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All 8 spots still up for grabs in Xfinity, trucks

All 8 spots still up for grabs in Xfinity, trucks

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APTOPIX NASCAR Xfinity Daytona Auto Racing (copy)

Justin Haley celebrates after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona on Aug. 28. Haley is the first driver below the playoff cutline.

Nobody’s in yet.

The 16 drivers still competing for championships in the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series all enter Saturday’s Martinsville Speedway doubleheader with more work to do – some more than others.

Here’s a look at what’s at stake in the penultimate races of the season in each series, which will set the Championship 4s for Phoenix:

Xfinity

Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger should feel pretty comfortable entering the 6 p.m. Dead On Tools 250. They’re each 47 points above the championship cutline and can advance to the final round with just 15 points at Martinsville.

Then it gets interesting, with Justin Allgaier (+9 above the cutline) and Daniel Hemric (+7) having a tenuous grasp on the final two positions. Justin Haley (-7) is the primary challenger, followed by Noah Gragson (-24), Brandon Jones (-40) and Harrison Burton (-51).

“We just can’t have any mistakes,” Haley said. “Obviously seven below isn’t impossible, but it’s going to be hard.

“I feel like a lot of the other drivers, they kind of get a mindset in the playoffs where they have to win or they have to go out there and do something spectacular, and you honestly don’t. You just have to kind of survive. You have to run well, but you don’t have to do anything crazy.”

Collecting stage points will be vital to Haley and the two drivers he’s trying to overtake on points, which should make for interesting racing throughout.

Burton is in a virtual must-win position and likely will have a different strategy than the others.

“Stage points for us don’t matter,” said Burton, who became the youngest Martinsville winner ever in the Xfinity Series when he took the checkered flag last fall. “What does winning a stage mean to us? Nothing really. So it’s all about the last lap. Whatever we can do to position ourselves to win, that’s what we’ll do.

“It helps. You have free track position built into every pit stop if you do it right, or if the cars fall that way. You just have the freedom to do whatever is best for your team at the end of the race. ... There’s no hesitation. It’s always what’s going to give us the best finishing position. Keeping track position is a lot easier than getting it.”

It’s never easy to hold, though, near the end of a race at this half-mile oval. Expect plenty of contact in the closing laps, even from those without title hopes.

“The playoff drivers this year, I feel like we have a lot of respect for each other,” Haley said. “I worry about the non-playoff drivers. They’ve been quite aggressive lately, and that’s worrisome. They don’t have anything to lose, and we have everything to lose.”

Trucks

The doubleheader begins at 1 p.m. with the United Rentals 200. John Hunter Nemechek (+36) and Ben Rhodes (+35) are in the best position to advance.

With Chandler Smith (-34), Carson Hocevar (-37) and Zane Smith (-40) feeling immense pressure to win the race, the points battle is among Matt Crafton (+10), Sheldon Creed (+5) and Stewart Friesen (-5).

“I’ve always said top-fives pay the bills, but we need to be in the top five in the stages — if not win a stage — to get manageable stage points,” Friesen said. “The playoffs are all about running up front and winning. We’ve been close.”

Friesen expects his crew chief to apprise him throughout the race about where Crafton and Creed are running, but he’ll be focused on his own performance.

“Anything can happen in the Truck Series,” he said. “I’ve lost races in the 11th hour. I’m optimistic about it. I feel like I can go out there and try to keep my emotions in check all race long and not get excited if something happens in the first or second stage.

“Then if we’ve got to drop the plow at the end and start putting the elbows up, that’s what we’ll do.”

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