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XFINITY

XFINITY Series: Five on Five

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The Five on Five feature will break down some of the key points in each of the previous five races for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Here is a peek at Indianapolis through Bristol.

New Faces

Running two short tracks, two road courses and one intermediate over the past five races allowed for some new faces to reach victory lane throughout July and August.

William Byron started off the stretch, picking up his third career victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Then, Ryan Preece made the most of his opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing at Iowa Speedway en route to his first ever series win.

JGR was able to make it two in a row, with Kyle Busch scoring the victory at Watkins Glen.

The other road course saw Team Penske at the top, with Sam Hornish Jr. picking up the hometown win.

And finally, it was Busch who would finish off the latest stretch with a dominating performance at Bristol.

Although Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers continue racking up wins, the series regulars have proven they can keep pace with top-tier invaders. 

JRM Remains at the Top

Twenty-two events have been completed, and the top of the standings hasn’t shifted much. JR Motorsports continues to occupy the top three positions, as they have since the third event this season.

Elliott Sadler has led since the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, with Byron second, 110 points behind. Justin Allgaier continues to fall further behind, now 136 behind Sadler. 

Their strength shows through their statistics, with Sadler and Byron posting seven top-10’s in the past five events, including a victory for the latter. The concern, though, surrounds Allgaier. He started off the year well with no finishes outside of the top-15 till the 13th event of the year. However, in the past five races, he has only posted two top-15 finishes. 

Notably, JR Motorsports’ fourth entry has yet to make much headway as Michael Annett currently sits 12th in points.

Playoff Bubble Watch 

As the series nears closer to the 26th race of the season at Chicagoland Speedway – the last event before the XFINITY Series playoffs, eyes will be watching the 12th position in points a lot closer to see who will qualify.

Currently, victories for Byron, Allgaier and Ryan Reed have them locked in. Based on the gap between them and 13th being more than 100 points, you could also add SadlerBrennan Poole, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and Matt Tifft to the winners above. 

Blake Koch and Dakoda Armstrong appears to be pretty safe with an advantage greater than 50. 

Annett was set to qualify barely easily, but posting only one finish inside the top-15 over the last five events has dropped him to 11th in the standings, 50 points over Chastain. If the poor results continue in the next three races, he could be out of the playoffs. 

Brendan Gaughan has hung around the bubble much of the season, now 43 points over Chastain, following back-to-back top-10’s on the road courses. With another road course left to go, he has a good chance of locking in.

Chastain, meanwhile, has not posted a top-10 since Daytona in July, making his efforts of closing the gap looking very unlikely. J.J. Yeley is currently tied with him in the standings, and has shown a better chance to make-up the ground if his top-10’s continue.

Although other series have lots of possibility surrounding who will qualify, the gaps between each position see the XFINITY Series playoffs just about set in stone, unless a surprise winner emerges in the next couple of races. The unpredictability of strategy at a road course like Road America, combined with another short track (Richmond) could very well produce the wild card needed to shake it up.

Losing Their Edge

While JR Motorsports continues to boast the top three positions in the standings, it may not be a simple easy road to championship with other drivers finding speed.

After struggling through June and the beginning of July, Hemric appears to be turning his season back around as we get closer to the playoffs. In the past five races, he posted no finishes worse than 12th to have the best average finish of all drivers – seven. Richard Childress Racing has battled for championships in the past, including Ty Dillon finishing in the top-five in the standings the past three years, so it would not surprise if Hemric makes the Championship 4.

Poole entered this year confident that he would be able to perform better than he did in 2016, and the last five races back that up. He posted only one finish outside of the top-10 for the second best average finish (8.4), while sitting fourth in the standings versus placing eighth last year. As Chip Ganassi Racing continues to make their Cup program stronger, expect the XFINITY program should follow suit to give Poole a chance to break through for his first career victory.

Need to Improve

Reed locked himself into the playoffs by winning the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. Although if he wants to turn that into contending for the championship, he needs to find some more speed.

There have been signs of hope as he placed sixth at Iowa Speedway, but he has failed to find any consistency, with no back-to-back top-10’s and running mid-pack as noted by an average finish of 22.4 for the last five races. 

The next stretch of races includes return trips to Richmond and Kentucky – where he failed to post a top-20 at each of those venues. If his Roush Fenway Racing can find what they’re missing and show improvement in their returns, it could give the team the hope they need before the playoffs.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.