Noah Gragson wasn’t a lock in the Playoffs until this past weekend at Darlington Raceway, where he won his first race of the 2021 season only a few days after announcing that he would be returning to JR Motorsports in 2022.
Gragson, who was sitting above the Playoff cutline in ninth, has now officially punched his ticket to the postseason which means that there are only three spots up for grabs in the 12-driver field.
The win marked the third of Gragson’s career as he took the checkered flag on Lap 152 at the end of the only overtime attempt.
Harrison Burton, who locked himself into the Playoffs two weekends ago on points, finished runner-up to Gragson and Austin Cindric finished third. Justin Haley, Jeb Burton, Justin Allgaier, Tyler Reddick, Jeremy Clements, Myatt Snider and Alex Labbe rounded out the top 10.
Brandon Jones, one of the drivers fighting for a spot in the Playoff field, struggled at Darlington early and ended up finished 33rd. He was the lowest finishing driver in the Playoff picture.
This weekend, the series heads to Richmond Raceway for the Go Bowling 250 on Saturday, September 11 at 2:30 p.m. ET to kick off a doubleheader on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
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The race will be 187.5 miles (250 laps) and will be broken up into three stages. Stage 1 will end on Lap 75 and Stage 2 will end on Lap 150.
This weekend’s starting lineup was decided by Metric Qualifying and as a result Austin Cindric will lead the field to green on Saturday with Harrison Burton joining him on the front row. Gragson will start third with Haley and Allgaier rounding out the top-five starting positions.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Go Bowling 250
The Place: Richmond Raceway
The Date: Saturday, September 11
The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 187.5 miles (250 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 75),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 150), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 250)
Looking Back: Richmond By The Numbers
Last season, the NASCAR Xfinity Series visited Richmond Raceway twice and Justin Allgaier swept both races at the .750-mile track for JR Motorsports and this weekend is looking to become just the third driver is series history to win three consecutive races at Richmond; joining Harry Gant (1991 sweep, 1992 spring and Kevin Harvick (2005 fall, 2006 sweep).
This weekend marks the first visit to the Virginia track for the series in 2021 and the 75th race in NASCAR Xfinity Series history at the three-quarters-mile track.
The previous 74 Xfinity Series races at Richmond have produced 39 different pole winner and 36 different race winners. Kyle Busch holds the record for the youngest pole winner in 2004 at 19 years, 0 months, 12 days. Harry Gant holds the record as the oldest pole winner at 48 years, 8 months, 0 days in 1988. Both Kyle Busch and Gant also hold the records for the youngest winner (Busch in 2004) and the oldest winner (Gant was 52 in 1992). Only 15 races in history have been won from the pole or first starting position, most recently it was done by Christopher Bell in 2018.
In the last Xfinity race at Richmond in 2020, there were 36 cars entered in the race and 33 of them were running at the finish. Fourteen cars finished on the lead lap. There were nine lead changes, six different leaders and five cautions for 29 laps. Allgaier, the race winner, led 135 laps and the margin of victory was 2.185 seconds.
Back Again: Dale Earnhardt Jr. comes out of the TV booth to go racing in Richmond
It’s that time of year again as Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets back behind the wheel of a racecar to compete in one NASCAR Xfinity Series event. Earnhardt, who is an analyst in the NBC booth, retired from fulltime racing in 2017.
Earnhardt has returned for one race a season, piloting a Chevrolet from his own JR Motorsports camp, since 2018. In 2018, he ran at Richmond Raceway and in 2019, he ran at Darlington Raceway. Last season, he ran at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion has 142 series starts with 24 wins, 70 top fives, 94 top 10s and 10 poles. His most recent win in the series was in 2016 at Richmond.
Richmond has been a good place to Earnhardt. In his eight Xfinity Series starts at the track, he has four wins, six top fives and seven top 10s. He led 829 laps and has an average finish of 6.4.
To recognize the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet will recognize those lost during the attacks with a special United for America paint scheme with long-time partner Unilever. The scheme will mirror the 9/11 Memorial and Museum’s Tribute in Light, a powerful tradition that began in 2002 in New York. From dawn to dusk, twin beams extend four miles into the sky above Manhattan, reflecting the shape and orientation of the Twin Towers.
The No. 8’s blue and white scheme will feature four spotlights each representing the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the Flight 92 Memorial site.
Intense Battle for Xfinity Series’ Regular Season Championship
With Team Penske’s Austin Cindric finishing 39th at Daytona two weekends ago and Kaulig Racing’s AJ Allmendinger finishing runner-up, the battle for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Regular Season Championship tightened. However, last weekend at Darlington Raceway it got even closer when Cindric took advantage of Allmendinger’s late-race issue and closed the points gap to just one point with only two races remaining in the regular season – Cindric finished third while Allmendinger finished 20th. Now only two races are left for one of them to lock up the Regular Season Championship and the 15 additional Playoff points that go along with it.
