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First elimination looms for Xfinity Series Playoffs at Dover

Expect this week’s Use Your Melon Drive Sober 200 (Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Dover International Speedway to be a highly pivotal moment in the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs as it’s the final race in the Round of 12 to settle which eight drivers move onward to settle the season championship.

RELATED: Full schedule for Dover | Xfinity entry list

Points leader Christopher Bell is the only full-time Xfinity Series driver to earn a playoff win so far (at Richmond, Va., two weeks ago), and that gives him an automatic ticket to the next round of the playoffs. The bad news for his competition is that Bell has also won the last two races at Dover, Del. He beat fellow championship contenders Justin Allgaier in May and Cole Custer in this race last October.

Going into Saturday’s opening round cutoff race, Bell, Custer, Austin Cindric, Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson and Michael Annett are ranked among the top eight in the standings. Annett holds an 11-point edge over ninth-place John Hunter Nemechek and 10th-place Brandon Jones. Only the top-eight ranked drivers after Saturday’s race remain championship eligible in the next three-race playoff round at tracks in Kansas, Texas and ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

MORE: Xfinity Series standings

Both drivers closest to the cutoff line – Nemechek and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones – have solid records at Dover. Nemechek has a pair of top-10 finishes in three starts and is coming off a career best eighth place in May. Jones, 22, has seven starts – starting on pole in May 2018 and earning three top 10s. His best work is a sixth place last year.

Annett has only a pair of top-10 finishes in 15 Dover starts. His best is a third-place run in 2012. The JR Motorsports veteran was 10th at the track in May.

Among current drivers, only the two-time defending winner Bell and Allgaier (2018) have hoisted trophies at Dover. The veteran Allgaier has the most experience at the one-mile, high-banked concrete venue, nicknamed “The Monster Mile” for its tough reputation. He has that victory last year, seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 17 starts. The JR Motorsports driver is looking for his first win, however, since last season when he won five races. He is one of two drivers ranked among the playoff top eight – also rookie Noah Gragson – without a victory this season.

Bell, Custer and regular season champ Tyler Reddick – who announced this week he will join Bell in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series full-time in 2020 – have accounted for 18 wins through the first 28 races.