Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

TORRES: Instant Reaction on the 2020 Xfinity Series Finale at Phoenix

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

Ford only had two guys competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with one of them hoisting series championship. It wasn’t Chase Briscoe, but it was Austin Cindric who exited Phoenix Raceway with a championship.

Cindric had to earn that sixth win though as an overtime restart bunched the field up and when the dust finally settled, he beat Noah Gragson to capture Saturday’s Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 and another auto racing title for Team Penske.

Fittingly enough, what else did you expect from this series other than fireworks?

Like always, let’s dive into my thoughts on Saturday’s finale.

The Blue Oval Climax

As expected, the Ford duo weren’t going to make things easy in this finale. Briscoe would take command on Lap 7 as he was determined to get a 10th win that would bring Stewart-Haas Racing its first NXS title.

Like we’ve seen all season long and honestly, the most fun duel in NASCAR, Cindric was going to make Briscoe work harder to stay out front. The pressure kicked in as Briscoe hit the Turn 1 wall on Lap 17, giving Cindric a shot to challenge him for the to spot.

It was nothing as Briscoe kept his spot when the competition caution came out on Lap 20. NASCAR 2020 if you ask me because it was getting pretty good, but there was a ton of racing left so I can live with the pause.

I was certainly right because Cindric was all over Briscoe’s back bumper, but came up just shy of taking the Stage 1 triumph.

That’s one battle I’m so going to miss next season with Briscoe moving up to Cup while Cindric would have to wait until 2022 to reach the top level. I sure hope when both are there, we can see these guys duke it out some more because it has been a blast watching them in Xfinity.

Championship 4 Stage 1 Results: Briscoe (1st), Cindric (2nd), Allgaier (3rd) and Haley (7th)

Entering the Chat: JR Motorsports

Stage 2 had a little wild card factor and that’s title contender Justin Allgaier and the super aggressive Gragson. In fact, Gragson almost played a role on a scary situation as Briscoe tried clearing him, but by mere inches.

Had he not done so, it would’ve been game over from him which would’ve been real upsetting. It’s still a tad early to be super risky, but the war continued. Gragson would fade away following that episode, but still had a good car to be in the top-10.

Allgaier had a super stage where he was in command for most of the run until Cindric took the point in the closing laps and ended up P1.

What it told me is that Allgaier didn’t have the greatest long run car like Cindric obviously does which was very concerning. Allgaier had to step up if he wanted to win back-to-back November races. Those Fords are there to win a title without any remorse.

Fortunately, he responded extremely well in Stage 3 by taking control of the competition, but would lose the spot to Cindric on Lap 130. Long runs was Cindric’s best friend Saturday.

Championship 4 Stage 2 Results: Cindric (1st), Allgaier (2nd), Briscoe (3rd) and Haley (7th)

Heartbreak for Stewart-Haas Racing

It’s hard to believe SHR weren’t looking dominant and for much of the final stage, the symbolism of agony kicked in. Briscoe just couldn’t respond to his title rivals’ raw pace because he kept going a tad wide and brushing the wall.

This outing reminded me of Cole Custer’s Championship 4 performances because he entered as the favorite. As a matter of fact, it was a Custer-like finale for Briscoe.

In the race that mattered most, Briscoe was cracking under pressure and it showed. That’s why SHR ended up without hoisting a single title despite having the top guy in Xfinity and Cup with Kevin Harvick.

This was completely solidified with three laps of regulation when Briscoe, who was running in fifth spun around in Turn 4. Changing the whole entire race as Cindric had the championship won.

Hard to believe the most dominant guy failed to put on a championship winning drive, but that’s just part of sports sometimes.

Championship 4 Standings after Briscoe’s spin: Cindric (1st), Allgaier (2nd), Haley (8th), Briscoe (10th)

Fresh Tires vs. Track Position 2.0

Just like last night’s Truck Series finale, it came down to the final stop as Cindric and Justin Haley went for fresh tires. On the other hand, Allgaier stayed out to now head into overtime as the championship leader.

Prior to Briscoe’s spin, Allgaier’s crew chief Jason Burdett made the decision to pit with 27 laps to go while Cindric stayed out. So when the racing madness resumed with 23 laps to go, all bets were off and looking for vengeance that would give him a shot of getting that long elusive first series title. Even with fresh tires, he still couldn’t overcome the powerful No. 22 Ford Mustang.

Allgaier had one more shot at this title as he started alongside Ross Chastiain in overtime, choosing the outside lane. Cindric also chose the high line while Haley and Briscoe were back in eighth and ninth.

Green flag dropped and I thought Allgaier had it in the bag, but there was some contact from Cindric coming to the white flag. Out of nowhere, Gragson took the top spot, but the powerful Ford still had enough to eke out a win in his 100th start and the title.

If Briscoe wasn’t going to win the title, the next best option was definitely Cindric. The fact both were able to prove that ‘yeah, Ford only has two cars in Xfinity, but we’ll kick everyone’s asses while doing it’ should be admired. Quality over quantity 101!

Now that Cindric is champion, I’ll say this. He really has come a long way because I was heavily critical of him before joining Motorsports Tribune in 2018. Mistakes and over aggressive driving galore, but now after a hard fought 2020 campaign, I’d say Cindric has grown up to be one damn solid racer.

No longer is he the man who dumped Kaz Grala at Bowmanville in 2017, he’s a worthy champion.

With the season over and since he’s not moving up to Cup full-time anytime soon, imagine how better Cindric will be next season. One championship is nice, but back-to-back? Wouldn’t surprise me if he’s thinking about 2021 right now.

Championship 4 Final Standings: Cindric (1st), Allgaier (5th), Haley (8th) and Briscoe (9th)

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.