By Nick Lewis
Next weekend a new Xfinity Series champion will be crowned for the first time at Phoenix Raceway.
For the last 20 years the NASCAR Championship weekend was held at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. At the conclusion of the race at Martinsville, Justin Allgaier, Austin Cindric, and Justin Haley all made it in on points after Harrison Burton’s back-to-back wins and joined Chase Briscoe in the Championship 4.
Last year, the Championship 4 consisted of the “Big 3” of Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, and Christopher Bell alongside Justin Allgaier.
With the “Big 3” moving up to the Cup Series at the end of last year Justin Allgaier is the driver who was in the Championship 4 last season. Allgaier has raced in the Championship 4 four times since the format was introduced to the series in 2016.
Allgaier is looking forward to the race at Phoenix Raceway because he has had success there in the past.
Allgaier has finished all of the laps but three in his career, has two wins and has an average finish of 8.8. His last win at the track came last fall which punched his ticket to the 2019 Championship 4.
Allgaier said that he was proud of the effort of his teammate Noah Gragson and the No. 9 crew even though they didn’t advance.
“We have such a good dynamic of race car drivers at our shop right now” said Allgaier. “Albeit we’ve had our challenges, I feel like we’re in the best place we’ve ever been. All of our drivers right now have been getting along well and helping to push each other forward and I think that’s what it’s going to take not only next week but all season next year.”
Austin Cindric is representing Team Penske in his first opportunity to win and Xfinity Series title. Cindric, who is wrapping up his third full time season next week, has won five races this season on his journey to the Championship 4 at Phoenix.
This is also Team Penske’s first opportunity to win the drivers’ championship in the playoff format. Team Penske has been a contender and won the owners championships in 2015 and 2017.
Cindric has said that he’s felt like he had to points race the entire playoffs but said that he believes that he’s going to have to be prepared to win the race.
In his five starts at Phoenix, Cindric does not have any wins, but he has a career best fourth which he earned in the fall of 2018. After his first start at the track, he has accumulated four straight top-10 finishes and heads into this weekend looking to seal the deal and the championship.
“I think we have to go there prepared to win the race,” said Cindric. “I feel like that’s what I expect out of my competitors, I expect those guys to win the race next week. For us to win a championship we’re going to have to do that.”
Justin Haley is representing Kaulig Racing in it’s first Championship 4 since the team joined the sport in 2016. In his second full-time season the three-time series winner is looking to add a title to the successful season the Kaulig organization has had.
Haley’s teammate Ross Chastain was eliminated from the playoffs at the conclusion at the race in Martinsville.
Haley said that he is confident in his team heading into Phoenix citing a fifth place finish he earned there in the spring. He said that he believes in Kaulig Racing’s short track program saying his car was fast at Martinsville before the engine had issues.
In his three career starts at Phoenix, Haley has two top-10 finishes his last two starts at the track.
“I feel like I’ve been really good at Phoenix, I’ve run well there and Kaulig has gotten better at Phoenix,” said Haley.
“I feel like we can put everything together this week. It’s a long flight out and a long flight back so if we don’t run well at Phoenix it’s going to be a really long flight home.”