XFINITY playoff hopefuls eye Cinderella story

Matthew T. Thacker NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

JOLIET, Ill. — It’ll likely take a combination of crashes, calamity and a hot streak at the right time, but the drivers lying on the NASCAR XFINITY Series playoff bubble have no doubt that they can surprise the other 11 competitors and contend for a championship in the postseason.

“Absolutely,” Brendan Gaughan said during a Friday press conference. “Look, Dakota (Armstrong) was up as high as (ninth) in points at one point. Dakota kicked all of the big team’s butts this year. They were awesome.

“So it can happen. Michael Annett and I both have very strong organizations that run well. It just takes the right run at the right time.”

Gaughan, 42, entered this weekend’s regular season finale for the XFINITY Series sitting 11th in the championship standings, just one position away from playoff elimination after Jeremy Clements’ surprise win at Road America took away one spot on points. JR Motorsports’ Annett sits one point ahead in 10th, while Armstrong rests 25 points outside of the playoff bubble in 12th.

Those that drive their way into the postseason on points in Saturday’s 300 will enter the playoffs among the biggest underdogs in the 12-car field.

They’ll be tasked with repeating the “Cinderella” playoff run seen from Blake Koch and Kaulig Racing in 2016, when the group rose from outside of the top 10 in the regular season standings to the Round of 8, holding a position in the Final 4 until the final race of the second round at Phoenix Raceway.

Adding to the degree of difficulty, those drivers that just sneak into the postseason on points will arrive with little-to-no playoff points – bonus points designated to race and stage winners, as well as the top 10 drivers in the regular season, that stay until a team’s elimination or the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Surviving the playoffs won’t be easy, but the fact that it’s even possible is something that Gaughan can appreciate.

“I think that’s what’s fun about the playoffs now,” Gaughan said. “I played college basketball and college football. If you hit the hot streak in college basketball at the right time, you end up with Virginia Commonwealth (University) going to the Final 4 as a 12 seed.

“Anything can happen in a playoff format, and especially in this one with the stage points added to it. It’s going to be exciting.”

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