I wrote heading into Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at the Dover International Speedway that seven of the eight spots to advance to the second round of the playoffs were realistically already known. Following the second stage of the Drive Sober 200, those seven drivers that I felt good about were clinched into the Round of 8.
Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson were moving on. That final spot was left for the taking.
I also wrote in my race preview that only three of the other five drivers had a chance to take it. Ryan Sieg and Justin Haley were too far out to make it on points and had to win. Neither have won an NXS race before.
Brandon Jones and John Hunter Nemechek would try to get by Michael Annett on points to grab that eight and final spot. But, Jones’ hopes were dashed when he was involved in a first lap crash. JHN had a problem on pit road and was pinned a lap down.
It was really Annett’s spot to lose at this point.
Annett just had to focus on Haley now. By doing so, Haley went way off strategy towards the end to run his second to last stint long. He was banking on a lucky caution. So, Annett followed. Both were following Cole Custer who had nothing to lose.
As luck would have it, a caution did come out on Lap 176. Those were the only three on the lead lap at the time. Only four more cars were a lap down. That meant when they pit with 19 to go for their final time, as everyone else would stay out, only six cars would be on the lead lap.
It was a perfect scenario.
Coming to the second to last restart, two of the top three cars were the final two battling for the last playoff spot to get into the second round. Unfortunately for Haley, he didn’t have the speed to get by Custer nor hold off the heavyweights behind.
Haley, faded to fourth while Annett played it conservative. Custer won, meaning Annett would advance to the Round of 8 giving JR Motorsports three of the eight cars left with championship hopes.
Saturday was Annett’s first finish better than eighth since a fourth place run at Kentucky in mid-July. Now, he’s going to have to win a race in the next round to get to an unprobeable Championship 4.
He’s not worried about that right now. He’s just happy to be advancing on.