By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Saturday afternoon at Kansas Speedway was the first race of the second round of the NASCAR XFINITY Series playoffs. All eight playoff contenders qualified inside the top-12 and everything appeared set for a great battle amongst the best drivers in a series with the tagline “Names Are Made Here.”
Mayhem broke loose as the field barreled into Turn 2 on the first lap when Justin Allgaier’s No. 7 Chevrolet got loose and made contact with Christopher Bell’s No. 20 Toyota, touching off a wreck that collected a total of nine cars, including fellow playoff contenders Austin Cindric and Cole Custer.
The damage proved too heavy for Bell, Allgaier and Cindric to continue and they were credited with 37th, 38th and 39th-place results, respectively. Combined, Allgaier and Bell have 11 victories in 2018 and are the two clear championship favorites as they have amassed 83 playoff points between them (Bell with 44 and Allgaier with 39).
“I just got loose,” said a dejected Allgaier. “It’s lap one and that’s uncalled for. I’m super disappointed for everyone that is involved with this team here at JRM. Not only did we wreck our day but we wrecked a lot of our other competitors.
“I hate it for those guys. Hopefully we can go to Texas and get it back.”
Cindric, who started fourth in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, was an innocent victim in the deal.
“I was looking at the Playoff Grid here and minus 43 is a pretty big hole,” Cindric said after being evaluated and released from the infield care center. “I’m just thankful to be in safe cars and thankful for everybody on the NASCAR medical staff.
“Obviously, it was a pretty big hit. I kind of wasn’t expecting that. It’s just unfortunate. It seemed like a racing deal there. It seemed like the 7 (Allgaier) got loose into the 20 (Bell) and cleared out a few race cars. I’m thankful to still be in the playoffs and thankful to still have a shot.
“I honestly felt like we had a shot to win today in our Ford Mustang. We’ve got a week to think about it and go to Texas. I’m thankful for everyone at Team Penske and Ford Performance that worked so hard to get me this far in the playoffs.”
Bell won two of the three races in the first round of the playoffs and set the record for XFINITY Series victories last weekend when he earned his sixth win of 2018 at Dover, surpassing Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards.
“I didn’t really see much of anything. Just kind of driving around there. Just heartbroken,” said Bell.
“This is one of my favorite race tracks we go to and especially after the run I had last year, this is the race that I was looking forward to whenever we started the year back in February. Our Rheem Camry was fast throughout practice and we qualified second, so felt like we were going to be able to contend for the win, but I think this is – actually this is not the first time I’ve been out on the first lap. We’ll try and make up for it at Texas and we still got a lot of race tracks that I can win races at, so hopefully we’ll move on from here.”
Fortunately for Bell, he can fall back on the series-leading number of playoff points he has accumulated this season.
“That’s the beauty of this format. NASCAR’s done such a great job at giving us something to race for during the regular season. We’ve done our job winning six races this year, so we’ve accumulated some bonus points, so hopefully that can carry us through this bad stretch here and maybe we can find ourselves in victory lane later on in this round. If not, hopefully the bonus points will get us there.”
Cole Custer was able to continue on and restarted at the rear of the field in the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, but didn’t have power steering. Under the caution at Lap 45 for the end of Stage 1, Custer entered the garage area to make repairs before returning to the track multiple laps down. He finished in the 26th position, 18 laps down.
“We all wrecked on lap one and that kind of sunk our boat. We fixed the car and muscled it out but it is what it is,” said Custer.
“We will have to go try to win at Texas and Phoenix. It sucked. It took a lot. I didn’t think I was going to make it after about 30 laps without power steering, but you kind of get used to it and find a way to get a rhythm. Hopefully, I don’t ever have to do that again.”
Non-playoff contenders Michael Annett, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, Spencer Gallagher and Ryan Truex also received damage. Annett finished 40th, while the other four drivers were able to continue.
Daniel Hemric left Kansas as the leader in the championship standings by nine points over Elliott Sadler. However, Hemric’s No. 21 Chevrolet was deemed too low in the left front during post-race inspection and should receive a 10-point penalty this week.
Bell is fourth in the standings, a mere point ahead of the cut-off line with Matt Tifft in fifth. Allgaier is sixth, five points behind Bell. Custer is in the seventh position, 23 markers behind the fourth and final spot to transfer to the Championship 4. Cindric is in the eighth and final position, 43 points behind advancing to the final round.