Josh Berry Has Thrown a Wrinkle Into the Xfinity Series Playoffs, and Someone Has to Suffer
The Xfinity Series has generally been a top-heavy battle among a select few drivers this season. But Josh Berry disrupted that group with the biggest win of his NASCAR career Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which guarantees he will have a chance to win the title and one of the previous favorites won’t.
The quartet of Noah Gragson, Ty Gibbs, A.J. Allmendinger, and Justin Allgaier have combined to win 20 of the 30 Xfinity Series races this season. Those four have held the top four spots in the points standings much of the season since Allgaier won the May 7 race at Darlington Raceway and entered the playoffs in the top four positions.
Josh Berry remained close to the front of the standings throughout the season
Berry was a close fifth, at times, and even spent a few weeks in fourth while Gragson recovered from a 30-point penalty NASCAR issued him after he intentionally wrecked Sage Karem and caused a large wreck on July 2 at Road America.
Berry had a pair of wins early in the season at Dover Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, respectively, before his triumph at Las Vegas. He could also very well be a factor to win the title on November 5 at Phoenix Raceway, as he finished third in the spring in only his second race on the flat, 1.0-mile oval.
Still, the top story of the 2022 Xfinity Series has been the dominance of the other four biggest championship threats, although one of them will be eliminated before the series ever gets to the title-deciding event.
Previous points leader A.J. Allmendinger is suddenly below the playoff cutline
Allmendinger would currently be the contender on the outside looking in. He won both of the final two races in the Round of 12 at Talladega Speedway and the Charlotte Roval, but a 22nd-place finish at Las Vegas has him back to sixth of the eight drivers who remain eligible to chase the championship.
Austin Hill is currently in fifth, but his two wins this season both came in superspeedway-style races. Another win from him would be a surprise with the final two races of the Round of 8 at the 1.5-mile traditional oval of Homestead-Miami Speedway and the 0.5-mile short track of Martinsville Speedway.
Assuming other Round of 8 contestants, specifically Brandon Jones or Sam Mayer, don’t win one of the following two races, Allmendinger will have to overcome a 16-point deficit to Allgaier.
That might be possible this upcoming weekend at Homestead. Allmendinger finished fourth at Homestead in 2020 in his Xfinity Series No. 16 car for Kaulig Racing, and he led 45 laps at the facility in 2021 before finishing 14th.
Allgaier, meanwhile, has never finished inside the top five in 13 career Xfinity Series starts at Homestead. He has two top-10 results there but has not finished better than 22nd in his last three starts at Homestead.
Allmendinger was also one of the hottest drivers in the series before Las Vegas. He led the points standings since April and had won back-to-back races for the first time in his career to end a four-race winning streak by Gragson.
Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs have become Xfinity Series stars this year
Gragson began his streak September 3 at Darlington and ran his season wins total to a series-high seven by the time his streak ended with a victory three weeks later at Texas Motor Speedway.
Gragson has also put together stellar numbers in his Xfinity Series career at Homestead and Martinsville. He has three top-five finishes in four career starts at both, including a win in the fall race at Martinsville a year ago that vaulted him into the 2021 Championship 4.
Gragson was the dominant driver of the second half of the season after Gibbs jumped ahead early in the year. Gibbs captured three of his five wins in the first seven races of the season and won the pole award three weeks in a row from March 25 at the Circuit of the Americas to April 7 at Martinsville.
Gibbs has never previously raced at Homestead, but he does have a top-five finish and two top-10s in three starts at Martinsville. He was in contention to win the spring race at the short track until a late-race incident with Mayer left him in eighth and ignited the rage that led him to initiate a fight with Mayer on pit road after the race.
The Championship 4 appeared to be relatively set long before the playoffs began, but the treacherous format leaves room for surprises like Berry to crash the party.
He has now created a contest among the four previous frontrunners to ensure they aren’t the one left out when the series heads to Phoenix to crown its next champion.
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