The 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season isn’t halfway there, but six series regulars have already reached victory lane.
With 10 races on the books, 16 races remain before the start of the seven-race playoff series at Texas Motor Speedway on Sept. 24.
Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, Noah Gragson, AJ Allmendinger, Brandon Jones and Josh Berry have secured their provisional playoff tickets. But do they need to worry about over 12 Xfinity regulars winning? Can even six more regulars win? The long answer is, yes, six more can win. The short answer is no.
Of the drivers who have won races so far, Gibbs and Gragson are the only ones to have won multiple races. Gibbs first visited the winner’s circle at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and followed that up with victories at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway. Gragson scored the number one win of the season at Phoenix Raceway (March 12), and two weeks ago he scored his second checkered flag, at Talladega Superspeedway (April 23).
The seasons haven’t been the smoothest for Gibbs, but he’s shown that his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas are up to the task much more often. And Gragson either finishes in the top five or 20th or worse. These guys are poised and ready to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series in 2023. They’ll both be winning plenty more races before the regular season ends.
Then there’s the outlier of the winners so far: Allmendinger. Why is it aberrant? Kaulig Racing was quick but lacked the speed to dominate the races. That’s not unusual for Allmendinger, although in 10 races last season he led just 99 laps compared to 137 this season.
Compared to JGR and JR Motorsports, Kaulig is a step back, but a close step. On the other hand, Allmendinger has finished in the top 10 of 10 races so far. No one else has more than seven.
That leaves Hill, Jones, and Berry. Hill’s victory at Daytona International Speedway is no accident. He will earn more in his career. But after leaving the Circuit of the Americas after a second consecutive second place finish, Hill and his No. 21 Richard Childress Racing team have more or less been at the back of the leading teams.
Jones’ season has had its ups and downs, but he has Toyota power under the hood. He looks more confident, similar to himself in 2020. Then there’s Berry, the latest winner from last weekend at Dover International Speedway. JRM has looked strong at every race this season with at least one driver, with Berry quietly the most consistent. Bad luck at Atlanta and Martinsville Speedway prevented him from scoring two more top 10s in addition to the five he has.
Gibbs, Gragson, Allmendinger, Jones and Berry have strong potential to win again, with Hill potentially winning if the team regroups after a bit of a slump.
As for the leading drivers who did not win, their chances of qualifying for the playoffs diminish as the race progresses. Justin Allgaier, Sam Mayer, Riley Herbst, Landon Cassill, Daniel Hemric and Sheldon Creed are the six remaining Central Team drivers up for grabs. And I didn’t mention Ryan Sieg, who sits convincingly eighth in points and 45 points above the cut line.
It may come as a surprise, but Allgaier is the only true lock to win a race out of this group. It may seem harsh for the rest, but experience and excellent equipment are on his side. Yes, his JRM teammate Mayer is knocking on the door for his first career win, but he doesn’t have the plethora of experiences, good and bad, to draw from like Allgaier. Allgaier has 16 wins. Mayer has 28 career starts.
Allgaier has solid opportunities ahead of July 4. Darlington Raceway is where he won most recently, and Portland International Raceway is similar to Watkins Glen International, which is his best road course among those on which he has more than two starts. Portland has long straights and a technical complex, much like The Glen. Next, the 1.333-mile concrete Nashville Superspeedway is two weeks past Portland, and Allgaier loves concrete tracks.
Mayer and his team need to weed out the mistakes if they’re going to visit victory lane this season heading into the playoffs. The team has speed. Like him, his three teammates ran ahead and showed their ability to maneuver easily on the pitch. Now he has to qualify well and stay ahead.
Allmendinger’s teammates at Kaulig, Cassill and Hemric, occupy the 11th and 12th points respectively. Their biggest problem was not speed, but mechanical breakdowns and bad luck. When you subtract a blown engine at Auto Club Speedway and a broken gear at COTA, Cassill has eight top 15s and five top 10s. Crashes at Daytona, Atlanta and Talladega left Hemric out of the loop, then add to that a poor performance at COTA.
Like Allmendinger, Cassill and Hemric showed speed but are close behind JGR and JRM.
The final two favorites are Herbst and Creed. Herbst improved his points position year-over-year by six, from 15th to 9th. His end position has improved dramatically, but he’s still missing that last piece or that timely strategic call to work in his favor. As for Creed, he’s 14th in points and is having a more or less disappointing rookie outing in the RCR’s No. 2 Chevy.
Sieg and his RSS Racing team are prime candidates for the Most Improved Driver and Team. At Dover he had to start at the back of the field, but at the end of the race he was 10th. Sieg has scored seven top 10s, already matching his 2021 totals. RSS aren’t a very successful team, but Sieg have proven themselves to be the best midfield team, if nothing else.
Will there be six more Xfinity regulars to pick up a win before the regular season ends? It is doubtful. Considering how strong Gibbs and Gragson have shown, they could easily pull off three more wins apiece. Before you even get to the playoffs, there are four more road courses. I think you can write Allmendinger for three, if not all four of those wins. That’s 10 of the remaining 16 races that went like this.
Allgaier is going to win – there’s no doubt about it. But the others are hard to say. And that’s not even taking into account the possibility of a Cup or Camping World Truck Series regular coming in and winning a race. Oh, and by the way, what if a late-race warning allows a team to put on a set of new tyres? What if they arrive and win? What if Our Motorsports or another midfield team steals the win?
Pencil in 10 of the next 16 races as wins for Gibbs, Gragson or Allmendinger. The other six are anyone’s guess, but there will be multiple drivers who make the playoffs based on points. With the way the points are shaking for Sieg and drivers on the cut line like Cassill, Hemric, Creed and even Anthony Alfredo and Brandon Brown, it’s almost as exciting to watch their point totals fluctuate each week as it is to have positions available in the playoffs. thanks to the victory of a new driver.
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