Saturday’s LS Tractor 200 Race Preview

As the NASCAR Xfinity Series prepares to compete in the LS Tractor 200 at Phoenix Raceway this Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, many of the drivers, crew chiefs and teams are looking at this weekend’s race as a learning experience because when the series returns to the desert in November it will be to crown an Xfinity champion. 

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the NASCAR Xfinity Series 36 times, dating back to the inaugural event on November 6, 1999 – won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon. From 1999 to 2004 the series visited the one-mile raceway just once a year, but since 2005 the facility has been the stage for two NASCAR Xfinity Series races a year. This season the second visit will be the championship race for the series’ Playoffs.

The 36 Xfinity Series Phoenix races have produced 19 different pole winners and 18 different race winners. Joe Gibbs Racing dominated this event last season, winning the pole with Christopher Bell and then winning the race with Kyle Busch. Busch leads the series in poles (nine) and race wins (11) at Phoenix Raceway.

Phoenix Raceway is currently riding a streak of five different Xfinity winners dating back to William Byron’s win in November of 2017; followed by Brad Keselowski (March 2018), Christopher Bell (Nov. 2018), Kyle Busch (March 2019) and Justin Allgaier (November 2019). Three former Xfinity Phoenix winners are entered this weekend – Busch, Keselowski and Justin Allgaier.  

Harrison Burton already setting records as a rookie

In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Harrison Burton is the first Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate to post three top-five finishes in as many races to start the season.

In fact, a driver starting the Xfinity season with three consecutive top fives has only occurred in the series 16 times and Burton is the 11th different driver all-time to accomplish the feat; joining Sam Ard (1984), Dale Jarrett (1988), Dale Earnhardt (1990, 1991), Harry Gant (1991), Terry Labonte (1995), Kevin Harvick (2004, 2005), Carl Edwards (2007, 2009, 2010), Elliott Sadler (2012, 2018), Brad Keselowski (2014) and Kyle Busch (2014).

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Harrison Burton has made three starts this season, posting one win (Auto Club), three top fives (second at Daytona, fifth at Las Vegas and first at Auto Club) and an average finish of 2.7.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s rookie tandem are finding their footing

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Harrison Burton and Riley Herbst flexed their muscles this last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, finishing first and second, respectively, becoming the youngest 1-2 finish in series history.

Harrison Burton not only grabbed his first win in the series, he also catapulted himself into the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings lead by 10 points over second-place Chase Briscoe. Plus, he locked in his spot in the Playoffs with the victory. Now the 19-year-old will turn his attention to Phoenix Raceway as this weekend will be his series track debut.

“I’m excited to get to Phoenix and get back to racing this weekend,” said Burton. “I ran well there in a Truck a couple of times. Ran ARCA West a time there too, so I have some experience at Phoenix.  It’s one of my favorite racetracks.”

But Burton is not the only one with success last weekend, Riley Herbst’s second-place finish on Saturday was a huge boost to his championship hopes jumping him five spots in the driver points from 16th to 11th – now just inside the Playoff cutoff. Herbst’s season had a slow start with an incident at Daytona miring him back in points, but he has since rebounded with a ninth-place finish at Las Vegas and a runner-up last weekend in California. Herbst will be looking for more redemption this weekend at Phoenix as the 21-year old from Las Vegas made his series track debut at the track last season starting 11th but finishing 30th after being caught in an incident early in the race.

Briscoe, Gragson, Jones spin their tires in the points at California

Three drivers looking forward to moving on from Auto Club Speedway this weekend are Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson and Brandon Jones. All three dropped spots in the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings after posting their worst finishes of the 2020 season thus far. Now all three look to Phoenix Raceway this weekend to realign their championship focus.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe finished 19th at Auto Club Speedway last weekend following a late race spin, and as a result he lost the series points lead to Harrison Burton dropping to second in the standings, 10 points back. Despite the speed bump last Saturday, Briscoe is already having a strong season posting a win (Las Vegas) and two top fives in three starts. With his win, his position in the Playoffs all but guaranteed, now Briscoe’s main goal is racking up more wins and Playoff points. Expect the 25-year-old to likely bounce back this weekend at Phoenix where he has made two starts posting two top 10s and average finish of 7.0.     

Another front runner heading into last weekend’s race at California was JR Motorsport’s driver Noah Gragson, but a mid-race incident with the No. 10 of Ross Chastain relegated the Las Vegas native to a 26th-place finish – his worst of the season. The low finish dropped him a staggering seven spots in the top 10 in points from second to ninth. Fortunately for Gragson, he won the season-opener at Daytona and is already locked in to the postseason. But you can count on Gragson trying to regain his early season momentum this weekend at Phoenix. The 21-year-old has made two series starts on the one-mile raceway, posting an average finish of 10.5.

