Saturday Night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 Race Preview

Just two races remain (Texas and ISM Raceway) in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff’s Round of 8 to decide who makes it to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Up next is Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 on Saturday, November 2, at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Texas has hosted the fifth event of the seven-race NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs since its inception in 2016. Three different drivers have won the Texas Xfinity Playoff race, but only one was a Playoff contender. And in all three of the previous Texas Playoff races the eventual series champion has finished in the top 10.

2016 Playoff race recap – Driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series contender Kyle Larson took the lead from Brad Keselowski on Lap 171 and led the final 30 laps to victory. Prior to the fifth and final lead change of the race by Larson, Keselowski had dominated the contest, leading 145 of the 200 scheduled laps. Just three Xfinity Playoff contenders finished in the top 10 – Erik Jones (fourth), Daniel Suarez (fifth) and Elliott Sadler (sixth). Suarez would go on to win the Xfinity title in 2016.  

2017 Playoff race recap – After moving up to the Monster Energy Series to drive for Furniture Row Racing in 2017, Erik Jones would occasionally sharpen his skills driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series. Jones won the 2017 Texas Playoff race piloting the JGR No. 20 Toyota, dominating the event while leading 142 of the scheduled 200 laps. The race saw 10 lead changes among six drivers. Four Xfinity Playoff drivers finished inside the top-10 – Elliott Sadler (fourth), Cole Custer (fifth), Brennan Poole (seventh) and William Byron (ninth). Byron would go on to win the Xfinity title in 2017.

2018 Playoff race recap – Last season, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer won the Texas Motor Speedway Playoff race and guaranteed his spot in the Championship 4. Custer was first Xfinity Series Playoff contender to win the postseason race at Texas. Of the three Playoff races at Texas, the 2018 race was the most dynamic, delivering 17 lead changes among nine different leaders, and a last-lap pass by Custer over Tyler Reddick to win the race by a scant margin of 0.162 – the third-closest finish in series history at the track. Seven Playoff contenders finished in the top 10 – Custer (first), Reddick (second), Austin Cindric (third), Justin Allgaier (fifth), Matt Tifft (seventh), Elliott Sadler (eighth) and Daniel Hemric (10th). Reddick would go on to win the title last year.

Big 3 has Xfinity Playoff competition tensions running-high

With the close action on the track and heated exchanges on pit road, tensions have run high in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs this season, and though they are having an historic year, the Big 3 are no exception.

“I thought we had a shot to win. Just, a lot of things went wrong (at Kansas),” said Cole Custer. “I went up just to yell at him (Tyler Reddick). But when I put my arm on his shoulder, he went berserk. So, I guess, you don’t want to do that to Tyler.”

The two drivers (Reddick & Custer) made contact in the closing laps at Kansas and Reddick finished second while Custer fell to an 11th-place finish. Bell rebounded from an incident on Lap 185 to finish 12th.

“Not the end of the race that our guys are looking for,” said Reddick. “But I think a lot of Cole and his driving ability and a lot of that team. It’s just the heat of the moment. We’re pissed off. I’m sure we’ll talk about it here soon. Maybe today, tomorrow. Who knows, maybe have a beer over it. We’ll talk about it then.”

Bell, Custer, Reddick prepare for Texas

The Big 3 – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer and Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick – are now separated by a mere 12 points in the Playoff standings with just two races left to decide who will move on to the Championship 4 in Miami.

Bell holds the Playoff standings lead with 3,106 points after Kansas; followed by Cole Custer (-11) in second and Tyler Reddick (-12) in third. Heading to Texas this weekend for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 (Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), fourth-place Justin Allgaier is in fourth, another 35 points behind Reddick. 

Custer is the defending Texas Playoff race winner. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led 16 laps and grabbed the checked flag last season to secure his position in the Championship 4. Texas is one of Custer’s best tracks, in five starts he has one win (2018 Playoffs), four top fives and an average finish of 9.8 (best of the Big 3).

JGR’s Bell has also found success at Texas. In four series starts he has put up two poles, two top fives, three top 10s and an average finish of 10.8. Bell sat on the pole for this race last season and led 35 laps but finished 32nd due to an incident. Watch for Bell to rebound this weekend as the rising star finished third at the 1.5-mile facility earlier this season.

Last season’s Texas Playoff race was a big step in Reddick’s ascension to the Championship 4 and ultimately the title; as he finished runner-up to take the standings lead heading to Phoenix. This year driving for RCR, Reddick is on pace to defend his title. In four starts at Texas he has posted two top fives and an average finish of 15.0. 

Who can catch the Big 3 in the Xfinity Playoffs at Texas?

The Big 3 are currently 1-2-3 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs standings with fourth place Justin Allgaier 35 points behind third; which has many posing the question, “Who can catch them?”

Justin Allgaier (No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet)

Allgaier is currently in the fourth and final Championship 4 transfer spot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings; 35 points behind third-place Tyler Reddick and only two points up on fifth-place Sunoco rookie Chase Briscoe. In 30 starts this season, Allgaier has put up 15 top fives, 22 top 10s and an average finish of 9.2. Of the Playoff contenders, Allgaier has the most experience at Texas, having made 18 starts while posting one top five, eight top 10s and an average finish of 13.1.

