5 things to pay attention to after 5 races

The 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series season has five races.

Overall, there are 28 races left in the season and only 21 more to go before the start of the playoffs. There are plenty of races left, and by no means have the best moments of the season already happened. Key items have appeared across five races that will be worth keeping an eye on as the races wind down.

Here are five points to keep in mind as the season progresses. Four of the points will have implications throughout the season in one way or another. However, the fifth point is one to keep in mind because he is a potential future full-time competitor. Let’s go ahead and start with that point, and it’s about Trevor Bayne.

1.Trevor Bayne

Before his first start in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at Auto Club Speedway in February, Bayne shared that this opportunity felt like a “reset,” with the goal of returning to racing full-time on a trip from Xfinity. Although he has yet to win a race, everyone is aware of his presence.

At Auto Club, Bayne qualified fourth and won the first stage before finishing third overall. Returning to the track at Phoenix Raceway, Bayne earned the pole and was victorious again in the first stage of the race. He finished fourth in the second stage but suffered a setback before the final stage. Bayne sped up pit road, sending him to the back of the field as the race restarted.

Unfortunately for Bayne, the race was green the rest of the way, but he worked his way back up to the top five and finished fourth. It’s hard to argue that it wasn’t an impressive performance.

In his third event, Bayne was once again out front for most of the race, but crashed on lap 154 ​​in what was Atlanta Motor Speedway’s first ‘Big One’ in its new configuration. He continued but finished 28th after leading 38 laps.

For many, when they hear the name Trevor Bayne, the term “also ran” comes to mind. His poor performances in his three full-time seasons with Roush Fenway Racing (now RFK Racing) dwarf his victory in the 2011 Daytona 500 in his second career start. But his bad stats aren’t entirely his fault. Roush struggled a lot during this period, but like a quarterback or head coach in football, the manager will always bear the brunt of the blame, no matter what.

Atlanta was not one of the seven tracks initially listed for Bayne to start this season. It was added after the fact. So Bayne has five more chances to shine and prove he’s worthy of being considered for a full-time ride. The Xfinity Series would only benefit from having another experienced driver like AJ Allmendinger in the field. From what Bayne has shown so far in one of the best cars in the field, he’s capable of winning races and contending for championships.

2.Ryan Sieg

After back-to-back playoff appearances in 2019 and 2020 for Ryan Sieg, 2021 was a struggle, and that’s putting it lightly. Sieg’s 2020 was a career year, scoring a career-high seven top-five finishes. He also scored 11 top-10s that season, one short of his career high in 2019.

In 2021, Sieg posted just two top-five finishes and seven top-10 finishes, but the year was also a transition season from Chevrolet to Ford. So far in 2022, Sieg has three top 10 finishes and his other two finishes are 11 and 36. 11 was at Phoenix, where he put in a strong fourth qualifying effort, and 36 at Las Vegas was a DNF following his redemption attempt against Ty Gibbs.

Barring Las Vegas, Sieg has quietly been the best of the mid-package entries. At Auto Club, she averaged a 13th-place race position and posted a 10th-place finish amid the chaos of late race restarts. At Phoenix, Sieg averaged a top-10 race position during the race. Sieg is a lot like her 2020 self, where she was often in the top 10 on intermediate courts and was the best of midfield.

Atlanta was heartbreaking for Sieg as he took the white flag as the lead. The eventual winner, Gibbs, had such a head of steam, and Sieg was too far ahead and too slow to block the race. Caught in the middle, he again finished in 10th place. The first storybook win of his Xfinity career at his home track was not to be.

Sieg’s time draws near. He has proven to be a smart sprinter over the years and lucky for him, there are four more sprint races left in 2022 and three before the start of the playoffs. Whether he wins or not, if Sieg maintains the top 10 performances, which currently seems to be trending for him, he’ll be able to make the playoffs, as long as there aren’t 12 or more different winners.

3. The playoff battle in midfield

Speaking of midfield, apart from Sieg, none of the cars in the middle of the pack are arguing to be considered for a win, let alone a chance to target their way to the playoffs. Yes, the season is young, but while Sieg is drawing attention to himself, others at his level are not up to par with his performances.

The midfield faces the following problem: the leading teams are made up of 12 drivers and there are only 12 places available in the playoffs. After five races, Gibbs, Noah Gragson and Austin Hill are locked into the playoffs, and the man in midfield lamenting his missed chance at a ticket is Anthony Alfredo.

