Josh Berry replacing injured Michael Annett for tonight’s Xfinity race

Josh Berry Michael Annett
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JR Motorsports has announced that Josh Berry will replace Michael Annett in the No. 1 Chevrolet for tonight’s NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season finale at Bristol Motor Speedway after Annett re-injured his right leg in a workout.

Annett underwent surgery in July to repair a stress fracture in his right femur. He missed four races earlier this season while recovering.

Prior to the announcement, Annett was in a must-win situation tonight in order to make the Xfinity playoffs. He was 66 points behind Riley Herbst for the 12th and final playoff spot.

Berry has made 14 of his 18 Xfinity starts this season with JRM, earning a win with the team in April at Martinsville Speedway.

He replaced a convalescing Annett in the No. 1 car this summer at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, finishing eighth, and at Michigan International Speedway, where he finished fourth.

Last month, it was announced that Berry will run the full Xfinity schedule next season in JRM’s No. 8 entry.

Friday Bristol Xfinity race: Start time, lineup, TV info

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series wraps up its regular season Friday night on the concrete at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Jeremy Clements (+74 points above cutline), Brandon Jones (+67) and Riley Herbst (+66) hold the three remaining playoff spots and will look to clinch them. Everyone below the cutline are in a must-win situation in order to make the playoffs.

The regular season championship, which comes with 15 playoff points, will also be decided. A.J. Allmendinger (993 points) holds a five-point lead over Austin Cindric (988 points) entering Bristol.

Noah Gragson starts on pole as he seeks a third consecutive win. JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier joins him on the front row.

Another JRM driver, Josh Berry, will replace Michael Annett in the No. 1 car after the organization confirmed Friday afternoon that Annett had re-injured his right leg in a workout. Annett was the first driver below the playoff cutline at 66 points behind Herbst.

Details for Friday’s Bristol Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: A group of distribution center warehouse managers for race sponsor Food City will give the command to start engines at 7:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:47 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Drivers report to pre-race at 6:55 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 7 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Mike Rife of Vansant (Va.) Church of Christ at 7:30 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by Bristol Motor Speedway fans, led by Food City graphic designer Christina Druen, at 7:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 300 laps (159.9 miles) on the .533-mile short track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 85. Stage 2 ends at Lap 170.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN coverage begins with Countdown to Green at 7 p.m., leading into race coverage … Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage begins at 7 p.m. and also will stream at GoPRN.com; SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCSN

FORECAST: Weather Underground’s forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, a high of 73 degrees, and 15% chance of rain around the start of the race.

TO THE REAR: Josh Berry (driver change, replacing Michael Annett for the race)

STARTING LINEUP: Bristol Xfinity starting lineup

LAST YEAR: Last September at Bristol, Chase Briscoe took the lead from Austin Cindric with six laps to go and went on to win. Brandon Brown clinched the final playoff spot.

NASCAR storylines: It’s Bristol, baby – now with 100% less dirt

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As Chase Elliott said before this year’s Cup Series playoffs began, if you don’t enjoy the big moments, you’re never gonna thrive in them.

Elliott did that in last year’s playoffs. He won the last three elimination races, including the championship race in Phoenix, to claim his first Cup title.

Now, it’s time to see if his flair for the dramatic continues.

Entering Saturday’s Cup Round of 16 elimination race on the concrete at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Elliott is 19 points above the cutline to advance to the next round. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kyle Larson, is already there along with Denny Hamlin and last week’s winner at Richmond, Martin Truex Jr.

That 19-point cushion isn’t safe, but Elliott’s rally for fourth place at Richmond gives him momentum.

Additionally, he doesn’t seem far off from claiming his first Cup points-paying win at Bristol (although he did win the exhibition All-Star Race there in 2020). He’s won three of the last four Bristol stages and has led laps in each of the last five Bristol races.

Of course, any time you mention Bristol, you have to mention Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

Harvick isn’t back to front-running form. But as he’s done all season, he’s been grinding. Finishes of fifth and eighth in the first two playoff races put him 25 points above the cutline entering Bristol, where he’s earned two wins (including last year’s Night Race) and eight top-10 finishes in his last 11 races.

Kyle Busch is a master of the .533-mile short track. An eight-time Bristol Cup race winner, he’s earned three wins and six finishes of fourth or better in his last seven races there. Coming in at just eight points above the cutline, this is as good a track as he could hope for in a make-or-break situation.

Don’t forget his older brother, either. Kurt Busch is tied on the cutline with Alex Bowman, while holding the tiebreaker for better Round of 16 finish.

But Kurt is a six-time Bristol winner who’s finished inside the top 10 in four of his last five races there (including his 2018 win for Stewart-Haas Racing). In contrast, Bowman has finished 15th or worse in his last four Bristol races.

