It was elimination Saturday for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. As if that pressure wasn't high enough, drivers had to take on the Charlotte Roval, a track that had only seen Xfinity competition twice prior to this event. With all the playoff drama, one would assume it would be the primary story of the afternoon. However, mother nature proved to be the driving factor of Saturday's race. It was a race full of twists, turns, slipping, and sliding. At the end of the day, eight drivers move on with hope that they will hoist the championship trophy in Phoenix. For four others, their championship hopes were dashed.
The race at the Roval started as calmly as it possibly could've, given the circumstances. Prior to the race, NASCAR had stated that the track was in "dry" conditions. However, NASCAR could deem the track "wet" at any point in the race if they felt led to do so. Teams had 2 sets of rain tires, but it was the crew chief's call when to put them on their team's car. Noah Gragson and Justin Haley led the field to green. Gragson quickly proved that he had a fast car as he pulled away to a solid lead in the leading laps. With rain looming in the area, teams were already beginning to strategize when to put on rain tires. This call would become clear for most, as the caution came out on lap 3 when something broke underneath Brett Moffitt. Many teams used this as an opportunity to come get rain tires. Gragson led the field to green again. At this point, rain was coming down steadily across the track. Justin Haley, along with others, had issues early on with the windshield wiper on the car. This made visibility go from bad to worse for the drivers dealing with it. Cars were spinning all over the track. The caution was thrown on Lap 14 when a group of drivers all got into the wall one after another. Playoff contenders Brandon Jones, Noah Gragson, and Ross Chastain were among those who had spun at multiple places across the track. Differing pit strategies would cycle Justin Haley and Harrison Burton to the lead. The two battled for awhile, but Harrison would miss two chicanes which would lose him multiple positions. Kaz Grala, who was complaining about power steering issues a few laps before, was able to grab the lead and win stage 1. Gragson, Labbe, Haley, Allgaier, Chastain, Hemric, Williams, Pardus, and Brown all collected stage points behind them. More playoff drama occurred as NASCAR deemed that Harrison Burton did not come to a complete stop after missing the front stretch chicane. This meant that Burton would have to start at the tail end of the field.
Stage 2 proved to be just as wild as the first, and even more so. Kaz Grala and Noah Gragson led the field to green. The two battled for the lead for a lap, but Gragson assumed control after Grala missed the front stretch chicane. Noah led for a few laps until Riley Herbst got to his back bumper. Herbst ended up spinning Gragson in turn 4 and the caution came out with Herbst in the lead. During this caution, NASCAR opted to throw out the red flag to attempt to dry out the standing water in certain areas of the track. After a nearly 40 minute delay, Riley Herbst led the field back to green. His lead was short lived as he and Justin Allgaier would spin as they fought for the lead. This brought out the caution with just a few laps left in the stage. AJ Allmendinger and Chase Briscoe led the field back to green with just a 1 lap shootout for the stage win. Briscoe would get the best of Allmendinger as AJ had some trouble on that last lap of the stage. Briscoe captured the stage 2 win and Chastain, Labbe, Cindric, Gragson, Hemric, Brown, Allgaier, Gaulding, Buford all got stage points. After the conclusion of Stage 2, both Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson locked up spots in the Round of 8.
The final stage of the race kept the dramatic pace going as mother nature threw yet another curveball. The rain was still coming down over the track, but due to the 40 minute red flag earlier in the race, nightfall began to encompass the track. The oval portion of the track had the means to combat this, but the infield grew darker and darker. This decreased the already slim visibility of the drivers. The battle for the lead proved to be down to Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger as the laps winded down. Briscoe clearly had the better car on the long run, but a series of cautions allowed AJ to stay in the mix. On the final restart of the race, Briscoe and AJ fought for the lead one more time. Unfortunately for Briscoe, he spun on the exit of turn 1 and thus ending his chances of winning the race. Allmendinger would hold on against a hard charging Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric to secure the victory. To many's disbelief, this was actually AJ's first road course win of the year. Gragson, Hemric, Labbe, Chastain, Cindric, Ware, Buford, Annett, and Jones all grabbed a Top 10 finish out of the Roval. Seven of the 12 playoff drivers finished outside the Top 10. Those drivers were Herbst (12th), Briscoe (18th), Sieg (21st), Allgaier (23rd), Brown (26th), Burton (33rd), and Haley (35th). For Harrison Burton, Brandon Brown, Riley Herbst, and Michael Annett, their chance at a championship came to an end at the Roval. After the points reset the playoff grid looks like this:
1. Chase Briscoe - +37 Points
2. Austin Cindric - +27 Points
3. Justin Allgaier - +10 Points
4. Noah Gragson - +2 Points
5. Justin Haley - -2 Points
6. Brandon Jones - -5 Points
7. Ross Chastain - -15 Points
8. Ryan Sieg - -23 Points
The round of 8 starts this weekend and will be the first opportunity for these 8 drivers to punch their ticket to Phoenix. The battle will get tighter each and every week. Soon we will crown a new NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion.