With the regular season of the NASCAR Xfinity Series drawing to a close at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday afternoon, the standings show one thing, the championship is likely to go through JR Motorsports before it is all said and done.
Three of the four drivers for the team co-owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kelley Earnhardt-Miller, and Rick Hendrick, lead the re-seeded standings and the fourth team driver is also in the playoff field, leaving open the possibility that the season finale at Homestead in November could be an all-JRM affair.
On top of the standings is the wonder kid, William Byron, who has set the world on fire in NASCAR over the past two seasons, winning seven races in the Camping World Truck Series before moving to the Xfinity Series this season, where he has won three races, the most races among the Xfinity regulars.
Byron first capitalized at Iowa and Daytona this summer, following those wins up with a win at Indianapolis, along with eight top-five finishes, 17 top-10 finishes, one pole, 160 laps led, and an average finish of 11.1. Though a transmission failure handed him a 33rd place finish at Chicago, the youngster is looking to finish out his tenure in the Xfinity Series on a high note before heading to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next season.
“Good job to everyone at JR Motorsports to get a win for Justin,” said Byron. “That’s cool. We’ll take the momentum to Kentucky and hopefully have a really fast car there.”
“We’ve been strong the last couple of weeks. We’ve kind of qualified fifth or sixth and ran fifth or sixth. Need a little more than that in the playoffs, but I feel like we’re going to have that once we get to some of these stronger race tracks for us. We’re looking forward to it.”
Just two points behind Byron is Saturday’s race winner, Justin Allgaier, who used an aggressive move on the apron to power his way to the lead with 15 laps to go and never looked back en route to his second win of the season. Much like Byron, Allgaier has also had a solid season in the statistics department, especially as of late, with only one finish lower than 11th place in the last seven races.
The top-five finishes and top-10 finishes are great, but there’s nothing that can replace the boost a win can give a team, especially when it comes at your home track, as it did for the Illinois native at Chicago.
“These Camaros, man, they’re awesome,” said Allgaier. “We’ve got a great shot to go to Victory Lane a lot during these playoffs. We’ve got a lot of good momentum and we want to go to Homestead and win this championship.”
Last year, Elliott Sadler came within one position of winning the championship and throughout 2017, Sadler and his No. 1 team have been one of the strongest week in and week out. Though Sadler has yet to make it to Victory Lane this year, he has been able to string together 11 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, one pole, 111 laps led, and an average finish of 9.5 in 26 starts.
With those numbers backing him up, Sadler has not dropped lower than third in points all season long, and has been the points leader for all but two weeks in 2017. Since Sadler led the points at the end of the regular season, he was awarded the regular season championship and the 15 bonus playoff points that come with it, placing him third in the re-seeded points headed to next week’s playoff opener at Kentucky.
“These guys work day in and day out,” said Sadler. “Nobody works harder than JR Motorsports, in my opinion, in this series and that shows with the top three in points. We’ve got some really good cars. We’ve got a lot of momentum on our side here the last couple of months. I feel like we’re primed and ready to go into the Playoffs.”
“I really and truly believe in my heart that we’re one of the favorites going to Homestead and I can’t wait to get there.”
With Byron, Allgaier, and Sadler at the top of the standings, the fourth team car, driven by Michael Annett also made the playoffs, as he holds onto the 12th and final playoff spot. Annett has scored one top-five finish and six top-10 finishes on the season, but he is still in the playoffs, where anything can happen over the next seven races.