Playoff Primer: Allgaier, Gragson in Round of 8 as Drivers; Three Cars Alive in Owner Battle

Ron Lemasters | 10/14/2021

Justin Allgaier News Noah Gragson Playoffs XFINITY Series

The Round of 8 begins this week at Texas as JRM continues its quest for both the driver and owner championship.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 14, 2021) – The NASCAR Xfinity Series is one step closer to crowning its 2021 champions, and JR Motorsports will have a hand in determining who wins them.

Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson are in the Round of 8 among drivers, and both are currently in the Championship 4 per the standings. In addition, both the No. 7 and No. 9 teams are in the owner's race as well, along with the No. 1 team, giving JRM three chances at the team crown.

It could have been four teams in the owner's playoffs had Sam Mayer's stirring drive for the win come to fruition last week on the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but the young driver missed the backstretch chicane in the waning laps and dropped from third to 10th in the order in the team's No. 8 Chevrolet.

The magic at JRM that has produced three championships in the past seven seasons is still strong, and the opportunity for a fourth NXS title is within reach.

Allgaier, who will drive a Hellmann's/Sam's Club-sponsored Chevrolet this weekend, has been on a good roll at Texas, with a pair of top-three results sandwiched around a 26th-place finish after getting crowded into a crash in the latter stages last season. He was runner-up in the first race at Texas earlier this season, trailing only Kyle Busch over the final segment.

Crew chief Jason Burdett is looking at the opening race and the middle race—both on 1.5-mile tracks—as the launch point for the Round of 8.

"We have had fairly good momentum into the first round," Burdett said. "The Roval didn't go maybe the way we had hoped, but we also were able to come back and make a solid top-10 day out of it, so that was good. Now we have to refocus on two 1.5-mile tracks in Texas and Kansas back-to-back. We've had decent speed on those tracks this year and Texas has been a solid place for us the last three or four trips. We've had really good cars and hope to go there with the same speed we've had.

"Kansas is a place we struggle a little bit. A lot of the tracks where you run on the fence to make a lot of speed, we seem to struggle to make a lot of speed at places like Homestead and Darlington. It's kind of hit or miss for us, whether it's the package we have or the feel that he needs to go run the fence and make speed, we haven't really been consistent with it."

Of course, a victory at either Texas or Kansas punches the No. 7's ticket to the Championship 4, and Allgaier's recent performances at Texas put that solidly in play. Mainly, Burdett said, it's about being consistent.

"Hopefully, we'll go down to Texas and unload with the same kind of speed we've had there and have a good solid day," Burdett said. "If we win, that takes the pressure off of everything, but if we run in the top five in the stages and get a solid finish in the top five, that takes a little pressure off of Kansas. We can then go there and run for the solid top five or top 10, and that keeps you in the game going to Martinsville, gives you an opportunity."

Gragson might enter this weekend's race thinking that Texas' oval owes him one. The young driver was a corner away from a victory that would have propelled him to the Championship 4 in this race last season and led entering Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag. Harrison Burton had run him down over the final five laps and took advantage when Gragson's Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/Black Rifle Coffee Chevrolet slipped up just a little out of the groove. That opened a hole and Burton swept past for the victory.

While a win is the preferred outcome, crew chief Dave Elenz says victory is always the goal in the Round of 8.

"The plan is to win," Elenz said. "We feel good about Texas and the speed we've had there in the past and feel good about where our car's at on the intermediate tracks. We feel like we can go win this week at Texas. We'll take what we've got; if it's a third-place car, that's what we've got to do. For sure, we need top fives for the next three weeks. If the opportunity presents itself, we feel like we can win and that's what we need to do."

Elenz said that the Round of 8 was the round he and his team were looking for because the mix of tracks is in the No. 9 team's favor.

"They're all strong tracks for us," he said. "We got wrecked while leading last year at Kansas. Whether it's at the top or the bottom at Kansas, I feel like we'll be strong there, maybe a little bit weaker than Texas but for sure we'll be strong there as well. This is the round we want."

Martinsville is the cutoff race for the Championship 4, and Elenz is confident his driver is up to the challenge. "We were third and then second at Martinsville, and this year, hopefully first. [Gragson] has been good, and hopefully we don't have to race for points at Martinsville."

The No. 1 team of Michael Annett, wearing Allstate Peterbilt Group 50th Anniversary colors this weekend, is on to the Round of 8 in the owner's championship with a mission: take it one race at a time. Crew chief Mike Bumgarner said entering the cutoff race at the Roval that he and his team would take that strategy and try to maximize their stage points and finishes.

Annett was on the way to a decent finish last week at the Roval when he got cleaned out heading to the backstretch chicane and wound up 27th in his return to the cockpit following leg surgery. Annett finished 10th in the spring at Texas, making a late pit stop to handle a persistent tight condition on the 1.5-mile oval and rallying from 18th in the final 49 laps.

"I think another week for Michael to get his feet back under him will be good," Bumgarner said. "Historically, JR Motorsports has been good at Texas, and we had a decent run there in the summer. Hopefully we can be a little bit better this time there."

Sitting eighth in the owner's standing means there isn't any wiggle room if the team hopes to advance, and Bumgarner has tailored his strategy with that in mind. "Texas and Kansas, you just have to have speed to get stage points at the beginning of the race," he said. "Starting in the top 10, we have a real good shot at getting those stage points. If we can just keep our nose clean and run our race, I feel like we've had speed. If we can put all that together, we'll be fine."

Bumgarner pointed out that everyone else involved in the driver's and owner's championship is going to be in the same boat.

"We're going to try to maximize points, but so is everybody else in the owner's championship," he said. "The question is, you're going to have guys that aren't racing for points. If something happens and you're on the tail end of that group, you're going to get yourself in trouble later in the race because you're behind those cars. You have to be mindful. If the opportunity presents itself for us to take a chance, we have nothing to lose. We're the furthest out and we don't that have many bonus points like the other guys do and to get to that final four, we have to do something pretty drastic, whether it's a win or just ways of trying to maximize all those points is what we're going to have to try to do."

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • October 30 06:00 PM ET
    Dead On Tools 250Martinsville Speedway
  • November 6 08:30 PM ET
    NXS ChampionshipPhoenix Raceway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Kansas Lottery 300

Kansas Speedway | 10/23/2021
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Austin Cindric (P)31390
2AJ Allmendinger (P)31390
3Justin Allgaier (P)3101-38
4Daniel Hemric (P)3099-40
5Justin Haley (P)3092-47
6Noah Gragson (P)3075-64
7Brandon Jones (P)3059-80
15Michael Annett603-2536
27Sam Mayer #281-2858