Locked In: Christopher Bell is the first to secure his Championship 4 spot
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell became the first of the eight NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff drivers to secure his spot in the Championship 4 with his victory at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend. It was his eighth victory on the season and 16th of his Xfinity Series career. This is the second consecutive season Bell has made the Championship 4; he ultimately finished fourth in the final standings last season.
The Playoff standings leader heads to ISM Raceway to pad his stats. The Oklahoma native has made four series starts at the one-mile track posting one pole, one win (Playoff race, 2018), three top fives and an average finish of 9.8. He dominated this race last season, leading 94 of 200 laps and winning his way into the final round at Miami.
Cole Custer is looking for his second chance at title
He just barely missed it in his rookie season in 2017, but Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer made the Championship 4 Round last season by winning at Texas and ultimately finishing runner-up in the final standings. Now the California wheelman heads to ISM Raceway second in the Playoff standings, 52 points up on the cutline and a chance at making the Championship 4 for the second consecutive season.
Out in the desert, Custer has made five series starts at ISM Raceway, posting one top five and four top 10s. His average finish is 9.6 and he finished eighth in this race last season.
Defending champion Tyler Reddick is close to an opportunity to repeat
Tyler Reddick became just the third Sunoco rookie in NASCAR Xfinity Series history to win the title last season, joining Chase Elliott (2014) and William Byron (2017). Now the rising star from California is close to the opportunity to become the seventh driver in series history to win back-to-back championships joining Sam Ard (1983-84), Larry Pearson (1986-87), Randy Lajoie (1996-97), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1998-99), Martin Truex Jr. (2004-05) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2011-12). All he needs to do is secure his spot in the Championship 4 this weekend at ISM Raceway.
Currently third in the Playoff standings, Reddick is 36 points ahead of fifth-place Chase Briscoe – in the first spot outside the Championship 4. The RCR driver has made four series starts at Phoenix posting one top five, three top 10s and an average finish of 8.2.
Justin Allgaier looks to make Championship 4 Round for first time since 2017
After the heartbreak Justin Allgaier suffered last season, from winning a career-best five races and taking the regular season championship to ultimately falling short of making the Championship 4 in the Playoffs, the Illinois native and JR Motorsports driver returns to the “Valley of the Sun” for redemption.
Allgaier is currently fourth in the Playoff standings – the final transfer spot to the Championship 4 – 18 points ahead of fifth place Chase Briscoe.
“There is a lot on the line this weekend at Phoenix,” said Allgaier. “Right now, we’re in a good position sitting fourth in points, but I know there are a lot of guys behind us that are battling for that same spot. Hopefully at the end of it all, we’ll be one of the four heading to Homestead battling for the championship.”
Allgaier has made 18 series starts (most among Playoff drivers) at ISM Raceway, posting one pole, one win (Spring 2017), six top fives, 11 top 10s and an average finish of 9.1. In last season’s Playoff race he led 69 laps and won the first two stages but finished the race 24th one lap down. He finished 14th at ISM Raceway earlier this season.
Briscoe, Gragson on verge of joining elite list of rookies to make the Championship 4
Since the inception of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in 2016, just five Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders have made it to the Championship 4 Round and this weekend at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi’s Chase Briscoe and JR Motorsport’s Noah Gragson have an opportunity to add their names to the elite list of rookies to accomplish the feat.
Sunoco Rookies that made the Championship 4 and their finish in the final standings:
2016 – Erik Jones (fourth)
2017 – William Byron (champion), Daniel Hemric (fourth)
2018 – Tyler Reddick (champion), Christopher Bell (fourth)
Briscoe is fifth in the Playoff standings heading to ISM Raceway, 18 points behind Justin Allgaier in the final Championship 4 transfer spot. Briscoe made his series track debut at Phoenix earlier this season; he started 12th and raced his way up to a sixth-place finish.
Gragson is currently eighth in the Playoff standings, 47 points back from the Championship 4 cutoff. Much like Briscoe, Gragson made his series track debut at ISM Raceway earlier this season; he started sixth and finished 11th.