Prior to losing the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings lead two weekends ago at Daytona, Austin Cindric had held the No. 1 spot all season long. Cindric won the Regular Season Championship last season and is looking to become the first driver to win multiple regular season titles.
|Regular Season Champions|
Allmendinger only has one Xfinity Series start at Richmond from 2007. He started 12th and finished 14th. Cindric, however, has six starts at Richmond since 2018 and has posted four top fives, including two runner-up finishes, and five top 10s. His average start is 6.5 and average finish is 6.0.
Clinch Scenarios: Time is running out in the regular season
With just two races remaining in the NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season, three Playoff positions are still up for grabs, as nine drivers have secured their spot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series postseason heading into this weekend’s race at Richmond Raceway.
The following nine drivers have clinched a spot in the 12-driver postseason field: AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Harrison Burton, Justin Haley, Noah Gragson, Jeb Burton, Myatt Snider.
Can Clinch Via Points
If there is a repeat winner or a win by a driver who cannot advance to the Playoffs, the following drivers could clinch by being 56 points above the fifth winless driver in the standings. The same point requirements listed below would hold true if a new win comes from among Daniel Hemric, Harrison Burton, Jeremy Clements or Brandon Jones.
- Jeremy Clements: Could only clinch with help
- Brandon Jones: Could only clinch with help
If there is a new winner from Riley Herbst or another winless driver lower in the standings but still eligible to advance to the playoffs, the following drivers could clinch by being 56 points above the 4th winless driver in the standings. Jeremy Clements: Could only clinch with help.
Can Clinch Via Win
The following drivers would clinch on their win alone: Jeremy Clements, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst, Ryan Sieg, Brandon Brown.
The following drivers could clinch with a win and with help: Tommy Joe Martins, Josh Williams, Landon Cassill and Alex Labbe.
Can Clinch Regular Season Championship
Additionally, the Regular Season Championship could be clinched by the following drivers:
AJ Allmendinger: Could only clinch with help
NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs Standings Post-Darlington-2:
|Rank||Driver||Points||Starts||Race Wins||Stage Wins||Playoff Pts||Pts From Cutoff|
|1||Austin Cindric||954||24||5||9||34||In On Wins|
|8||Daniel Hemric||808||24||0||6||6||Clinched on Points|
|9||Harrison Burton||799||24||0||2||2||Clinched on Points|
With Noah Gragson’s win last weekend to punch his way into the Playoffs, there are only three spots up for grabs. They are currently occupied by Jeremy Clements, Brandon Jones and Riley Herbst.
AJ Allmendinger took over the points standings from Austin Cindric, who led the way most of the season, after his runner-up finish at Daytona International Speedway two weekends ago. Cindric finished 39th at Daytona after being involved in a wreck early in the race, while Allmendinger finished runner-up. However, Cindric was able to fight back and make it only a one-point difference after his third-place finish at Darlington last weekend while Allmendinger ran into some late-race issues.
Manufacturer standings outlook after Darlington
As we take a look at the Playoffs standings, with another win to their name, Chevrolet holds the lead for the manufacturer’s championship, too.
Chevrolet has 10 wins and 882 points while Toyota has nine wins and 860 points, 22 points behind Chevrolet. Ford had five wins and 798 points.
Keeping an eye on the rookie class
Ty Gibbs and Josh Berry have been the stars of the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie class. The two drivers, who have competed part-time in the series, have gone back and forth with the lead since the start of the season.
Currently, up-and-coming driver Ty Gibbs has eight awards and 447, holding the lead on Berry in second place with 435 points and six awards. Both Gibbs and Berry are entered this weekend at Richmond Raceway.
Gibbs has made 12 starts this season and has three wins, eight top fives, eight top 10s and one pole award.
Berry has run in 17 of 24 races this season and has one win, five top fives and 10 top 10s.
Ryan Vargas is in third in the rookie standings with four awards, Jade Buford is in fourth and Sam Mayer is in fifth. Every driver in the rookie standings has won at least one award throughout the season.
|Sunoco Rookie of the Year|
NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.
Ogata making second career start at Richmond: Akinori Ogata will make his second career Xfinity Series start at Richmond Raceway on Saturday in the No. 52 Jimmy Means Racing Chevrolet. Ogata has competed in three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races this season for Reaume Brothers Racing and his best finish was earlier this season at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 28th. In 2018, he made a start for MBM Motorsports and finished 33rd. This will be his first start since then. Ogata is the only driver from Japan to make a start in the NASCAR Xfinity Series all-time.