Xfinity Series inaugurates Chase format at Kentucky Speedway
NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers were fine playing out the stretch run of the season under the old points format that crowned the champion for consistency.
Performance will be just as important under the new Chase playoff format, but drivers welcome the looming urgency of the final seven races.
NASCAR will inaugurate championship Chases in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series on Saturday at Kentucky Speedway and Loudon, New Hampshire, respectively. The knockout rounds have been in place at the Sprint Cup level since 2014, but this year will be the first time all three NASCAR series will be using them at once.
The 12 Xfinity drivers in the Chase view the playoff as a second chance to correct mistakes, which under the old format was challenging at best.
''If it was regular-season points, we'd have been out a long time ago,'' said Darrell ''Bubba'' Wallace, who's bunched among nine competitors with 2,000 points. ''We get a chance to regroup here, which is always nice when you get a reset button. We just have to go out and execute now.''
The Xfinity and Trucks Chases consist of seven races with three elimination rounds. Xfinity winners from Kentucky, Dover and Charlotte automatically advance to the Round of Eight with the rest of the field set on points. The top four from the next round of three races move on to the season finale at Homestead, Florida.
Points were reset to 2,000 with three bonus points added for each win. Erik Jones now enters Saturday night's 300-mile race at Kentucky with 2,012, six ahead of former leader Elliott Sadler and nine more than Daniel Suarez.
Jones earned his fourth Xfinity win last week at Chicagoland Speedway and has been eighth or better in three series starts at Kentucky.
Sadler is familiar with the Chase after finishing ninth in Cup's first playoff in 2004. He has also been in the Xfinity title hunt in recent years with runner-up finishes in 2011 and 2012.
The 41-year-old veteran sees the Chase as a chance to finally break through even though his sizable lead over Jones has been cut after the reset for the playoffs.
''I think the Chase is great for our series,'' said Sadler, who has two wins, 10 top-five finishes and a series-best 23 top-10s. ''Any time you use the word playoff with any kind of fan, it brings a lot of attention and intensity to the sport.
''Even though we had to give up almost a 60-point lead, we understand that it's really going to push us to the edge and the limit. The championship is definitely going to be well-earned.''
Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch won the July race at Kentucky from the pole but is focused on defending his title this weekend at New Hampshire. That leaves the 1.5-mile oval to Xfinity regulars in the playoffs' only stand-alone race.
Drivers seem especially eager to see what the repaved, reconfigured layout offers the second time around.
''Going back there, I have a better idea of what I need,'' said Ty Dillon, who has four top-seven runs in five Xfinity races at Kentucky. ''Old asphalt, new asphalt, it was always good to me.''