RELATED: Playoff standings
Elliott Sadler clinched the regular-season championship last weekend, but the XFINITY Series playoff field is not yet set.
The Chicagoland 300 (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will lock in the last three drivers to compete for this season’s championship. William Byron currently leads the way with a series-leading three victories while two of his other three JR Motorsports teammates are also postseason bound. But two drivers who were in last year’s title hunt go into this weekend feeling the pressure.
Let’s break it down.
Rookie sensation William Byron sits atop the playoff standings on the strength of three wins and 17 playoff points. He’s followed by teammate Justin Allgaier, who has a win and the second-most playoff points going into Chicago with eight. Also locked in through wins are Ryan Reed and Jeremy Clements.
The best of the non-winners is Elliott Sadler, the series points leader. However, Sadler’s position will greatly improve following the race as he will be awarded 15 playoff points (to go with the five he currently has) for being the regular-season champion. Behind Sadler comes Brennan Poole, as well as three more rookies in Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and Matt Tifft.
The final three spots are still up for grabs. After just narrowly missing the final four last year, Blake Koch sits 10th in the playoff standings with a healthy 51-point advantage. Michael Annett, who will look to ensure all four JRM cars make the playoffs, is 11th. And veteran Brendan Gaughan holds down the final playoff spot at 12th place.
The good news for Dakoda Armstrong is he does not have to win Saturday’s race to earn a playoff spot. Armstrong is just 25 points behind Gaughan and 26 behind Annett. A mistake or bad day for either of those two drivers puts Armstrong and JGL Racing in a position to strike.
It’s a different story for JJ Yeley on back. Yeley sits 14th in the standings for TriStar Motorsports, but he’s 65 points below the cut line. JD Motorsports driver Ross Chastain sits 15th while Ryan Sieg from the single-car entry of RSS Racing is 16th. Making the playoffs would be a huge accomplishment for any of these teams while rookie Brandon Jones in 17th hopes to join his Richard Childress Racing teammates at the front of the pack.
With a good point advantage on those sitting on the outside, Koch looks all but assured of again making the playoffs. Annett and Gaughan, however, will be sweating it out for 300 miles. With both drivers having outrun Armstrong through much of the season, that should not be a problem one more time.
What none of the three drivers on the bubble can be sure about, though, is a new winner. If Armstrong or anyone else currently without a playoff spot wins — and is also in the top 20 in points — that driver automatically takes a postseason position. A tall task yes, but not impossible. Especially when considering this race is off limits to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competitors with more than five years of experience, such as the drivers who have won the last two XFINITY Series races: Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin.
Plus, the series will be in Chicago and if the Cubs can win the World Series after 108 years, an XFINITY Series regular can also pull off a much-needed victory.