Texas Results Set Up an Intriguing Semi-Final at Phoenix for XFINITY Series Chasers

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

By Summer Bedgood, Managing Editor

Fort Worth, Texas – At the beginning of the year, NASCAR announced that the elimination-style Chase format would expand to the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series.

Now, there are only two races left in the season, and there is still some competition for the final four spots to set the Championship 4 for Homestead-Miami Speedway.

With the first two of the three races in the Round of 8 having been won by Sprint Cup Series regulars, no one is officially locked in. Currently, the top four drivers are Daniel Suarez, Elliott Sadler, Erik Jones, and Blake Koch.

That means that Justin Allgaier, Ryan Reed, Darrell Wallace Jr., and Brendan Gaughan are on the outside looking in.

However, all of that change in a heartbeat, as has been demonstrated by the Sprint Cup Series during their various elimination rounds over the last few years.

The points look like this:

  1. Daniel Suarez +17
  2. Elliott Sadler +16
  3. Erik Jones +7
  4. Blake Koch +1
  5. Justin Allgaier -1
  6. Ryan Reed -5
  7. Darrell Wallace Jr. -20
  8. Brendan Gaughan -23

Nothing about any of this is comfortable for any of those eight drivers, but certainly Suarez’s strategy will be much different than Gaughan’s, and so on and so forth.

For a driver like Reed, who doesn’t have to win to get in but may wind up having to make something happen to get in the Chase, he feels like he has to take a more aggressive approach.

“Yeah, we are five points back so you just go out there and lay it all out on the line,” said Reed. “At that point it is your whole season. There is nothing left to lose there. You aren’t points racing at that point per say. You have to go beat those guys by five positions.”

Wallace, similarly, knows that he will realistically have to win the race to advance.

“Yeah, you see the Cup guys that are in those spots to win to get in and I guess I have that title now. It is a long shot for us but you never know what could happen,” said Wallace. “We were kind of banking on some fuel strategy with that second to last caution that put us right at our window. Banking off last year we were one of the top cars to make it on a long run. We can’t hang our heads about that. We will continue to fight and go on.”

Meanwhile, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez are both in decent, but not safe, positions heading into Phoenix. Jones believes that, while they would like to go for the win, they also recognize the importance of playing it safe, especially with Sprint Cup Series regulars in the event.

“It’s more points racing than it would intend to be,” said Jones. “Obviously I think you’ll see a big change next year with the new rules they put in place now with the Cup drivers. I’ll be honest with you, the toughest part of our Chase is racing the Cup guys. Had there been no Cup guys in the race, we would have won today and advanced. It’s definitely a tough balance and it’s by far the hardest part is racing those guys, they have nothing to lose. At the end of the day, we’re still going to chase a win, but there’s also going to be Cup guys in the field that are going to be able to make moves that I’m not going to be able to make because I’m still going to be points racing and advancing at the same time. When we get to Homestead we’ll be able to go for it, you won’t see any Cup guys in that race so I think that’s when the format of winning will really come into play is with the four that make it to Homestead.”

Suarez, who is in the best position of anyone, admitted that, while he has confidence in his race team, he has seen how unpredictable this Chase format can be and that nothing is a sure thing.

“I think my entire team has a lot of confidence right now,” said Suarez. “We are not in a comfortable position, I don’t think that word exists in the Chase. We will do everything we can – we are in a good spot and will keep doing what we have been doing for a month and a half or so and are going to be just fine and hopefully we can go to Homestead after Phoenix.”

One last chance and it all comes back to this. The final race in the Round of 8, and last race to set the Championship 4 in Homestead, begins at 7:30PM ET on Saturday, November 12th.

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