Veteran Michael Annett rides career-best season to chance at Championship 4
The whole season to this point comes down to this weekend at ISM Raceway and veteran Michael Annett is riding his best season statistically to a chance at the Championship 4. Annett resides in sixth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, 28 points behind his JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier in the final transfer spot.
“We know what we have to do to make it to Homestead for the Championship 4,” said Michael Annett. “Travis (Mack, crew chief) has done a fantastic job on strategy to get us to this point, and it is up to us to get to Miami with a chance to race for the championship. We’re going to give it everything we have.
Annett has made 14 series starts at ISM Raceway posting five top 10s. His average finish is 15.2. He finished 16th in this Playoff race last season and eighth in the spring race earlier this year.
Breakout season for Team Penske’s Austin Cindric has him in title hunt
His first full season with Team Penske (after splitting last season’s Playoff campaign between Team Penske and Roush Fenway Racing) has been a breakout one for North Carolina’s Austin Cindric, who is currently seventh in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings, 31 points back from the cutoff and still in the hunt for a title.
Heading to Phoenix this weekend, Cindric is looking forward to the challenge of making the Championship 4. In three starts on the one-mile track he has put up two top fives and an average finish of 8.3. He finished fourth in this Playoff race last season and fifth in the spring race earlier this year.
ISM Raceway: Xfinity’s stage for the penultimate race of 2019
Located just outside Phoenix, Arizona, ISM Raceway is a uniquely-shaped one-mile track that will play host to this weekend’s NASCAR Xfinity Series penultimate Playoff race, the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino 200 (Saturday, Nov. 9, at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
ISM Raceway has been the sixth race in the seven-race NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff since its inception in 2016. Interestingly, the mile circuit has produced three different winners in the three previous Xfinity Playoff races.
In 2016, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch played spoiler, winning the first Xfinity Playoff race at the facility. He controlled the event from start to finish, leading 190 of the scheduled 200 laps. Five of the eight Playoff drivers finished inside the top-10 that evening – Justin Allgaier (fourth), eventual champion Daniel Suarez (fifth), Ryan Reed (sixth), Blake Koch (eighth), Erik Jones (10th).
In 2017, JR Motorsports rookie William Byron took the lead with just 17 laps to go and grabbed the checkered flag at ISM Raceway to secure his spot in the Championship 4. Byron would go on to win the series title that season. Four Xfinity Playoff drivers finished inside the top-10 – Byron (first), Daniel Hemric (fifth), Cole Custer (seventh) and Justin Allgaier (10th).
In 2018, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell won his seventh race of the season at ISM Raceway, securing his spot in Championship 4 as a rookie. He put on an impressive show en route to his victory leading 94 of the scheduled 200 laps. But Bell would go on to finish fourth in the series’ final standings in Miami.
Championship 4 clinch scenarios for ISM Raceway at Phoenix
Below are clinch scenarios at ISM Raceway for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff drivers still vying for a spot in the Championship 4 Round in Miami. As is well known, any driver can clinch with a win.
Cole Custer can clinch on points with 22 points and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Tyler Reddick or Justin Allgaier), he could clinch on points with four points.
Tyler Reddick can clinch on points with 38 points and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Cole Custer or Justin Allgaier), he could clinch on points with 20 points.
Justin Allgaier can clinch on points if there is a repeat winner (or a win by Cole Custer or Tyler Reddick) with 38 points. He could also clinch on points with a new winner and help.
Chase Briscoe, Michael Annett and Austin Cindric can all clinch a spot in the Championship 4 on points with help.
Noah Gragson could also clinch on points with a repeat winner and help.
Previous Playoff Round of 8 eliminations
The NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs are tough, and this weekend’s event will help to thin the herd of contenders for this season’s title. Each round of the Playoffs eliminates four drivers, below is a look at the past three seasons and the drivers that advanced to the Championship 4 Round in Homestead-Miami and the drivers listed in Red were eliminated:
2016 Championship 4
2017 Championship 4
2018 Championship 4
Note: * – Identifies the eventual champion of that season