AVONDALE, Ariz. – For a brief moment in time during Saturday’s Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200, Chase Briscoe looked poised to move on to the Xfinity Series Playoffs Championship 4.
Then race winner Justin Allgaier took things into his own hands.
After a Christopher Bell spin in the final stage brought out the caution, Briscoe’s No. 98 Ford team elected for a no-tire strategy on pit road, allowing him to take the lead on the ensuing restart on Lap 122. It took Allgaier 12 laps and a nose in the left-rear of Briscoe’s machine to regain the lead for good.
The caution flag Briscoe desperately needed never reemerged and the win – along with the coveted prize of a Championship 4 berth – went to the JR Motorsports driver, leaving the Stewart-Haas Racing driver on the outside looking in.
“We were both just racing hard,” Briscoe said of the contact. “I didn’t do a very good job when I had the lead of not making mistakes. I was probably watching my mirror too much and I knew it was going to be an uphill battle because he was so good.
“I was at a tire disadvantage so it was going to be even harder. I was all for it, I don’t think either of us did anything dirty. Just racing hard and we both knew what was on the line. Obviously he did a very good job today.”
Briscoe, who wound up eighth in the race and fifth in points, visited Allgaier in Victory Lane after the race to congratulate him on his advancement.
As good of a day as Saturday was for the 33-year-old series veteran, his pair of JRM teammates suffered at the expense of his success. Michael Annett (ninth) and Noah Gragson (10th) were each eliminated and will look to play spoiler next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM).
One couldn’t help but hide his frustration, the other reflecting on the highlights from a career-defining season.
“Frustrating (season), but thankful for all the hard work. Move on,” Gragson said. “The 2, 00, 7, 20 car, they deserve to be in the final four, we don’t. Frustrating, but thankful to be racing in the Xfinity Series. … We didn’t show up.”
Annett had a top-five car all day before fading to the back of the top 10, and conceded that he “kind of had a feeling all week that the (7) car would be in Victory Lane this weekend,” indicating he knew a Miami berth was a long shot.
Still, Homestead was one of several milestones the No. 1 team set for itself ahead of the season and it nearly capitalized.
“We set our goal to be one of the four cars at Homestead, so that’s disappointing,” Annett said. “We didn’t accomplish everything we wanted to but we kind of had a list at the beginning of the year and we checked off probably everything but making it to Homestead and fighting for that championship. Really, really good season and it’s not over yet. I think being fifth place in points is a pretty special honor and we’re right there with the 98 car and the 22 fighting for that.”
Team Penske’s Austin Cindric was the final driver to be eliminated, and was succinct yet upbeat in summing up his day, which included a race-altering speeding penalty midway through.
“I think Justin was the class of the field today next to the 20, so it wasn’t going to be easy. Didn’t do myself any favors there (with the speeding penalty). Proud of our effort, just not enough today.”
Allgaier will join Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and defending champion Tyler Reddick for a South Beach showdown next weekend to decide the 2019 Xfinity Series champion in what’s setting up to be an instant classic.