The Xfinity series continued their playoff battle last Saturday at the biggest wildcard of the season, Talladega. The race was a good showing for the playoff drivers. A slow start led into a chaotic finish with a playoff driver locking his spot into the round of 8. The Xfinity series proved why Talladega is one of the most entertaining playoff tracks on the schedule.
The race started out with a battle of teammates and manufacturers. Pseudo teammates Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric, and the only two Ford drivers in the field, started nose to tail on the inside line. They went up against the JR Motorsports teammates of Noah Gragson and Justin Allgaier. Briscoe and Cindric proved to be the class of the field. Briscoe led nearly the entirety of the Stage with Cindric pushing him. Briscoe went on to win stage 1 and Cindric, Jones, Haley, Alfredo, Herbst, Sieg, H. Burton, Hemric, and Allgaier got stage points behind him. There wasn't caution for incident during the entire first stage of the race.
The story was quite similar in Stage 2. Briscoe led the field to green and led the stage. Things were uneventful until lap 42 when Riley Herbst got turned into the inside wall by Austin Hill coming off of turn 4. This opened up the door for differing pit strategies as Noah Gragson and Michael Annett were among the drivers who opted to pit. Briscoe led the field to green but it wasn't for long as Ross Chastain got spun getting up to speed by Harrison Burton. Colby Howard got into Chastain having nowhere to go to avoid the contact. This led to a one lap shootout for the stage win. Briscoe and Cindric led the field to green and the two battled it out all the way back around. After quite a few blocks, Briscoe was able to pick up the second stage win with Cindric, Hemric, Haley, Allgaier, H. Burton, Jones, Sieg, Brown, and Gragson all received stage points. The heat was starting to ramp up and the intensity was slowly rising. Ross Chastain and Michael Annett were the only two playoff drivers who didn't receive any stage points.
Pit strategy saw AJ Allmendinger and Timmy Hill lead the field to green to start off stage 3. The final stage started off fairly slow, but the action returned as green flag pit stops started. With 38 laps to go in the race, the majority of drivers slowed down to come to pit road. Some miscommunications between the teams led to Austin Hill and Austin Cindric getting turned into the inside wall, ending the race for both drivers. Justin Allgaier and Brandon Brown led the field to green with 30 laps to go and Chase Briscoe found his way back to the front. The caution came out once again with 22 to go for debris left by Ryan Vargas on the front stretch.
Briscoe appeared to be the favorite to win with 18 to go as he led the field back to green. He held onto that lead for nearly the rest of the race. He eventually would fall to the bottom of the track after contact with Noah Gragson. Further contact between he and Gragson sent Briscoe into the outside wall. This handed the lead and the overall win to Justin Haley. This is Haley's third consecutive Talladega victory, matching a feat only reached by Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sieg, Gragson, Jones, Hemric, Chastain, WIlliams, Smithley, Brown, and Labbe rounded out the Top 10. Briscoe (19th), Burton (23rd), Allgaier (29th), Cindric (34th), Herbst (35th), and Annett (37th) were the only playoff drivers to finish outside of the top 10. Michael Annett appeared to have a solid run in hand, but failed inspection after the race resulting in a surrendered finishing position and all points gained from the day. After Talladega the playoff grid looks like this:
1. Chase Briscoe - Advanced
2. Justin Haley - Advanced
3. Austin Cindric - +50 Points
4. Noah Gragson - +47 Points
5. Brandon Jones - +34 Points
6. Ryan Sieg - +27 Points
7. Justin Allgaier - +19 Points
8. Ross Chastain - +7 Points
9. Harrison Burton - -7 Points
10. Brandon Brown - -19 Points
11. Riley Herbst - -36 Points
12. Michael Annett - -38 Points
With Chase Briscoe and Justin Haley locked into the next round, there are 6 more spots up for grabs. The final race of the round of 12 is the Charlotte Roval. This race could present a second wild card to the drivers. Austin Cindric is an incredible road racer, so I expect to see him in the mix. For Michael Annett and Riley Herbst, the situation appears to be a must win. The only playoff drivers that can be truly comfortable going into the Roval are Briscoe and Haley. Who will move on to the Round of 8?