Xfinity drivers eye Chase spots with Iowa win
NEWTON, Iowa (AP) Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Elliott Sadler are guaranteed spots in the NASCAR Xfinity Chase - as long as they start each of next nine races.
The rest of the series contenders need at least one win to ensure a playoff berth, which is why Saturday's stand-alone race in Iowa is so big for all of them.
Brad Keselowski is the only Sprint Cup regular in the field, so there might not be a better chance for a winless driver to grab a victory that would all but lock up a Chase bid. There are nine Xfinity drivers who would earn a playoff spot with a win at Iowa Speedway.
''Definitely with not a lot of Cup guys in the field ... it's an even better opportunity for us. We've got a bunch of new guys and new cars. But we still have the last race winner here (Sam Hornish Jr.),'' Richard Childress Racing driver Ty Dillon said. ''It looks like it could be a good weekend for us to go out and notch that first win.''
Dillon is among the drivers who can vastly improve their playoff chances even if they don't win. He's third in the point standings, just 50 behind Suarez, the leader.
Dillon hasn't won a race in his last 65 starts, dating back to Indianapolis in 2014. But he finished second behind Hornish in last month's race in Iowa with what he called a ''fifth or sixth-place car,'' and he has posted top-five finishes in three of his last four races at Iowa.
''We've changed quite a few things coming back here - changes that we feel like will put us in a positive position. I know I can get around this place and make things happen if we can put ourselves in position to win,'' Dillon said.
For drivers like Darrell Wallace Jr., Iowa represents a chance to not only make the playoffs but to be ready when they begin.
Wallace is ninth after a slew of finishes that were much worse than his starting position. But Wallace feels like the No. 6 team can start to figure things out at Iowa, a track where he has run well.
''That's kind of been the tale of our season, bad luck,'' Wallace said. ''This is a place where we can regroup and try and get on a consistent roll.''
Jones is the only Xfinity regular to win more than once, haven taken first in Bristol and Dover. He also won the trucks series races in Iowa in 2014 and 2015, though he did finish 27th from the pole in June.
Weak results have been a recurring theme this season for Jones, who's just fifth in points because he has finished 21st or worse six times already. But as one of the few drivers who knows that he'll be in the playoffs no matter what happens over the next two months, Jones has the luxury of focusing more on performance than results.
''These last few weeks are for us, honestly, to have a little bit of fun,'' he said. ''Relax, try to win few more races and make sure our stuff is where it needs to be, which it has been. Beyond that, it's nice to be in this position where you can go out and race for wins.''