin a unanimous No. 1

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Denny Hamlin not only won Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono, he also knocked Ryan Blaney off the top spot for this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Hamlin was a unanimous selection of NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers for No. 1 in this week’s rankings.

Kevin Harvick, who finished 1st-2nd in the two Pocono races (while Hamlin finished 2nd-1ast), was the biggest gainer, going from unranked last week to a unanimous pick for No. 2 this week. The biggest drop was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who went from third last week to unranked this week.

Here’s how this week’s rankings look:

1. Denny Hamlin (30 points): Keeps getting stronger. First four-time winner of the season. Could this be the year he finally wins his first Cup championship? Last week: second.

2. Kevin Harvick (27 points): Came so close to making it a weekend sweep. Has 3 wins, eight top five and 12 top-10 finishes in first 15 races. Has finished outside the top 15 only once this season. Last week: unranked.

3. Aric Almirola (23 points): Four consecutive top fives – his only top fives this season and the best streak of his career – has Almirola back on track after earlier struggles. Last week: fourth (tied).

4. Chase Elliott (15 points): Has four top 10s in the last six races. Last week: seventh.

5. Brad Keselowski (14 points): Since NASCAR returned from the COVID-19 hiatus, Keselowski has two wins and just three finishes outside the top 10 in 11 races. Last week: eighth (tied).

6. Ryan Blaney (13 points): Had an off weekend (best finish was 12th on Saturday) after his win at Talladega. His Pocono finishes snapped a streak of six top-five finishes in his previous seven starts. Last week: first.

7. Martin Truex Jr. (12 points): Has four top 10s, including a win, in the last six races. Last week: unranked.

8. Chase Briscoe (9 points): Has been strong in the Xfinity Series this season, leading the way with four wins – including Sunday at Pocono. Last week: unranked.

9. Erik Jones (8 points): Sunday’s season-best third-place finish – his second top five in the last three races – was a big turnaround from wrecking out Saturday. Last week: 10th (tied).

(tie) 10. Clint Bowyer (6 points): Earned pair of top-10 finishes at Pocono, first back-to-back top 10s this season. Can he keep the momentum going at Indianapolis, where he’s had back-to-back fifth-place finishes the last two years? Last week: unranked.

(tie) 10. Alex Bowman (6 points): Earned third top 10 in last five races. Last week: 4th (tied).

Others receiving votes: Matt DiBenedetto (1 point), Brandon Jones (1 point).

Xfinity Series playoff grid after Pocono

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Things are getting tight in the Xfinity Series playoff standings.

After 12 races, four points separate the last playoff-eligible driver, 12th-ranked Myatt Snider, and Brandon Brown. Snider finished fourth on Sunday at Pocono. Brown was 33rd at Pocono. Snider gained 40 points on Brown in that race.

Next up for the series is Saturday’s race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Race winners this season who are locked into the playoffs are Chase Briscoe (22 playoff points), Noah Gragson (15), Harrison Burton (10), Brandon Jones (7) and Justin Haley (6).

 

 

 

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Cup Series playoff grid after Pocono

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For now, Erik Jones is back in and Tyler Reddick is out, with Austin Dillon moving up.

That’s how the NASCAR Cup playoff standings shape up with 11 races remaining in the regular season following last weekend’s doubleheader at Pocono Raceway. The series races at 4 p.m. ET Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on NBC.

Jones’ third-place finish Sunday not only was a significant rebound from Saturday’s 38th-place showing after a wreck, he vaulted over Reddick to take the 16th and final spot for the 10-race Cup playoffs.

Jones had previously been ranked as high as 13th in the playoff picture following last month’s two races at Charlotte, only to get knocked out of the top 16 after finishing 21st at Miami.

“We feel like we definitely should make the playoffs,” said Jones, who entered Sunday six points out of a playoff spot. “We’ve done that the last few years and I don’t see this year as any different.”

Reddick lost his power steering as Sunday’s race began. After repairs were made, his team had to change an alternator belt. Reddick finished 35th, dropping him to 18th in the playoff standings, 26 points behind Jones for the final playoff spot.

Dillon, Reddick’s Richard Childress Racing teammate, finished 14th Sunday to climb to 17th in the playoff standings. He is 14 points behind Jones.

As for the eight drivers locked into the playoffs with wins, Denny Hamlin has the most playoff points (23), followed by Kevin Harvick (16), Joey Logano (14), Brad Keselowski (13), Chase Elliott (10), Alex Bowman (9), Martin Truex Jr. (7) and Ryan Blaney (6).

 

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Denny Hamlin wins for the sixth time at Pocono on Sunday

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Denny Hamlin held off Kevin Harvick in the closing laps to earn a Cup series-leading fourth win of the season and sixth of his career Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Hamlin pitted with 21 laps to go and took right side tires and fuel to get back on the track.

Harvick, who beat Hamlin to the checkered flag in Saturday’s race at Pocono, closed the margin between the pair, but there wasn’t enough time left for him to catch Hamlin. Harvick finished runner-up, tailing away in the last couple of laps to end up more than three seconds behind Hamlin at the checkered flag.

In winning his 41st career Cup race, Hamlin tied Jeff Gordon for most career Cup wins at Pocono. Hamlin’s six wins have come in 14 years at the 2.5-mile Tricky Triangle.

“Six? I can’t put it into words how much it means to me,” Hamlin told FS1 after the race. “I was hoping for no caution. I knew the car I had. I didn’t want to make any mistakes like at Bristol, where I gave that one away.”

Hamlin’s five previous wins at Pocono came in 2006 (twice), 2009, 2010 and last summer.

“I don’t think this will be the last one,” Hamlin said during a post-race media teleconference. “I think we’ll continue to build on it. I really wanted to win both races but it didn’t work out. I don’t want to be greedy.”

With the second-place finish, Harvick earned his 11th top-10 finish of the season and his 19th top-10 career finish in 40 starts at the Tricky Triangle, including five runner-up showings.

Ranking No. 1 in driver points, Harvick leaves Pocono with a commanding 52-point lead over Ryan Blaney in the Cup point standings.

“Our car today was actually better than yesterday,” Harvick told FS1. “(Hamlin) just did the opposite than we did. We didn’t want to get caught a caution and wound up losing too much time in lapped traffic. He was out there running clean laps and waited to the very end and wound up in front of us. (Saturday), that won us the race and today we finished second.”

MORE: Results, standings for Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono

Erik Jones finished third, followed by Chase Elliott and Aric Almirola.

The cars of Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. were each found to have one unsecured lug nut. There were no other post-race inspection issues.

The start of the race was delayed more than 30 minutes due to lightning. Then, after the first six laps under green flag conditions, there was a nearly one-hour delay due to rain.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kurt Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

Who had a good race: Erik Jones earned a season-best third-place finish, as well his sixth top-10 finish in eight career starts at Pocono. … Aric Almirola earned his fourth consecutive top-five.

Who had a bad race: Kyle Busch was battling with Ryan Blaney on Lap 76 when he spun and wrecked, leaving Busch winless this season. … Michael McDowell, who had a strong eighth-place finish in Saturday’s race, spun and hit the wall hard on Lap 16. He finished last in the 40-car field.

Notable: Sunday marked the first tripleheader in NASCAR history, where all three national series raced at the same location and on the same day. … Cole Custer (17th) was the highest-finishing rookie.

What’s next: Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; at 4 p.m. ET July 5 on NBC.

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