Chase Briscoe (No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi Ford)

Briscoe is currently fifth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings – the first spot outside the Championship 4 cutoff – just two points behind fourth-place Justin Allgaier. In 30 starts this season, Briscoe has posted one win (Iowa), 12 top fives, 24 top 10s and an average finish of 7.9. Briscoe has made two starts at Texas (both spring races – 2018, 2019), posting one top five (fourth earlier this season) and an average finish of 7.5. Briscoe is one of two Sunoco rookies (Noah Gragson) left in the postseason. 

Michael Annett (No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet)

Annett has settled in to the sixth position in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings following Kansas; 12 points back from his JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier in fourth. In 30 starts this season, Annett has gathered one win (Daytona), six top fives, 18 top 10s and an average finish of 10.0. Among Playoff contenders, Annett has the second-most starts at Texas with 14, but has just two top-10 finishes; including his career-best finish at the track (sixth) earlier this season.

Noah Gragson (No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet)

Gragson finds himself seventh in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings following Kansas, 17 points behind his fourth-place JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier. In 30 starts this season he has collected eight top fives, 20 top 10s and an average finish of 8.8. Gragson made his series track debut at Texas earlier this season, starting 16th and finishing 13th.

Austin Cindric (No. 22 Team Penske Ford)

Cindric is currently in the eighth and final position in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff’s Round of 8 standings following an incident at Kansas on Lap 71 that relegated him to a 25th-place finish. As a result, the Team Penske standout dropped four spots in the Playoff standings and now has a 30 point mountain to climb over the next two races to make his way into the Championship 4. In 30 starts this season, Cindric has posted two wins (Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio), 13 top fives, 21 top 10s and an average finish of 9.3. He has made three series starts at Texas posting one top five, two top 10s and an average finish of 7.7. He finished third in this race last season.

New winners are the norm in Xfinity and at Texas

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones became the latest winner in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with his victory at Kansas, and the second first-time winner of the season – joining Austin Cindric (Watkins Glen & Mid-Ohio). Every season since the series’ inception in 1982 has seen at least one new winner, totaling 160 different drivers. In fact, over the last 10 seasons (2011-2019) the series has produced 32 different new winners (list is below in chronological order from most recent):

 

Rank

First-Time Winners

Track

Date

Rank

First-Time Winners

Track

Date

1

Brandon Jones

Kansas

10/19/2019

17

Erik Jones

Texas

4/10/2015

2

Michael Annett

Daytona

2/16/2019

18

Ryan Reed

Daytona

2/21/2015

3

John H. Nemechek

Kansas

10/20/2018

19

Chris Buescher

Mid-Ohio

8/16/2014

4

Chase Briscoe

Charlotte RC

9/29/2018

20

Ty Dillon

Indianapolis

7/26/2014

5

Ross Chastain

Las Vegas

9/15/2018

21

Brendan Gaughan

Road America

6/21/2014

6

Spencer Gallagher

Talladega

4/28/2018

22

Chase Elliott

Texas

4/4/2014

7

Cole Custer

Homestead

11/18/2017

23

Kyle Larson

Auto Club

3/22/2014

8

Christopher Bell

Kansas

10/21/2017

24

Ryan Blaney

Kentucky

9/21/2013

9

Alex Bowman

Charlotte

10/7/2017

25

AJ Allmendinger

Road America

6/22/2013

10

Tyler Reddick

Kentucky

9/23/2017

26

Regan Smith

Homestead

11/17/2012

11

Jeremy Clements

Road America

8/27/2017

27

Austin Dillon

Kentucky

6/29/2012

12

Ryan Preece

Iowa

7/29/2017

28

Nelson Piquet Jr

Road America

6/23/2012

13

William Byron

Iowa

6/24/2017

29

James Buescher

Daytona

2/25/2012

14

Michael McDowell

Road America

8/27/2016

30

Sam Hornish Jr

Phoenix

11/12/2011

15

Justin Marks

Mid-Ohio

8/13/2016

31

Trevor Bayne

Texas

11/5/2011

16

Daniel Suarez

Michigan

6/11/2016

32

Ricky Stenhouse Jr

Iowa

5/22/2011

Since Texas Motor Speedway joined the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule in 1997, the track has produced five first-time winners and all of them are names you’ve heard of – Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1998), Kurt Busch (2006), Trevor Bayne (2011), Chase Elliott (2014) and Erik Jones (2015).  

NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.

Achievable Milestones: RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg will attempt to become the 66th different driver in series history to make 200 or more starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Sieg began his Xfinity Series career back in 2013 and has made the Playoffs twice; including this season. … If Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell wins this weekend, he will tie former series champions Jeff Green and Joe Nemechek for 18th on the series all-time wins list with 16 victories. 

Starting Up Front At Texas: Not since the spring race of 2008 has a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas been won from a starting spot outside the top 10. All three of the Playoff races have been won from starting spots inside the top five – 2016 (fifth starting spot), 2017 (pole), 2018 (third).

OEM Texas Playoff Parity: All three manufacturers have visited Victory Lane at Texas in the Playoffs – 2016 (Chevrolet), 2017 (Toyota) and 2018 (Ford).

Sunoco Rookie of the Year Playoff Update: Just two NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco rookies remain eligible for the end of the season honors as only Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi’s Chase Briscoe and JR Motorsport’s Noah Gragson have advanced to the Round of 8 in the Playoffs. Briscoe currently holds a 37-point lead on Gragson heading into Texas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s