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Justin Allgaier tames Bristol, moves to Round of 8

Justin Allgaier capped off an important night in Tennessee.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Food City 300

Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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On a night when four JR Motorsports cars failed to finish the race, Justin Allgaier turned in an important performance.

The veteran driver led a race-high 110 laps, one more than pole-sitter Cole Custer. He scored a stage win, which added a playoff point to his total, and he moved on to the Round of 8. The driver that has never finished worse than seventh in the championship standings in his Xfinity career continued his consistency.

The night was more significant for multiple reasons. First, Allgaier battled Dale Earnhardt Jr. throughout the night as the team owner led 47 laps of his own. Though this was cut short by a fire inside of the No. 88.

Second, Allgaier also revealed that he had signed a deal earlier in the week to keep him in the No. 7 Chevrolet for the 2024 season. He will be back to pursue more wins after contending for a championship once again.

Final nuggets from Bristol Motor Speedway

Here are some takeaways from a 300-lap race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Friction between teammates took over

The race at Bristol Motor Speedway had no shortage of storylines. One of the biggest was the number of incidents featuring teammates.

The first collected three JR Motorsports drivers. Sam Mayer and Josh Berry made contact while racing next to each other on Lap 167. Berry then went straight entering the next turn and hit Mayer.

The No. 1 spun while Berry’s No. 8 hit the wall. The No. 9 of Brandon Jones then ran into the No. 8 after having nowhere to go. All three drivers failed to finish the race.

“It just looked like an unfortunate move,” Mayer told NBC Sports’ Kim Coon after going to the infield care center. “I don’t know what the deal was.

“He’d better hope that it was a tire that he cut down right there because if he was just climbing the hill to chase me, that’s not a Cup driver move right there.”

Berry met with Mayer after heading to the infield care center. They had a cordial conversation about the situation that led to them finishing 36th and 35th. Berry also told reporters that the incident was not intentional. He expressed the belief that he had cut a tire.

The teammate-on-teammate issues extended to Richard Childress Racing. Sheldon Creed made contact with the left rear of Austin Hill on Lap 217, which sent the No. 21 spinning into the inside wall.

The crew attempted to make repairs but could not beat the Damaged Vehicle Policy clock. Hill’s night ended with a DNF and a 33rd-place finish.

Hill, who is still 21 points above the playoff cutline, did not talk to NBC Sports or any media members after exiting the infield care center. He left Bristol.

Creed provided his side of the incident on pit road after the race. He acknowleged that he made a mistake.

“It’s on me, right,” Creed told reporters after finishing 11th. “I’m the one trying to make the pass. I’m the one on the bottom of the race track. Yeah, we’ll have to talk about it. He’s going to be pissed.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. embraced his return to the Xfinity Series

The year is 2023, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. made it feel like 1998.

The retired NASCAR Hall of Famer made his return to the Xfinity Series on Friday night for his first of two starts this season. He went out and put himself in position for a potential top-five finish.

Earnhardt finished stage 1 in ninth and stage 2 in fourth. He then inherited the lead for the start of the final stage.

Earnhardt hasn’t raced at Bristol since the 2017 season, but he did not waste any time. He led 47 laps, the third-most behind race-winner Justin Allgaier and pole-sitter Cole Custer. This was the most laps he led in an Xfinity race since Richmond in 2018.

Earnhardt also battled for the lead with fewer than 30 laps left in the race before he had to suddenly pull off the track for a fire in the No. 88.

The stat sheet shows that Earnhardt finished 30th. This is a far cry from the top 10 or top 15 that he hoped for, but it did not fully take away from his enthusiasm about returning to racing.

“I hate it. We were going to finish in the top 10, maybe in the top five,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports’ Kim Coon after exiting the infield care center. “We had a shot at winning it if the car was going to run good at the end.

“Tried not to mess anybody’s night up at the same time, so it was hard, but I had fun. ... I had a blast. Checked that box, and Justin wins.”

Earnhardt will return to the No. 88 during the Round of 8. He will race at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the first time since the 2020 season when he finished fifth.

Points report after Bristol: Jeb Burton moves up the standings

The race at Bristol dropped multiple playoff drivers in the playoff standings. Jeb Burton was not among them.

Driver points after Bristol | Owner points after Bristol

The Jordan Anderson Racing driver started at the rear of the field for the playoff race after hitting the wall during practice and going to a backup car. This meant that he was in danger of going a lap down from the moment the green flag waved.

Cole Custer passed Burton during stage 1 as he led all 85 laps. Burton finished stage 1 in 20th and then took the wave around to get back on the lead lap.

The battle continued throughout the final two stages. Burton had to take advantage of the free pass multiple times after getting lapped. He also hit the wall and dealt with handling issues. He still crossed the finish line 13th after avoiding multiple other incidents during the final stage.

