Chris Keane | Getty Images
Chris Keane | Getty Images

Xfinity doubleheader at Richmond will go a long way toward determining playoff seeding

With three races remaining to set the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff field – this weekend’s Richmond Raceway doubleheader will play a major role in seeding the championship-eligible drivers and deciding which competitors complete the 12-driver playoff lineup.

A highly anticipated two-race slate this week begins with the Go Bowling 250 on Friday night (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) followed by the Virginia is for Race Lovers 250 on Saturday afternoon (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). No current full-time Xfinity Series driver has won at Richmond previously.

RELATED: Full Richmond schedule | Xfinity Series standings

Five-race winner Austin Cindric of Team Penske goes into the pivotal race slate holding a sizable 54-point advantage on six-race winner Chase Briscoe, of Stewart-Haas Racing, for the regular season championship. They are two of seven drivers with victories already and playoff hopes secure.

Last week’s dramatic Darlington finish featured some particularly hard racing between NASCAR Cup Series championship contender Denny Hamlin and Xfinity Series title hopeful Ross Chastain, who was looking for his first win of the season.

Contact between the two in the closing laps allowed Brandon Jones to surge past and pick up his third trophy of the year. Chastain finished runner-up (for the fourth time this season), which keeps him third in the driver standings — but in eighth place in the playoff outlook standings, the top-ranked driver without a victory on the season.

No doubt he’s eager for that win to propel him to what he would consider a more fitting position to start his first Xfinity Series Playoff run. This weekend gives him two chances for a trip to Victory Lane. However, the .75-mile Richmond track historically hasn’t been one of Chastain’s best. He will start from the pole position on Friday.

The driver of the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet has only a single top-10 finish in nine previous Richmond Xfinity Series starts. That was a runner-up showing in 2018 driving a Chip Ganassi Racing car. He was 11th in last September’s race at the track.

That 2019 fall race was won by current NASCAR Cup Series rookie Christopher Bell with Cindric runner-up by a healthy 1.7 seconds. In all, six current playoff-eligible drivers finished among the top 10 last September — Justin Allgaier (fourth), Briscoe (fifth), Harrison Burton (sixth), Noah Gragson (seventh) and Michael Annett (ninth).

There are seven drivers with victories this season — six of them are multiple winners from Cindric (five) and Briscoe (six) to three-race winner Jones, and two-race winners Gragson, Justin Haley, and the rookie Burton.

Points-wise there remains one position still considered competitive for the playoffs. Brandon Brown is 12th in the standings, with a 45-point edge on veteran Jeremy Clements. Myatt Snider is ranked 14th, 51 points behind Brown.

This weekend marks Snider’s Richmond debut. The 35-year-old Clements has 19 Richmond starts, yet only a single top 10 — eighth place in spring 2018. He was 35th and 16th in the two races last year. And while he has continued to mount a challenge to Brown, the driver of the No. 51 Chevrolet hasn’t had a top-10 finish since the Daytona Road Course, five races ago.

Brown, who will celebrate his 27th birthday next week, has six Richmond starts and no top-10 finishes. The driver of the No. 68 Brandonbilt Motorsports Chevrolet has a career-best showing at the track of 19th in spring 2018. He was 20th there last year. He hasn’t scored a top 10 this season since a 10th-place finish on July 18 at Texas Motor Speedway — seven races ago. He finished 17th at Darlington last week.