Alfredo’s team planned a strategy to save a set of new tires for the end of the race at the Auto Club. Whatever the reason, too many restarts, poor lane selection or otherwise, Alfredo missed his golden opportunity to park his Our Motorsports Chevrolet in victory lane and earn a provisional playoff berth.

If a midfield team wants to make the playoffs, they need to limit missed opportunities like Alfredo’s. And the lost opportunity does not have to be a victory either. It can just be a top five when stronger teams and other midfielders are having bad days. Or when the opportunity to devise a strategy presents itself, execute it effectively.

A win is a team’s safest bet to make the playoffs, but being in the top 10 in points is also a safe bet. That way, he’s added insurance if there are winners outside the top 12 in points after the regular season concludes. As mentioned above, the problem is that there are 12 drivers in the top. With Gibbs, Gragson and Hill already having victories, nine capable leading teams remain winless.

Allmendinger, Justin Allgaier and Josh Berry could well score for a win or two each, leaving Brandon Jones, Daniel Hemric, Riley Herbst, Landon Cassill, Sheldon Creed and Sam Mayer as the remaining six favorites who may or may not pick up a win. to earn. All of these drivers are capable of winning, which further increases the pressure for the midfield teams to perform at the highest level. So will it take a win for a midfielder to make the playoffs? The safe bet is yes, because the depth of the teams ahead is too strong to bet on pointing their way to the playoffs.

4. JR Motoring

There’s little to argue about who has improved the most year-to-date in the Xfinity Series. Through five races in 2021, JR Motorsports had just one driver, Allgaier, in the top 12 in points. Gragson had four finishes of 28 or worse, while Allgaier had a top-10 finish with three finishes of 28 or worse. Michael Annett was, on paper, the most consistent driver, but Berry was the most impressive, having just four starts in the first five races last year.

This year, JR Motorsports has four full-time drivers and all four are in the top 13 in points. Gragson has the team’s only win, leads the points and was on a streak of top-three finishes to start the season before a crash in Atlanta ended the excellent start.

Allgaier’s biggest flaw right now is qualifying. In the first four races of the season, he failed to crack the top 15. Starting deeper in the field opens you up to more vulnerable situations and gives you less time to properly work on your clean air racing car.

Berry has once again been the face of consistency. Sam Mayer is the JRM driver who fights the most, but fighting is a vague term because he has shown speed. The biggest blow to Mayer and his team is that they need to clean up pit road penalties. If they can stay ahead, they’ll end up there too.

As the only four-car team among the favorites, it’s hard to make direct comparisons, but pound for pound, JRM has been the strong face at Xfinity so far this season. In Saturday’s (March 19) race at Atlanta, JRM finished 1-2-3-4 in Stage 1, a significant display of both driver talent and strength. After five races, I’ve seen enough to believe Allgaier, Berry and Mayer will join Gragson in the playoffs by virtue of a win.

5. Who is the Fourth?

At the top of the standings sit Gibbs with two wins, Gragson with one win and Allmendinger, the only Xfinity driver to finish in the top 10 in all five races. Before the season, many pointed to Gibbs and Allmendinger as the two drivers to beat in 2022. Gragson’s performance hasn’t been too impressive, but it has been historic.

Who’s the next driver to break away from the pack to mark their status as “someone to watch”?

The experienced Allgaier is the safe bet, and defending champion Hemric has had flashes of speed with his new team, Kaulig Racing, but has yet to show winning speed. Berry and Jones have quietly cracked the top six in points with consistent high points days … when running at the finish line.

Of course there are the new faces in new places with Cassill, Creed and Hill. Hill has a win but he doesn’t yell “Championship 4” at me. As for Creed, his biggest need is to establish himself and find a way to have a quiet day in the top 10. Then there’s Cassill, who, after a rocky start to the season, quietly posted three consecutive top-10 finishes, something he hadn’t done since he was with JR Motorsports in 2008.

While Allgaier is a safe pick and Cassill may be the sentimental one, I’m going with Berry as the driver to make a statement. After this weekend at the Circuit of the Americas, the next five races will be Richmond Raceway, Martinsville Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Dover Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway. Berry performs well on short tracks and had excellent performances at Talladega, Dover and Darlington last season. By mid-May, Berry may be a multi-race winner.

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