Danger zone

The final three Xfinity playoff positions will be decided in Friday’s regular season finale (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) at Bristol.

Jeremy Clements (+74), Brandon Jones (+67) and Riley Herbst (+66) all have healthy cushions above the playoff cutline. But Friday will still be nerve-wracking for them.

Only eight points separates the trio. That sets up a compelling ‘race within the race’ between them. Every point gained could be the difference in surviving or being eliminated if someone below the cutline scores an upset win.

JR Motorsports’ Michael Annett is currently “first driver out” at 66 points behind 12th-place Herbst. But teammate Noah Gragson’s win last week at Richmond was JRM’s fifth in the last seven Xfinity short track races.

JRM has also been strong recently at Bristol. Gragson won there in June 2020, albeit in controversial fashion following a run-in with teammate Justin Allgaier. Speaking of Allgaier, he’s led at least 126 laps in each of the last four Bristol races.

With Gragson and Allgaier playoff-bound, JRM can go all in on Annett to help him fight for a win.

Then there’s the usual short track clashes to consider, which could turn Friday into an attrition race that gives others behind the cutline – Ryan Sieg (-93) and Brandon Brown (-109) in particular – a chance to turn everything upside down.

The ‘other’ playoff race

Bristol also hosts the first elimination race for the Camping World Truck Series playoffs on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, FS1). Two playoff drivers will be eliminated, leaving eight still in the hunt.

Last year’s champ, Sheldon Creed, didn’t have a particularly great regular season. But before the playoffs began, he was confident that he and his No. 2 GMS Racing team were heading in the right direction.

Indeed, they were. Creed, who was named Tuesday to a full-time 2022 Xfinity ride for Richard Childress Racing, won the first two playoff races at World Wide Technology Raceway and Darlington Raceway.

He and regular season champion John Hunter Nemechek are safely in the Round of 8, with Nemechek advancing on points. That leaves six spots in the Round of 8 up for grabs Thursday.

Here’s how the Truck playoff standings look, minus Creed and Nemechek:

Zane Smith, the other GMS playoff driver, faces elimination after making the Championship 4 last year. Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Chandler Smith is also on the outside looking in.

But in potentially good news for Zane Smith, his organization has won the last two Truck races on the concrete at Bristol (2019 – Brett Moffitt, 2020 – Sam Mayer). Last year, GMS drivers Mayer, Moffitt and Tyler Ankrum combined to lead all 200 laps.

Chandler Smith also has something going for him. He only has two career Truck starts on the concrete at Bristol, but he’s finished top five in both (second in 2019, fifth in 2020).

Dale Earnhardt Jr. keeps expectations in check for return

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is under no illusions.

He expects to have a solid No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet for his lone NASCAR Xfinity Series start of the season Saturday at Richmond Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

But he also knows these once-a-year adventures behind the wheel that he’s had since 2018 don’t make up for being a series regular.

MORE: Saturday Richmond Xfinity Race: Start time, lineup, TV info

“They are in tune and plugged in,” Earnhardt said of series regular drivers during a Friday media teleconference. “They’re in the deep throes of the season. Their minds are in a groove. Their bodies are ready for what they’re gonna do this weekend.

“And I’m just gonna hop in there raw and unprepared, no matter how much I’ve studied, and try to compete with them. I think that’s gonna be a tall order.”

Instead of winning, the soon-to-be-inducted NASCAR Hall of Famer is focusing on other goals.

With two races left in the Xfinity regular season, he doesn’t want to cause trouble that hurts a playoff hopeful or blunts momentum for someone that’s locked in – especially if they’re his own JRM drivers.

One of them, Michael Annett, is trying to catch Riley Herbst, who is 46 points ahead of Annett, for the final playoff spot. The others, Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson, are already set for the postseason.

There’s also refreshing the memory banks for his day job as an analyst for NBC Sports. Getting inside the car is particularly important in that regard for Earnhardt.

As he gets farther away from his days of racing full-time, the little details he once knew as a driver are harder to remember.

“When I get out of the car, I write a lot of notes down – but it ain’t for the crew chief, it’s for me,” he said. “Going back into that broadcast booth going forward, trying to keep all that stuff fresh on my mind of what the drivers are dealing with. That’s my job as an analyst, is to sort of explain where the driver’s mind is at any given moment of a race.

“To be honest with you, getting inside this car for this one race is more about that for me. It probably means something (different) to a lot of different people that are supporters and stood by us through the years, but for me, it’s just a great refresher. It helps me so much as an analyst to be reminded about all those things. I can get a lot of information that will help me in the booth from this one little race.”

Above all, Earnhardt just hopes to get all the laps in and have some fun.

He says that he misses driving and does have the occasional daydream about what it’d be like to drive full-time again. But these once-a-year runs seem to be enough to scratch the itch.

