Brandon Jones
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

Will Phoenix produce a fifth different Xfinity Series winner to open 2021?

There have been four different winners in as many NASCAR Xfinity Series races this season and plenty reason to expect a fifth in Saturday’s Call 811 Before You Dig 200 presented by Arizona 811 (5:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Championship leader Austin Cindric, who won the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway, arrives at the one-mile Phoenix Raceway as the most recent race winner. His victory there last November earned the 22-year-old his first NASCAR championship and has by all accounts, helped put Cindric on a high-octane performance course in 2021.

He is the only driver to earn top-five finishes in every race this season and his 163 laps led is nearly double that of any other driver. Last week’s Las Vegas race winner, AJ Allmendinger is second with 93 laps out front.

RELATED: Series standings | 2021 Xfinity Series schedule | Schedule for Phoenix

Both Cindric and Allmendinger are well aware that their stiffest competition this weekend may well come from 24-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver Brandon Jones, who is ranked third in the Xfinity Series championship standings. 

The driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is the defending winner of the Phoenix spring race, finished third in the season finale race. And Jones has finished top 10 in four of his last five starts on the desert oval. His 3.556-second win over Harrison Burton last March was the largest margin of victory in nine Xfinity Series races at Phoenix – since Kyle Busch dominated the race by more than 6-seconds in November, 2016.

“Our 19 Toyota team is thrilled to be heading back to Phoenix,” Jones said. “We had a pivotal win there last spring when we won against our teammate Kyle Busch. You take that strong win and mix it with us coming off our third consecutive top-four finish in the past three races. This momentum gives us the confidence to build on and focus on winning at Phoenix Raceway.

“As we look at data and notes from last year, I have already picked up on several areas where I can improve. This is an important weekend for our team to learn as much as possible; with Phoenix being the track that will hold the title to the Xfinity Series Championship later this year.”

They will undoubtedly face a challenge from series veteran and JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier, a two-time Phoenix race winner – the only current full-time Xfinity Series driver with multiple wins (2017 and 2020) at the 1-mile track. His 461 laps led at Phoenix is most among series regulars and he’s scored top-10 finishes in nine of the last 12 races.

Another Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Daniel Hemric shows up in Phoenix extremely motivated. He finished runner-up to Allmendinger at Las Vegas last weekend – the eighth second-place finish in the series for the well-liked North Carolinian. He has three top-five finishes in four races this year and his effort last week will put him in pole position this week at Phoenix, where he has a pair of top-five finishes in six Xfinity Series starts; including a runner-up in fall of 2018.

RELATED: Lineup for Saturday’s race | MRN Outloud: Ty Gibbs talks double duty

This weekend marks the second NASCAR Xfinity Series start for 18-year-old Ty Gibbs, grandson to NASCAR Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, who showed some serious competitive mettle by winning at the Daytona Road Course in February – in his series debut in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Gibbs earned one ARCA Menards Series West victory (then-NASCAR K&N Pro Series West) at Phoenix in 2019. If Gibbs were to win in his first two consecutive races he would become the first driver in NASCAR Xfinity Series history to accomplish the feat.

The rookie’s veteran team has every expectation for another solid outing.

“The No. 54 team is excited to go back to the racetrack with Ty Gibbs in Phoenix,” said the team’s crew chief Chris Gayle. “Ty did such an exceptional job at the Daytona Road Course of being cautious and learning as a rookie driver, mixed with being very aggressive late in the race when he was in position to win the event. He’s really good at Phoenix and we’re looking forward to helping him progress and learn more at his first oval event for this team. Not every event will go as smoothly or successfully as DRC (Daytona Road Course), but it’s important we remain focused on helping Ty get valuable experience at a variety of racetracks and continue to develop his skills behind the wheel.”

Other drivers deserving a watch this week include 22-year-old JR Motorsports driver Noah Gragson, who had a rough start to the 2021 season but rebounded last week with a fifth-place finish at his home track in Las Vegas – his first top five of the year. Gragson has never finished worse than 11th in four Phoenix starts with results of seventh in this race last year and a runner-up in the November finale. 

Jeb Burton, who is competing in his first full-time season in the series with Kaulig Racing, has been ranked among the top-five in the standings all season. The 28-year-old son of former Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, has finished top-10 in every race this year with best showings of fourth-place at the Daytona International Speedway season-opener and at Homestead-Miami Speedway in South Florida two weeks ago. He finished 17th in his only Xfinity Series start at Phoenix back in 2016.