Feeling the biggest gut punch from last weekend’s lackluster finish was Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones, who dominated the first two stages of the race leading the first 73 laps of competition and taking home both stage wins. Unfortunately, all that unraveled after getting pushed up the track and into the wall, causing a tire rub during the final stage resulting in a 30th-place finish. Jones’ success in the early stages, though, softened the blow to his points total, dropping him just one spot in the points from fifth to sixth. Unlike Briscoe and Gragson, Jones is still looking for his first win of the season, which could come this weekend.

“Our number 19 team is coming off of three very strong races to start the season.” Said Jones. “After winning the pole and sweeping the first two stages last week, it gave me the confidence I need to carry into Phoenix. As I look at data and notes from last year, I have already picked up on several areas I can improve on before getting on track activity. It will be a very important weekend to learn since this is also the track that will hold the title to the XFINITY championship. Phoenix Raceway is extremely technical and can trick you into overdriving the track.”

The 23-year-old has made eight starts at Phoenix posting, two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 11.875. 

Cindric, Sieg, Haley, Chastain keep climbing the standings ladder

While some of the front runners in the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series driver points standings had some rough outings at Auto Club Speedway, four drivers – Austin Cindric, Ryan Sieg, Justin Haley and Ross Chastain – were able to capitalize on the others’ misfortunes.

Team Penske’s Austin Cindric leap-frogged three spots in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings from sixth to third following his third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway. Now the 21-year -old sets his sights on the series standings lead just 18 points away. Cindric skidded through Daytona with a 25th-place finish due to an incident, but quickly grabbed a gear at Las Vegas, finishing second and then third last weekend at California. Cindric is one of the early favorites heading into this weekend at Phoenix because he has made four series starts there, posting two top fives, three top 10s and an average finish of 7.8.

RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg is also proving he and the No. 39 Chevrolet team are true contenders this season for the championship. Sieg is currently fourth in the standings, up three spots after finishing fourth at Auto Club Speedway – his third top-10 finish in as many races. Sieg is only 24 points back from the series standings lead as the series heads to Phoenix. Sieg has made 13 series starts at Phoenix, posting a best finish of 10th at the one-mile facility in this race last season. 

Kaulig Racing’s duo of Justin Haley and Ross Chastain is already seeing the benefits of a two-team, full-time operation. Haley is currently fifth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings, up three spots from eighth, following a fifth-place finish at Auto Club Speedway. His teammate, Chastain, is not far behind him in seventh in the series driver standings, also up three spots from 10th following an eighth-place finish last weekend.

Both Kaulig Racing drivers are anticipating their luck to continue this weekend in Phoenix. Haley has made two series starts at Phoenix Raceway, posting an average finish of 9.5. Chastain has made nine series starts at Phoenix, posting a best finish of 15th in 2018.

“We are headed back to the desert for the final leg of our West Coast swing,” said Chastain. “I am actually excited to shift! This will be my first time going into the race preparing to shift to third gear. I’ve watched guys do it in the Xfinity Series for years and never was able to. It will be a bit of a learning curve for me, but going there with a racecar prepared to do it is an awesome feeling for me that my team puts that into it. The top 10s have been great to start the year, but obviously we want a lot more. There have been a lot of mistakes on my end, but if we clean those up, I think we will have a shot come the end of Saturday’s Xfinity race.”

Allgaier could use some good Phoenix mojo

JR Motorsport’s veteran Justin Allgaier returns to Phoenix Raceway after taking the checkered flag in last season’s Playoff race to secure his spot in the Championship 4. Fast forward to this year, Allgaier sits 10th in points looking for a jolt to his championship run this season and Phoenix just might be the spark.

In three starts this season, Allgaier has only mustered one top 10 (Las Vegas) and an average finish of 16.7. But Phoenix has been quite the playground for Allgaier as of late. The 33-year old has made 19 series starts at the track posting two wins, seven top fives and 12 top 10s. His average finish at Phoenix is 8.6.

“Phoenix is always a track that I have circled on my calendar as one of my favorites,” said Allgaier. “We were fortunate enough to get another win here last year and it’s all because of how great of a job this team does of preparing fast Camaros. I know we’ll have another hot rod this weekend and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish during the race on Saturday.”

Loop Data also supports Allgaier finding success this weekend at Phoenix, he is ranked third in driver rating (105.2), average running position (7.587), fastest laps run (213) and is second in laps led (334).

Playoff Bubble: Xfinity postseason aspirations check

Following the third race of the season at Auto Club Speedway, the Playoff bubble got particularly bouncy, tossing Brandon Brown and Ray Black Jr. from inside the Playoff cutoff to the outside looking in. And in the process Riley Herbst and Alex Labbe each moved up spots into Playoff contention. Now the series heads to Phoenix this weekend, a track that will undoubtedly play a role in deciding a champion at season’s end.

