With one race remaining to determine who advances to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs at a relatively new and particularly challenging venue – the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval – Saturday afternoon’s Drive for the Cure 250 presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) has all the makings of a high-drama, high-stakes event.
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Eight of the current 12 playoff drivers will advance to the next three-race round that sets the final four-driver 2020 championship field. Only 20 points currently separate sixth-place Ryan Sieg from Ross Chastain, who goes to Charlotte in the final eighth-place transfer position.
Chastain holds a mere seven-point lead on ninth-place Harrison Burton and a 19-point edge on 10th-place Brandon Brown.
Veteran AJ Allmendinger, a part-time Kaulig Racing teammate of Chastain’s, is the defending Charlotte Roval race winner and is entered this weekend. The Xfinity Series championship leaders – regular-season champ Austin Cindric (Road America and Daytona International Speedway Road Course) and series winningest driver Chase Briscoe (Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course) – have won all the road-course races to date in 2020.
Briscoe, who won the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Justin Haley, who won at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend, have earned the automatic bids into the next round. Cindric is ranked highest among those without a playoff win.
Chastain, who recently announced he will pilot the famed No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet next year in the NASCAR Cup Series, holds a tenuous advantage over Burton. None of the four drivers currently below the eighth-place cutoff line have ever won an Xfinity Series road-course race.
Seventh-place Justin Allgaier – who holds a 12-point edge on Chastain and a 19-point edge on ninth-place Burton – has three road-course wins, which comes second only to Cindric’s four among full-time Xfinity Series drivers. Allgaier has scored top 10s in two of the three previous road-course races this season. He has finished 15th (2018) and fourth (2019) at the Roval but yet to lead a lap there.
Among the four drivers at the bottom of the playoff standings, Michael Annett has the best average finish (11.3) on the three road courses this season. He was ninth at Indianapolis and 10th at Road America. But the nine-year series veteran finds himself ranked last (12th) among the playoff contenders heading to the Roval after his runner-up finish at Talladega last week was disqualified due to a violation in post-race inspection. That cost the driver of the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet dearly in the standings and now instead of being in ninth place, a mere three points behind Chastain, he’s 38 points out of the transfer spot. He will need to win Saturday.
“To have a runner-up finish taken away in post-race inspection this close to the cutoff race was a tough blow,” Annett said. “We were in the playoffs at that point too. That leaves us a lot of work to do this weekend at the Roval. (Crew chief) Travis Mack and the No. 1 team have given me fast Pilot J Chevrolets all year long and the key to finishing well in these road course events is to stay on the track.
“We’ll do that and do everything we can to win the race and keep going in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.”