The 40-car Xfinity Series field took on the mile and a half track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday in the first race of the playoffs. Prior to the drop of the green flag, AJ Allmendinger was presented with the regular season champion’s trophy for beating out former champion Austin Cindric last week. Leading up to the race, drivers knew they had a challenge ahead of them with temperatures in the upper 90s, and the setting sun creating visual barriers. Even though it was only the first race of the playoffs, drivers were competing as if it were the championship race.
Pre-race looked very similar to most other races this season with no practice or qualifying taking place. The starting lineup for the opening race of the playoffs was determined by the metric familiar to fans and drivers. Starting position was determined as 25% driver’s finishing position from the previous race, 25% owner’s finishing position from the previous race, 35% team owner points, and 15% fastest lap from the previous race. This put reigning champion Austin Cindric on the pole with last week’s winner AJ Allmendinger beside him. The rest of the top-five was filled out by the 7 of Justin Allgaier, the 11 of Justin Haley, and the 20 of Harrison Burton.
All forty cars made it through pre-race tech inspections within two tries, meaning no one was sent to the tail to start. Although Josh Berry was in as a driver replacement for the injured Michael Annett, this was determined before entry lists were released, keeping him from starting at the rear. He would start in the 15th position.
Although last week’s race was known for eventful driver intros, one driver made his appearance in a jaw-dropping way this week. Matt Jaskol, driver of the 66 Toyota, parachuted into the race from 5,000 feet. Outside of racing, Jaskol is a professional skydiver and wanted to make a splash for driver intros. He landed safely and in time to start 34th.
Taking the green flag at 7:49 p.m., it was Cindric on the outside with Allmendinger on the inside. Cindric took an early lead from his competitor, with Allgaier and Haley holding strong behind them. Allgaier got a bit loose on lap 17, allowing Haley to get past him.
The competition caution was thrown at lap 27, with the 6 of Ryan Vargas getting a lap back as the free pass. Most of the leaders stayed out of the pits, except for Allgaier who was getting reports of leaking fluid from his teammate.
The restart once again saw Cindric and Allmendinger on the front row. As they came to green, there was a huge pileup in turn one as the 1 of Berry and 10 of Jeb Burton made contact. 13 drivers were involved, with Burton, Jeremy Clements, and Riley Herbst among the playoff drivers whose days ended early.
The 23 of Blaine Perkins earned the free pass at the caution, with none of the leaders pitting. Allmendinger took the lead at the restart with the 54 of part-timer Ty Gibbs taking second. Allmendinger held off Gibbs and Cindric for the next five laps, earning his tenth stage win of the year. He is the first driver to reach this accomplishment this year.
At the stage break, only the 31 of Ty Dillon and 68 of Brandon Brown stayed out while everyone else pitted. The 18 of Daniel Hemric won the race off pit road as the 9 of Noah Gragson and 39 of Ryan Sieg were penalized and sent to the rear. Gragson for driving through too many pit boxes, and Sieg for equipment interference.
As expected, the 68 of Brown fell quickly on older tires, but Dillion was able to hold onto the lead for quite a while. After trying to make up some ground from his earlier penalty, Sieg spun on lap 54 to bring out another caution. The 19 of Brandon Jones was the only one to pit, as he had a vibration in his right rear tire.
The restart saw Dillon in the lead again, this time with Hemric on his inside. At lap 66, the 7 of Allgaier took the lead from Dillon. Gibbs got into the wall on lap 89, but was able to save it without bringing out a caution. Allgaier held off his competitors to win stage two, with Dillon finishing second.
All lead lap cars pitted at the break to take four fresh tires, with Allgaier winning the race off pit road. Dillon lost a handful of spots after pitting in the wrong box, and Harrison Burton lost a few after a slow stop. The 9 of Gragson was once again penalized and sent to the rear, this time for speeding.
Coming to green, it was Allgaier on the outside and Hemric on the inside. There wasn’t much action in the early laps of the stage until the 11 of Justin Haley was spun by the 02 of Brett Moffitt on lap 121. Haley was able to save the car, and only fell back four positions after pitting with the leaders.
Allgaier once again led the field to green, this time with Gibbs on his inside. Rivals Allmendinger and Cindric were lined up together in row two, with the 22 getting a much better jump. At lap 134, Cindric took the lead from Allgaier, losing it just four laps later. At lap 160, the 1 of Josh Berry came out of nowhere to take the lead from the dominate Allgaier.
Beginning green flag pit stops, the 19 of Brandon Jones came down on lap 175. The 54 was penalized for entering too fast on his green flag stop, sending him to the tail. After holding onto the lead for a few laps, the 11 of Haley was the last to make his stop. Although Berry lost the lead to Allgaier after making his stop, he got it back with just six to go. Holding off Allgaier, Berry earned his first victory in the 1 car, and second of the year for JR Motorsports.
Just like the truck race the night prior, the top positions were all filled out by the same team. With Berry in first, Allgaier second, and Gragson third, JR Motorsports swept the top three spots. Rounding out the top five was Cindric in fourth and Hemric fifth.
After the first race of the playoffs, Jeremy Clements, Riley Herbst, Jeb Burton, and Myatt Snider are below the cut line. With two races to go before the cutoff, these drivers hope to have better days ahead. Race two of the Round of 12 will be next Saturday, October 2nd at 4:30 p.m. at Talladega Superspeedway.
Featured image from @NASCAR_Xfinity on Twitter.