Five things to watch for in Xfinity playoff opener at Kentucky
Twelve drivers kick off the battle for the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in Saturday night’s race at Kentucky Speedway.
The first round of the playoffs is made up of three races – Kentucky, Dover and Charlotte. The four drivers lowest in points without a win will be eliminated from title contention following the Charlotte race.
Here are five things to watch in Saturday’s race:
JR Motorsports enters the Xfinity playoffs with the odds in its favor as its drivers (William Byron, Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Michael Annett) make up a third of the playoff field. Byron and Allgaier both won races during the year and Sadler was the regular-season champion. Annett made the field based on points. JR Motorsports last won an Xfinity title in 2014 with current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Elliott.
A slew of part-time drivers will make an appearance at Kentucky thanks to Saturday being a standalone event and the limits on Cup driver participation. Ben Kennedy and Brian Scott will be driving for Richard Childress Racing; Kyle Benjamin and Ryan Preece will compete for Joe Gibbs Racing; Sam Hornish Jr. will compete for Team Penske; and Tyler Reddick will compete for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Since the Xfinity Series adapted the playoff system in 2016, rookies have been regular contenders for the series title. This season, four rookies have qualified for the playoffs – Byron, Cole Custer, Matt Tifft and Daniel Hemric. Last season three rookies made it – Erik Jones, Brandon Jones and Brennan Poole. Jones was the only one to advance to the championship race last season and finished fourth in the series standings.
Preece is making the most of his limited schedule with JGR this season. In his first race at New Hampshire, he started sixth and finished second. At Iowa in July, he won the pole and earned his first series victory. “I’m going to sure give it everything I have for every driver out there that is knocking at every door to try and get this opportunity,” Preece said.
This is the final season of Kentucky hosting a standalone Xfinity Series race. The race will move to Las Vegas Motor Speedway next season as part of its recently acquired second NASCAR weekend, which will feature a tripleheader weekend of Cup, Xfinity and Trucks next September.
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Tyler Reddick dominates at Kentucky, earning first Xfinity win