Homestead Hopes High for JRM Drivers...Here’s How They Make It to Final 4

Ron Lemasters | 11/8/2018

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Hopes are high for Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Tyler Reddick as they vie for one of four Championship 4 spots Saturday at Phoenix.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 8, 2018) – With only Saturday’s event at ISM Raceway remaining, JR Motorsports’ path to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway next week is fairly cut-and-dried.

Win and you’re in is the mantra for all three teams, but there are ways to the final race without earning the victory. The three playoff teams housed at JR Motorsports have differing paths to the winner-take-all championship round.

Tyler Reddick, the point leader heading to the 1-mile oval, has the easiest path. The California rookie needs to score 46 points if a new winner earns the checkered, while a repeat winner (Cole Custer in this case) or a victory by Elliott Sadler, Daniel Hemric or a non-playoff driver would mean all he’d need is 35 points to punch his ticket.

Sadler, second in points, needs 54 points with a new winner. If Custer wins again, or Reddick, Hemric or a non-playoff driver takes the top spot, the Virginia native would need just 43 points to clinch. That means a bit of a different approach this year as opposed to years past, said crew chief Kevin Meendering.

“This is a little different from the last two years, without the kind of cushion that we had then,” Meendering said. “We’re going to have to go and race hard for stage points, get all we can. It’s going to be very important and a lot depends on who wins the race. Five guys are going to be battling for those three remaining spots.”

It is a little different too in that it will be the final opportunity for both driver and crew chief to go win a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. Sadler is stepping away from full-time racing at the end of the season and Meendering is going to Hendrick Motorsports with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson for 2019.

“Obviously the goal is to go to Homestead and win that championship together, especially given how close we’ve been the past two years,” Meendering said. “And we want to bring that title home to JR Motorsports for the second year in a row.”

Things get a little more interesting for Justin Allgaier, who currently sits 12 points outside the cutoff with one to play. The only way he’s guaranteed a spot in the Championship 4 is by winning, and that’s entirely possible. In his last seven starts dating back to 2013, Allgaier has a victory (in the spring 2017 event) and five finishes in the top four. His worst finish in that span was 10th in the fall race last year, and he won the pole and finished second in the spring at ISM Raceway this year.

The 32-year-old Illinois native could conceivably qualify on points, but would need help doing so depending on the winner.

Everyone else still involved—except Custer and Hemric—is in the same boat, with more distance between themselves and the top three. Those include Matt Tifft, Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric. Cindric cannot clinch on points and can only advance by winning.

Does Allgaier have to win to get in? No, but it would be nice, he said.

“Our team very much has a never-give-up attitude,” he said earlier in the week on Sirius XM Radio’s The Morning Drive. “Of all the tracks we go to, Phoenix might be the best chance for us to win. Our goal is to put three cars in the final four at Homestead, and if that doesn’t happen it’s still the same goal, to win the championship.”

With five victories on the season, the fact that Allgaier is in this position is a bit...curious. Crew chief Jason Burdett said while the team doesn’t have to make it six wins on the season, it is part of the process.

“I don’t know that we have to win, don’t know that there’s any more pressure to win this one than any other one that you go to all year,” Burdett said. “That’s what we go to the track to do, to win. It’s definitely going to put a little stress to the weekend, for sure. We started the Round of 8 with a bad day and we have to do everything we can to dig ourselves out of it.”

As this will be the first race on the new configuration at ISM Raceway, Allgaier was enthused for a somewhat out-of-the-box reason.

“I’m actually excited about the change (to the track),” Allgaier said. “I struggled in Turns 3 and 4, and I always had to worry about getting off them to the start-finish line. I have a much better time in Turns 1 and 2. Restarts are going to be interesting, going to be crazy. I don’t see us racing any different, but the biggest challenge will be the starts and restarts. This reconfiguration is going to be good for me. My hope is, when you have to make the last-lap pass for the win, it’s the perfect position for us.”

Reddick and crew chief Dave Elenz have the most direct road to the Championship 4, standing 20 points above the cut line. Elenz, the defending championship crew chief, was happy with that, for the most part. “I wish I had 10 more points,” he cracked.

The key to surviving Phoenix and heading to Homestead for the finale with a shot to win it is managing the other drivers clamoring for a clinching victory, Elenz said.

“There’ll be a lot of people trying to go win the race, the 20, the 22...those guys have to win the race,” he said. “You’re going to be careful racing those guys, but we’re going to run well, score stage points, and if the opportunity presents itself to get the win, we want to do that. You have to be careful with the guys that are more desperate than you.”

Having been in this position last year, Elenz compared the 2017 title run with William Byron (who won at Phoenix to advance) to this year’s edition with Reddick.

“Last year we had more race wins and the whole season was probably better on average, but the whole season we’ve put together so far this year is on par with what we did last year, maybe better,” he said. “We have 20 points this year and we had 24 last year, with a lot fewer playoff points to get there, so we’ve definitely done a good job through this round and we have to continue that to get to Homestead.”

As for pressure, Elenz said it is no more than usual.

“We put the pressure on ourselves,” he said. “Tyler and I both had our expectations this year and we probably missed some of them through the middle part of the year. Obviously you want a couple more race wins than you have, but I don’t feel it is any more pressure than we had before. It’s all about getting to Homestead.”

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XFINITY Series Schedule

XFINITY Series Standings

After Ford EcoBoost 300*

Homestead-Miami Speedway | 11/17/2018
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Tyler Reddick (P)40400
2Cole Custer (P)4035-5
3Daniel Hemric (P)4033-7
4Christopher Bell # (P)4026-14
5Elliott Sadler2255-1785
6Matt Tifft2254-1786
7Justin Allgaier2251-1789
14Michael Annett632-3408