“The last couple times I’ve ran these races, I’m excited and I get in the car and I’m like, ‘Man, this is so good,'” he said. “All the emotions and the senses and everything coming back to you. It just feels right. You feel like you know what you’re doing, and you and the car are in tune.

“Then about halfway through the race, you kind get to the point where you’re, ‘Alright, I’m good, we can stop (Laughs).’ It’s like halfway through the roller coaster ride and you’re, ‘Alright, that was fun, I’m good, I can get off now.’

“Hopefully, it just goes well. I’m looking forward to it. We’re probably gonna do this again next year and just keep on doing these one-offs as we go. I don’t know if I wanna do more than that.”

Richmond storylines: More playoff chaos on tap?

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With all the calamity that struck NASCAR Cup Series playoff drivers Sunday night at Darlington Raceway, Aric Almirola knew finishing 16th, while not ideal, was better than it could’ve been.

He avoided all the wrecks and the costly pit road issues. For that, he sits three points above the cutline to advance as the series heads for Richmond Raceway to resume the Round of 16 on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

After a wild playoff opener, Almirola expects that things won’t get any calmer.

“It’s gonna be tough, it’s gonna be intense,” he said in a Tuesday media teleconference. “There’s gonna be a lot of battling, and I have no doubt that you will see a playoff car or a couple or a few run into some trouble.

“It just happens and you just don’t want to be that guy.”

On the back foot

“That guy” happened to be a lot of guys last Sunday at Darlington. Entering Richmond, three of the four drivers below the playoff cutline wrecked out of the Southern 500.

Kyle Buschwho was later fined $50,000 for his post-crash actions at Darlington – went from 17 points above the cutline to two points below it in the playoff standings. William Byron went from nine points above the cutline to nine below it. Michael McDowell went from the cutline to 20 points below it.

Above them are Tyler Reddick and Alex Bowman, who are tied on the cutline. Reddick owns the tiebreaker of best finish in the round. He finished 18th Sunday; Bowman was 26th.

All of them need a solid result Saturday night, particularly McDowell at 20 points out. But the Daytona 500 winner has never finished better than 12th at Richmond in 20 career Cup starts.

On the flip side, Kyle Busch has six career Richmond Cup wins. He’s also finished inside the top 10 there in seven consecutive races and in 10 of the last 11 races.

The one with the most to prove may be Bowman, whose streaky regular season made him one of the biggest question marks in the playoff field.

His 26th-place finish at Darlington was his fourth finish of 16th or worse in the last five races. But if he can repeat what he did in the spring at Richmond – score points in both stages, then charge late to get the win – he can establish himself as a proper threat.

JGR runs Richmond

In that spring Richmond race, Bowman upended a dominant run by Joe Gibbs Racing tandem Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr, who combined to lead 314 of 400 laps.

Will both of those drivers see Saturday’s race as a chance to settle some unfinished business?

Hamlin’s on to the Round of 12 with his Darlington win but can deny another playoff driver the opportunity to advance with a victory.

Truex and his No. 19 team will be extra motivated after a pit road speeding penalty with less than 50 laps to go cost them a chance to win last week.

As noted in colleague Dustin Long’s Darlington takeaways, that was Truex’s fourth pit road speeding penalty of the season.

One of them came this spring at Richmond. Truex ran second in both stages and led 107 laps. But on his Lap 294 pit stop, he was caught speeding and dropped to 12th. He rallied to finish fifth.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see at least one JGR driver in contention Saturday. JGR’s 16 Cup wins at Richmond are the most all-time.

The organization has won four of the last six Richmond races and seven of the last 11. Its trio of Hamlin, Truex and the aforementioned Kyle Busch have a combined 11 Richmond wins.

Look out for JGR’s fourth driver, Christopher Bell, too. One of his four top-five finishes this season came in the spring Richmond race, where he ran fourth. Additionally, he’s won three times there for JGR in the Xfinity Series.

Dale Jr. rides again

Saturday afternoon’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) will include Dale Earnhardt Jr. competing in the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

Since retiring from full-time competition after the 2017 season, Earnhardt has made a single Xfinity start each season.

In September 2018 at Richmond, he led a race-high 96 laps before finishing fourth. Since then, he’s recorded consecutive fifth-place finishes at Darlington in 2019 and Homestead-Miami last year.

Earnhardt could be in the mix Saturday. His JR Motorsports team has won four of the last six Xfinity short track races. Back in April on the half-mile at Martinsville, Josh Berry won in the same No. 8 entry Earnhardt will drive.

As Earnhardt makes his return, the Xfinity Series’ playoff picture could also gain more focus in this penultimate race of the regular season.

Jeremy Clements (+78 above cut line) and Brandon Jones (+65) sit 10th and 11th, respectively. Riley Herbst holds the 12th and final playoff spot with a 46-point cushion over JRM’s Michael Annett.