Burton entered the playoffs 10th in the Xfinity Series standings. He was not able to get above the cutline after Bristol. He moved to ninth and four points below Sheldon Creed. He is the only driver below the cutline within single digits of a playoff spot.

Burton now heads to Texas Motor Speedway, a track where he has a Truck Series win and three top 10s in the Xfinity Series.

The night did not go as well for Sam Mayer, who finished 35th. He scored two points in stage 1 after entering the playoffs nine points above the cutline. He is now 14 points below after an incident that collected him and two JR Motorsports teammates.

Similarly, Josh Berry is now 24 points below the cutline after he finished 36th. He entered the playoffs seventh in the standings and three points above the cutline but fell to 12th.

The night was eventful for Parker Kligerman. He headed to the garage in stage 2 with a mechanical issue and fell more than 50 laps behind the leaders as his team continued to work.

Kligerman was able to return to the track and complete more laps before the checkered flag flew. He ended the night 31st and 54 laps down but was able to pass five cars in the running order. This included fellow playoff drivers in Mayer, Berry and Austin Hill.

Kligerman is now 22 points below the cutline with two races remaining in the opening round. Next up is Texas, a track where Big Machine Racing won last season with Tyler Reddick as the driver.

Results, stats package after Bristol

Three playoff drivers failed to finish the race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Click here for where everyone finished at Bristol.

Click here for the cumulative race report.

Click here for the penalty report.

Justin Allgaier wins at Bristol!

For the 22nd time in his career, Justin Allgaier has celebrated a win.

The veteran driver kicked off the playoffs with a strong performance under the lights. He won the second stage and led 110 laps. Allgaier then won at Bristol for the first time since the 2010 season.

Allgaier’s win was the product of a bold decision by crew chief Jim Pohlman. The veteran made the decision to have Allgaier pit for tires on Lap 253.

This move buried Allgaier in the field, but he worked his way through and back into the top five. He then chased down leader Daniel Hemric and passed him with 12 laps to go.

“The pit strategy there, man, coming down pit road all by myself was nerve-wracking,” Allgaier told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns.

The move paid off. Allgaier secured a spot in the next round of the playoffs and moved to into a tie with Sam Ard and Tommy Ellis for 12th on the all-time Xfinity wins list.

A fire ends Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s night

An unexpected issue has ended Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt was racing inside of the top five with fewer than 30 laps remaining at Bristol when he suddenly pulled out of line and headed to his pit stall.

The cause for the sudden change was a fire somewhere in the No. 88. Earnhardt quickly undid his window net while a Toyota pit crew rushed over with a fire extinguisher.

Earnhardt was able to safely extricate himself from the car and then he began examining his right ankle. He later showed reporters that the bottom of his firesuit had burn marks.

52 to go: Caution for Josh Bilicki

The caution has flown at Bristol Motor Speedway for Josh Bilicki hitting the inside wall after contact from Rajah Caruth.

Justin Allgaier was in the lead at the time of the caution. Daniel Hemric was challenging with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and John Hunter Nemechek right behind him. Cole Custer was further back in fifth.

The caution brought the battle to a halt and sent Allgaier down pit road for fresh tires. It also set up a restart where Earnhardt would try to take the lead back.

While the drivers prepared for the restart, Parker Kligerman continued to move closer to another playoff driver.

Kligerman, who lost more than 50 laps with a mechanical issue in stage 2, was able to return to the track. His goal was simple — complete laps and pass the cars that he could.

Kligerman passed both Josh Berry and Sam Mayer, who crashed on Lap 167. He then began moving closer to Austin Hill, who crashed on Lap 217.

Lap 217: Caution for Austin Hill

The caution has flown at Bristol Motor Speedway for another playoff driver. This time, it’s Austin Hill.

The regular-season champion hit the inside wall on Lap 217. He then rebounded across the track and hit the outside wall.

Hill was able to make it back to his pit stall. His team immediately got to work cutting off parts of the car and making repairs. However, Hill was unable to continue in the race. He became the third playoff driver to head to the garage before the end of the race.

The replay showed that Sheldon Creed had made contact with the left-rear of Hill’s No. 21 as the Richard Childress Racing teammates raced each other for position.

This incident marked the second time on Friday night that teammates and playoff drivers had on-track issues. Josh Berry and Sam Mayer wrecked on Lap 167 and failed to finish the race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. adds to his resume

Dale Earnhardt Jr. told Jeff Burton before his first race at Bristol since 2017 that he was “racing for his daughter” and that he was just trying to have some fun.

Earnhardt did not express considerable optimism about his night. He said that he had “bit off more than he could chew” and that he would love to have a top 10 or top-15 finish. That would be a successful night.

