Top three Xfinity drivers separated by three points entering New Hampshire
Things have gotten pretty tight at the top of the food chain in the Xfinity Series.
Following last weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway, the point standings are not led by just one driver.
Through 17 races, the standings are led by both Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric, who are tied with 608 points.
To add to an already close situation, they have Cole Custer breathing down their necks is only three points behind them heading into Saturday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
How did this situation arise considering none of the drivers have claimed a win this year?
Consistency. It’s disappeared for Sadler while Hemric and Custer have used it to catch the JR Motorsports driver.
Following the June 2 race at Pocono Raceway, Sadler had a 62-point lead over second in the standings. His lead slipped away over the next five races thanks to finishing 12th or worst three times.
He placed 30th at Michigan, 28th at Iowa and 12th at Kentucky.
That was after entering Michigan with top-10 finishes in the first 12 races of the season.
In the five races since Pocono, Hemric hasn’t finished worse than eighth and has three top-three finishes. Custer has four top fives and a DNF (wreck, Daytona).
Compared to this point last year, Sadler has more top fives (10 to seven in 2017), the same number of top 10s (14) and his average finish is 7.9 compared to 8.8.
Sadler, is mired in a 56 race winless streak that began in October 2016. And this season he’s been the best finishing Xfinity regular just once and the best finishing JR Motorsports driver only seven times.
Hemric and Custer are each in their second full-time seasons in Xfinity and have shown significant improvement over this same point in their rookie campaigns.
Through 17 races, Hemric has two poles (one in 2017), nine top fives (two in 2017), 13 top 10s (six in 2017) and no DNFs (three in 2017).
Custer has four poles (none in 2017), seven top fives (two in 2017), 13 top 10s (seven in 2017) and two DNFs (three in 2017).
Over the last eight races Hemric and Custer are tied for the most top fives with six. In that stretch, Hemric leads the series in top 10s (eight), average finish (4.13) and race points earned (311).
The point standings would be even narrower if not for two penalties dealt out by NASCAR this season to two of the three Xfinity regulars who have won races.
Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier enter New Hampshire in fourth (-17 points) and fifth (-39).
Bell lost 10 points after the Charlotte race for a post-race heights violation.
Allgaier was dealt a 25-point penalty following his win at Dover for a post-race inspection violation.
The two drivers would be in the same spot in the standings without the penalties.
Among Sadler, Hemric and Custer, it may be Custer who is the favorite to leave New Hampshire with points lead.
Custer is the only one of the trio with any success at the 1-mile track.
He’s won there in the K&N Pro Series East (2013) and in the Camping World Truck Series (2014).
He placed ninth in his first Xfinity start there last year.
“I think we’ve had really good cars in the past at short tracks and I think it’s more natural to me than a mile-and-a-half,” Custer said in a media release. “It’s probably like that for most guys. We just grew up running short tracks and didn’t have to deal with aero as much. We took a lot of good notes from New Hampshire last year that we’ll build on.”
Meanwhile, in 14 career starts at New Hampshire, Sadler has only led 26 laps and he hasn’t finished better than sixth since he returned to full-time Xfinity competition in 2011.
“We’re bringing the car we ran in Richmond, which is one of my favorites,” Sadler said in a media release. “We know it’s fast and is capable of a top-three finish. The end of the regular season isn’t too far away, so we’ve got to stick to our strategy, earn stage points and ultimately get ourselves and our partners a win.”
Sadler led 30 laps and finished third at Richmond.
Hemric placed 12th in his first Xfinity start in Loudon last year. In two Truck Series starts, he placed sixth and 28th (DNF).
“New Hampshire is always a place I look forward going to each year, especially how our company is on the short tracks right now,” Hemric said in a media release. “I feel like I know what I want in terms of speed when I get to a place like New Hampshire, it’s just a matter of getting our race car where we want it. I feel good headed to New Hampshire this weekend.”