NASCAR Xfinity: championship four set
Daniel Suarez (19) on tack in the Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 12, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR)
By AMANDA VINCENT
The checkered flag on the Ticket Galaxy 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday cemented the identity of the championship four drivers who’ll battle for the 2016 series championship Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The four advancing to the season-finale in the first-ever Xfinity Series chase include Daniel Suarez, Justin Allgaier, Erik Jones and Elliott Sadler.
The highest finisher among the four aforementioned drivers in the Homestead-Miami season-finale will be crowned the 2016 Xfinity Series champion.
All four drivers advanced as a result of their points standings at the conclusion of the round of eight, because all three races that made up the round were won by Sprint Cup Series regulars — two by Kyle Busch, including Saturday’s race at Phoenix, and one by Kyle Larson.
Allgaier and Suarez posted top-five finishes at Phoenix, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
“Hopefully, we can do even better for next week in Homestead, the most important race of the year,” Suarez said.
Jones finished 10th after somewhat overcoming a pit road miscue just before the halfway point of the 200-lap race. Specifically, he overshot his pit stall during a lap 93 yellow flag.
“That’s what we needed to do,” Jones said of his top-10 finish. “We did what we needed to do to advance.”
Sadler finished the race 13th. He’ll have to battle for the championship without regular crew chief Kevin Meendering, though. The No. 1 team was discovered to not have all 20 lug nuts properly installed and secured during post-race inspection for the second-consecutive race weekend. As a result, Meendering is expected to be suspended for Homestead and fined.
Four drivers were eliminated from the chase at the end of the Phoenix Race. Darrell Wallace Jr., Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Reed and Blake Koch saw their championship hopes dashed with their PIR finishes. Gaughan and Wallace’s chase exits were somewhat dramatic as they came as results of wrecks in the second half of the race.
Gaughan made hard contact with the wall to bring out the fifth caution of the race on lap 138. A few laps later, Wallace wrecked as a result of contact from Koch that set off a multi-car wreck that resulted in a more than 10-minute red-flag period for track clean-up.
“That was the most fun I have had all year,” Wallace said. “Just circumstances took us out. It’s just hard.”