Below is the Xfinity Series driver standings Playoff bubble following Auto Club Speedway:

Rank

Drivers

Points

From 12th

From Next

12

Alex Labbe

72

0

10

13

Brandon Brown

65

-7

7

14

Ray Black Jr

64

-8

1

15

Josh Williams

62

-10

2

16

Myatt Snider

56

-16

6

Four of the five drivers listed in the above chart have made series starts at Phoenix Raceway. Brandon Brown leads the group in average finish at Phoenix with a 17.5; followed by Labbe (21.6), Ray Black Jr. (24.3) and Josh Williams (24.3). Myatt Snider will be making his series track debut at Phoenix this weekend.

Snider is back with RCR – After a one race hiatus with RSS Racing last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, Myatt Snider will be back in the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet at Phoenix Raceway.

“Well it’s a short track of course, so we’re going to be a little closer to each other than we would normally be on a mile-and-a-half,” said Snider. “I’ve always ran decent at Phoenix, but I definitely have room for improvement. I’m excited for the challenge and fortunately for me, there’s no better group than this No. 21 TaxSlayer team to make me better.”

This will be Snider’s series track debut at Phoenix. In his first three starts this season, the 25-year-old has put up an average finish of 20.0.   

Alfredo has impressive debut – Sharing the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet with Myatt Snider and Kaz Grala this season is Anthony Alfredo, who made his season debut last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in impressive fashion, starting 13th and racing up to a sixth-place finish. He is scheduled to run 17 races this season. His next time behind the wheel will be in two weeks at Homestead-Miami.

Winningest winner, Kyle Busch, returns – The number of former race wins on the entry list of the LS Tractor 200 at Phoenix Raceway has been raised significantly with the word that Kyle Busch will be making his NASCAR Xfinity Series season debut on Saturday at Phoenix Raceway.

Busch not only holds the record for the most wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series all-time with 96 victories, but 11 of his wins came at this weekend’s venue, Phoenix Raceway. Busch is by far the best at Phoenix in the Xfinity Series, he leads the series in poles (nine), wins (11), top 10s (19) and laps led (2,156).

Busch is currently tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin (Rockingham) for the record of the most wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at a single track with 11 wins each. If Busch were to win this weekend, he would break the tie with Martin and become the sole leader in series wins at a single track. Martin and Busch are the only two drivers in series history to win more than 10 times at a single track. In Busch’s last 33 Xfinity Series career starts he has won an impressive 16 times – a winning percentage of 48.5%.  

Penske stacks the deck with Keselowski – Team Penske has tapped NASCAR Cup Series driver Brad Keselowski this weekend to drive the team’s second entry – the No. 12 Ford – at Phoenix Raceway. This weekend will be Keselowski’s Xfinity Series season debut. Keselowski has made 20 series starts at Phoenix posting two wins, 11 top fives, 14 top 10s and a pole.

Rookie debut for Kody Vanderwal – Means Motorsports has called upon former ARCA Menards Series East & West driver Kody Vanderwal from LaSalle, Colorado, to pilot the No. 52 Chevrolet with crew chief Tim Brown. Vanderwal has primarily spent his time in the West Series, having made 35 starts posting two wins, eight top fives and 18 top 10s.

“I wasn’t sure if I would ever get the chance to race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, but I jumped at the chance when I got the call,” said Vanderwal. “I’m excited to show the team and my fellow competitors what I am capable of.”

Vanderwal will replace JJ Yeley, who has driven the No. 52 Means Motorsports Chevrolet for the first three races of the 2020 season putting up an average start of 20.7 and an average finish of 19.7.

Loop Data points to Daniel Hemric – Kyle Busch, with his nine wins, leads most of the Loop Data categories, obviously, but the driver the Loop Data stats that stack up right behind him in several key categories is JR Motorsport’s driver Daniel Hemric. Hemric is ranked second in driver rating (107.0), average running position (7.402) and is fourth in fastest laps run (38). He has made four series starts at Phoenix posting two top fives, four top 10s and a series leading average finish of 5.0.

“I’ve always enjoyed racing at Phoenix,” said Hemric. “We’ve had some strong runs there in the past in the Xfinity Series and I feel like we can do that again this weekend. I feel like we made a lot of positive gains last week in Fontana and hopefully we can continue that once we unload on Friday. I know that Taylor (Moyer, crew chief) and everyone on this No. 8 team had some really good runs at Phoenix last year which gives me a ton of confidence that we can do that this year.”

Fun Stat of the Week – Since the introduction of stage racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2017, none of the Phoenix Raceway spring races have been won by a driver that won either of the first two stages of the events.

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