By David Morgan, Associate Editor
CONCORD, N.C. – The NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff field is down to eight.
Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 250 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL marked the first elimination race for the series, with the first four drivers getting axed from championship conclusion when the checkered flag waved.
While Sam Mayer walked off with the win to clinch his place in the next round, it was a fierce battle down around the cut-off line to see who would make the cut and who would be spending the rest of the season watching the title fight from the outside looking in.
In the end, it was Sheldon Creed that claimed the final transfer spot by just two points over former Xfinity Series champion Daniel Hemric.
Along with Hemric, Parker Kligerman, Josh Berry, and Jeb Burton were also eliminated from the Playoffs.
For Creed, it was a sigh of relief on a day in which he flirted with both sides of the cut-off line, but in the end, his 10th place result was just enough to see him through to the Round of 8.
“It’s the happiest I’ve ever been to run 10th,” Creed said with a laugh. “Probably the hardest I’ve had to work for one, maybe not the hardest. I have to work hard for 10th a lot, but I don’t know.
“I’m happy for the guys. I’m happy for the team. Not so much myself, but I’m more happy for everyone else that works on the thing and works in the shop. They put a lot of hours in to make it all happen and to see us make the Round of 8 is, it’s a big deal for everyone. And, yeah, I just hope we can actually be something in this next round.”
Saturday’s elimination marked the second early Playoff exit for Hemric, who also saw his chances at a second Xfinity title end at Charlotte last season.
However, Hemric didn’t go down without a fight, scratching and clawing for every position possible in the final run to the finish to try and earn enough points to advance.
With the checkered flag in sight, Hemric was running directly behind Parker Kligerman and Kaz Grala and made one final lunge to try and pass both of them before the finish line, only to come up a nose short.
In the final rundown, he was scored with a seventh-place result.
“I thought with the 48, I saw the move he was going put on the 26 there coming to the start finish line or coming to the entry of the chicane and it played out almost like I wanted to. I mean, I could have run over them, but I wasn’t going to do that,” Hemric explained.
“I’m extremely proud of this race team with the way they executed today. Had a plan, stuck to a plan. We didn’t lose it here today. We lost it at Texas. So, yeah, that falls on myself. I have big shoulders, I can handle it.”
Much like Hemric, Kligerman was in the hunt for a transfer spot at various points throughout the race, but fell just short of being able to advance with his sixth-place finish.
Despite not moving on in the Playoffs, Kligerman was ecstatic about the performance his Big Machine Racing group was able to display in its first appearance in the Playoffs and was noting but positive about the upward trajectory of his team going forward.
“We scored the second most points of anyone in the race, you know, by one point. So, I mean, you can’t do much more than that in a point situation. I felt like we had a probably top three car. We just had to do the strategy we did. Right? Where you really were in a position to try and get every point we could and we did that,” Kligerman said.
“My brother texted me before this and said, ‘Hey, you already won.’ And I already felt that in the beginning of this year when I had this ride. But I really, really, really am disappointed, not just for the chance to go race for a championship, but I have absolutely loved the idea of, or the experience of being in these Playoffs and making it.
“And I loved coming into Kansas and the situation we were and having to put in an excellent, perfect race and then same situation here. And I’m just sad to lose that going forward. But we’re gonna bring that same energy. We can still finish fifth in points and that’ll be a huge achievement.
“We’ve already achieved a lot from Big Machine Racing, but we’re going to surprise some people in the next four races.”
Josh Berry came into Saturday’s race in a must-win position to be able to advance in his final Xfinity Series season with JR Motorsports before moving up to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2024.
It was a tough day for Berry, who not only had to deal with the lack of power steering, but also a spin midway through the race, but despite all of it, he and his team persevered to give themselves a shot at it on the final restart.
However, his JRM teammate Sam Mayer and second-place driver Cole Custer were just too strong over the course of the final laps and he would have to settle for third, leaving him on the outs.
“It was a solid day,” Berry said. “I’m really proud of the car we had. Our car was really good. I felt like we were a top three car all day. Had a little bit of issue with the power steering throughout the race and that definitely hurt us a little bit. I just couldn’t hit my marks as well. I just fought that, fought the steering a little bit, the second half of the race.
“But I mean, man, we did a great job today. We didn’t advance because we wrecked the last few weeks, not because of that today. So, just proud of the effort Taylor and everybody put in with this car. A lot of preparation went into this week. A lot of people I gotta thank and I hate it didn’t work out, but I’m proud of the day we had.”
Last, but not least was Jeb Burton, who was also in a must-win position like many of the others in the Playoffs.
With his situation in mind, Burton’s No. 27 Jordan Anderson Racing team rolled the dice on the penultimate caution of the day, electing to leave Burton out on older tires, which boosted him from outside the top-10 to the lead and would give him a shot at fighting for the win.
On the ensuing restart, Burton lined up alongside Justin Allgaier, but it didn’t take long for the Hail Mary move that moved him into the lead to go awry.
As Burton and Allgaier hurtled into Turn 1, Burton went too deep into the corner and started sliding straight toward the outside wall, taking Allgaier with him and causing both to make heavy impact with the SAFER barrier.
Allgaier was done for the day, while Burton did his best to limp his car home for the rest of the day.
Afterwards, Burton was nothing but apologetic about the incident with Allgaier and complimentary of the effort put forth by his Jordan Anderson Racing team in its first Playoff appearance.
“It was totally my fault,” Burton said. “I just got in there harder than I had all day and just locked it up and was wrecking. The seven car was just a victim of my mistake. Hate it for Justin and his team. I respect all those guys and it was a total accident.
“I was wrecking if he was there or not. I mean, it was hard impact for me. I know it was a hard impact for Justin, so I hope he’s okay. I’ve heard he is. So, I’ll definitely be reaching out to him. I have a lot of respect for him and his race team.
“Proud of the team. First year for Playoffs for Jordan Anderson Racing. A lot of hardworking folks there. So, we’ll go to Vegas. Really excited about our Vegas package. Because Texas, we drove up inside the top seven. Excited to get there and try to finish ninth in points. So, we can still do that.
“I hate we tore up a car there. That was unacceptable on my part. It wasn’t like we’re gonna win the race right there, even though everything’s on the line. I just sailed it off in there.”