Xfinity Series prepares for some Friday night fun at Daytona

Two rows of Xfinity cars race down the backstretch at Daytona

With four races remaining to set the 12-driver playoff field, the NASCAR Xfinity Series shows up at Daytona International Speedway for Friday night’s Wawa 250 powered by Coca-Cola (7:30 p.m. ET on USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) expecting a dramatic chapter in the 2022 championship story.

Two-time defending race winner Justin Haley will make his first Xfinity Series start of 2022 in a fourth Kaulig Racing Chevrolet. His presence as a race favorite will likely step up the intensity in a field still hotly contesting that regular season championship.

Going to Daytona, three-time race winner AJ Allmendinger carries a 61-point lead on rookie, five-race winner Ty Gibbs, who will do double duty — also driving Kurt Busch’s No. 45 Toyota in Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series race.

The duo atop the points finished runner-up (Allmendinger) and 27th (Gibbs) at Watkins Glen International last week, but neither of them has won on the 2.5-mile Daytona oval. Allmendinger was runner-up in the last two Daytona races, finishing 0.023 seconds behind Haley in this race last year.

There are four former winners entered this weekend — Haley, JR Motorsports driver Noah Gragson (2020, spring) and the most recent winner Austin Hill, who took the trophy in the February season-opener. Joe Nemechek, who won this race in 1998 and 2002, will team with his son, John Hunter Nemechek, in a pair of Sam Hunt Racing Toyotas.

Former NASCAR Cup Series Daytona race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will compete in the No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet in a weekend double.

There is no denying the intensifying competition in the series. The top six drivers in the standings are all multi-time race winners. Beyond Gibbs’ five victories, Allmendinger, Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson all boast three wins. Josh Berry and Hill have a pair of wins, and Brandon Jones has one trophy.

Sam Mayer, Riley Herbst, 2021 Xfinity Series champion Daniel Hemric, Landon Cassill and Ryan Sieg are currently safely inside the playoff cutoff.

Sieg holds a 39-point advantage on Sheldon Creed for the final transfer position. Sieg has three top-five finishes at Daytona, including third-place showings in 2013 and 2016. Creed, the 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, finished sixth in February in only his second NASCAR Xfinity Series start at the track.

The Xfinity Series qualifying at Daytona is set for 3:05 p.m. ET on Friday and will be televised on USA Network. There are 43 drivers vying for 38 starting positions.