Earnhardt finished the first two stages inside of the top 10. He then inherited the lead from Justin Allgaier to start the final stage after pitting earlier in the night.

Earnhardt went out and held off multiple challengers on two different restarts before leading more laps.

The Hall of Famer entered the race with 214 laps led across 12 Xfinity starts at Bristol. He only added to that total on Friday night.

Lap 167: Massive wreck collects two playoff drivers

The caution has flown on Lap 167 for a crash that collected three JR Motorsports drivers, two of which are in the playoffs.

The incident began after Sam Mayer and Josh Berry made contact while battling for position. Berry then shot up into Mayer once again before hitting the wall and wrecking them both.

Brandon Jones was also involved as he was behind the crash as it unfolded. He was unable to avoid Berry’s No. 8. Ryan Sieg also spun into the incident and sustained damage.

This crash ended the night for Berry and Mayer. It sent Jones down pit road. It also brought stage 2 to an end with Justin Allgaier scoring 10 points and one playoff point.

Cole Custer, Austin Hill, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Trevor Bayne, John Hunter Nemechek, Daniel Hemric, Riley Herbst, Chandler Smith and Jeffrey Earnhardt all finished the stage inside of the top 10.

Lap 143: issues for a playoff driver

Parker Kligerman’s night has taken a disastrous turn.

The Big Machine Racing driver scored points in stage 1 and raced inside of the top 10. However, he had to make an unscheduled stop during stage 2.

Kligerman pulled off the track as smoke billowed from the right front tire. At first, it appeared to be a tire rub. The team radio said that Kligerman had lost brakes with a hub issue.

Instead of stopping on pit road, the first-time playoff driver had to head immediately to the garage area so his team could work on making repairs. He fell multiple laps down.

While Kligerman headed to the garage, the caution came out for an incident on the track. Connor Mosack made contact with Joe Graf Jr. and sent him spinning.

The caution sent several drivers down pit road so that they could get fresh tires and flip the stage. Jeb Burton took advantage of the caution as he took the wave around to get a lap back.

From near-disaster to the race lead

Cole Custer led all 85 laps in stage 1 and then he took the lead once again at the start of stage 2. However, he lost control of the race on Lap 110.

Justin Allgaier got beside Custer and crossed the start-finish line first, making him the second driver to lead a lap at the Tennessee short track.

The two drivers raced side-by-side for several laps, but Allgaier was ultimately able to pull away from Custer. He built up a lead of more than one second while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brandon Jones both began challenging for second place.

Allgaier nearly missed out on the opportunity to take the lead. He lost control on the stage 2 restart, which sent him sideways into the No. 9 of Jones. He started to spin out of control but collected the car.

Allgaier avoided disaster and ultimately made his way to the front of the pack. This set him up to chase his second career win at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Cole Custer wins stage 1

Cole Custer has locked up 10 points and another playoff point by winning the first stage at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Custer started from the pole and led all 85 laps while putting more than half of the drivers in the field a lap down. He won his sixth stage of the season while the Xfinity Series made history with its first caution-free stage at Bristol.

Justin Allgaier finished the stage second. Brandon Jones was third. John Hunter Nemechek and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top five.

Chandler Smith, Parker Kligerman, Sam Mayer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Sammy Smith all finished the stage inside of the top 10.

Playoff drivers Daniel Hemric, Josh Berry, Austin Hill, Sheldon Creed and Jeb Burton all missed out on stage points by finishing outside the top 10.

Cole Custer starts lapping playoff drivers

Cole Custer started from the pole on Friday night at Bristol. He went on to lead the first 72 laps while lapping several cars.

The list of cars going a lap down included Jeb Burton. The Jordan Anderson Racing driver started from the rear of the field after going to a backup car, and he worked his way up to 23rd. However, he could not hold off Custer.

Custer built up a lead of more than two seconds over Justin Allgaier in second as he continued to put cars a lap down. He then put himself right behind Sheldon Creed in 19th, another playoff driver.

While Custer built up a massive lead, Dale Earnhardt Jr. worked his way from 15th to 10th. His goal was to run in the top 15 or top 10, and he did just that early.

Green flag is in the air at Bristol!

The green flag has waved, marking the start of the Xfinity Series playoffs.

Cole Custer led the field to the green and then he quickly jumped to the lead ahead of Josh Berry. The JR Motorsports driver then fell back to seventh while several drivers passed him on the inside.

The reason for the fall was unexpected contact from John Hunter Nemechek that sent the No. 8 sideways. Berry was able to collect the car but lost his momentum.

While Berry fell, Chandler Smith moved up to second behind Custer. He ran one second behind the pole-sitter after the first 10 laps.

Kevin and Piper Harvick got the drivers fired up

Kevin Harvick experienced a considerable amount of success at Bristol. He won once in the Truck Series, five times in the Xfinity Series and three times in the Cup Series.

