The NASCAR XFINITY Series will return to a road course this weekend, taking to the eighth annual Johnsonville 180 (3 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN) at Road America. It will be the third road course race this season over a span of four weeks. With that being said, this likely will be one of the final opportunities during the regular season for these drivers to land in victory lane or get max points with there being no Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers entered this weekend.
Counting this weekend, there’s just four races left in the regular season for these drivers, but the next three all occur during Cup race weekends. With Cup drivers not being eligible to race in the events during the XFINITY Series playoffs, the fields at Darlington, Richmond and Chicagoland will be stacked.
So, this is why this weekend is so important to these drivers. Also, it’s very important to JR Motorsports and their playoff hopes. First off, they hold the top three spots in the overall standings. Elliott Sadler leads teammate William Byron by 110 points and Justin Allgaier by 136. The next closest non JR Motorsports driver in the standings is Brennan Poole in fourth. He’s 186 points behind.
But, like the Cup Series does, the XFINITY Series awards the regular season points champion 15 additional playoff points. For Sadler, that’s his focus now over the remaining four races in the regular season. Last weekend at Bristol, even though he’s yet to win a race this season, he clinched a spot in the playoffs.
But, William Byron has won three times and has accumulated 17 playoff points in the process. Sadler, has just five. Allgaier has eight. So, Sadler would love to hold them off and get 15 additional points himself to give him 20 compared to Byron’s 17 and Allgaier’s eight. If Byron catches him and passes him, Byron would have at least 32 playoff points. Sadler would have five. That makes his championship chances that much harder.
“Road America is a challenging course with a lot of turns and a few elevation changes—it’s the longest track we race on,” Sadler said of this weekend’s race. “We’ve had some good runs at the last two road courses and have room to gamble with the points lead and clinched playoff spot. The fans in Wisconsin are great, it’s a fun atmosphere all weekend long.”
In six XFINITY starts at Road America, the Virginia native has one top-five finish and four top-10 finishes. Sadler’s highest finish of fourth came in 2011. The No. 1 Chevrolet driver has the second highest average finish, being 9.5, among NXS series regulars at Elkhart Lake with more than one start.
Byron, has never raced at Road America before and hoping to lean on Sadler to get used to the track.
“I am ready to get to Road America this weekend,” Byron said via a team release. “This will be my first start at the track, so it will be great to learn a new track and have another road-course race under my belt. I feel like I learned a lot in the first two road-course starts this year and I look forward to going to this one. I know my team will bring a great Liberty University Chevrolet this weekend.”
Allgaier has probably been the best out of any of them on road courses this season, finishing with a top five at Watkins Glen, said that coming off of another top five last Friday night in Bristol has him hoping to carry that momentum through this weekend.
“We’re coming off a strong run at Bristol and I’d really like to continue that momentum into Road America this weekend,” said Allgaier. “This BRANDT Professional Agriculture team has given me some awesome road-course cars this season, and a win has eluded me thus far at Road America so it would great to go there and be there at the end to race for the victory.”
Allgaier has five XFINITY Series starts at Road America, which include one top-five and three top-10 finishes. His best finish of second came back in 2013. The Illinois native nearly won the 2011 race at Road America, but while he was leading, he ran out of fuel on the last lap.
In 19 career XFINITY road course starts, the 31-year-old driver has one win (Montreal, 2012) four top-five and 12 top- 10 finishes. On top of that, Allgaier has led 194 laps in the last 10 events, which is the most amongst series regulars.
On the flipside, the fourth JRM driver in Michael Annett is trying to hold onto a playoff spot himself. He’s 12th among the 12 spots to make it in. A 12th-place run at Bristol last week gave Annett a 50-point cushion over 13th place in the NASCAR Xfinity Series point standings with four races left until the cutoff. The Iowa native has one top-10 finish in four starts at Road America. He finished seventh at the 4.048-mile course in 2011. In two road-course starts this season, Michael Annett has an average finish of 17.5, with a best run of 16th at Watkins Glen.
So, as long as no one new wins over the next four races, Annett should be fine. Also, the other trio of drivers are battling for those coveted 15 playoff points too.