The Closer will make one final start at the Tennessee short track on Saturday night (6:30 p.m. ET on USA Network), but he first took part in a special ceremony.

Harvick and his daughter Piper set the stage for the Xfinity Series race. They served as the grand marshals and gave the command for the drivers to start their engines. Piper, in particular, brought some serious energy.

One final run for Josh Berry

Bristol marks the start of Josh Berry’s second playoff appearance. It is also one of seven remaining races before he moves up to the Cup Series to take over the No. 4 car. This journey to the top level in NASCAR is one that took a decade.

Berry, who worked as a bank teller, became friends with Dale Earnhardt Jr. through virtual racing. He joined the JR Motorsports Late Model program and won countless races. Berry then made limited starts in the Xfinity Series in 2014-2017 and 2021 before moving to a full-time schedule in 2022 and winning three races.

Berry showed talent on the track, but he did not get the opportunities at higher levels due to a lack of funding. This is something Earnhardt pointed out after a 2015 race at Richmond when he called putting Berry in an Xfinity car “a Hail Mary” that he hoped would attract some sponsors.

Berry finished seventh at Richmond that season, but the result did not lead to influx of sponsors. He did not have a true opportunity to showcase his skills until the 2021 season when he made 17 starts across the No. 1 and No. 8 cars and won two races.

This success led to more sponsors and a full-time ride in both 2022 and 2023. Berry has since capitalized on his opportunity by proving to Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart that he is ready for a Cup Series ride. Now he gets to close out his final run in the Xfinity Series.

“At this point, I’m trying to enjoy (the final seven races) a little bit across this and not base these last seven races on… not worry so much about the last seven races and how it reflects on the last decade,” Berry said during Xfinity playoff media day.

“No matter what happens this last playoff run, I’m extremely grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had at JR Motorsports. They changed my life and Dale changed my life.”

Starting lineup for Bristol: Cole Custer wins the pole

Cole Custer will lead the Xfinity Series field to the green flag for Friday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Custer won the pole with a lap of 122.341 mph. This is his fifth pole of the season, his third at Bristol and the 17th of his Xfinity career.

Fellow playoff driver Josh Berry will start second with a lap of 122.123 mph

MORE: Xfinity starting lineup

Berry is followed by John Hunter Nemechek (122.084 mph), Chandler Smith (121.906 mph) and Daniel Hemric (121.535 mph). Sammy Smith in sixth (121.505 mph) and Justin Allgaier in 10th (121.389 mph) are the only other playoff drivers inside of the top 10.

Sam Mayer will line up 11th with a lap of 121.320 mph, Parker Kligerman will line up 13th with a lap of 120.984 mph, Sheldon Creed will line up 21st with a lap of 119.715 mph and Austin Hill will line up 26th with a lap of 119.417 mph.

Jeb Burton did not make a lap during qualifying. He cut a tire and hit the wall during practice. This forced the No. 27 team to pull out the backup car for the playoff-opening race. He will start 38th.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., making his first Xfinity start of the year, will line up 15th with a lap of 120.596 mph.

Drivers, storylines to watch at Bristol

This season’s schedule introduced a significant change. Bristol Motor Speedway became the fifth track to host the playoff-opening race. The Tennessee track joined Kentucky Speedway (2016-2017), Richmond Raceway (2018-2019), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (2020-2021) and Texas Motor Speedway (2022).

Bristol previously hosted the regular-season finale in 2020-2022. The result was highlight-reel moments at a track known for short tempers and door-to-door action. Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger crashing across the finish line while battling for the regular-season championship in 2021 is a standout example.

Now that Bristol represents an opportunity to reach the penultimate round of the playoffs, there is a potential for even more heated moments. One driver could lock up the iconic sword and keep their championship hopes alive.

What will they do to accomplish this feat at a beloved track? Anything is possible.

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. once said, “it’s Bristol, baby.”

Another storyline to watch:

--Past consistency could lead to points for some playoff drivers. Justin Allgaier is the only championship contender with a previous win at Bristol, and he has by far the most experience at the short track in the field. He has 22 starts whereas rookie Chandler Smith has none.

Allgaier will be one of the names to watch as he pursues his second win at Bristol, but there will be some playoff drivers below the cutline that could capitalize on past consistency.

Parker Kligerman is an example. He has four career Xfinity starts at Bristol and three ninth-place finishes. Now he enters the playoffs with seven top-10 finishes in the final eight races of the regular season. If he can score stage points early, he could potentially move up the standings.

2021 Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric, who will return to the Cup Series in 2024, is another driver below the cutline that could make a move with a solid day. He has seven career Xfinity starts at Bristol with five top-10 finishes and two top fives. His career-best finish is third in 2018.