Does it get better than short-track racing under the lights on a Saturday night? This weekend, we can add on the fact that the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship will be on the line at Phoenix Raceway. The Xfinity Series Championship 4 is unique from the other two NASCAR national series in that four different race teams are represented. There are no more points battles. There are no tricks. NASCAR’s championship format is as simple and straightforward as it gets. Whoever crosses the line first out of the four championship contenders will be crowned the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion.
The following article breaks down the four championship competitors and offers up an Xfinity Series race prediction to help set the stage for the second of three NASCAR title races on tap for this weekend.
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2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Contenders and Preview
Noah Gragson | No. 9, JR Motorsports
The driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports car went into Martinsville last Saturday with his back against the wall. Noah Gragson overcame the pressure to notch his third win of the season to clinch his spot in the Championship 4. Gragson had a very slow start to the season, but he turned it on when the calendar changed to September. In a three-race stretch, he went from tenth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series points standings to fifth right before the start of the playoffs.
Gragson faced more adversity during the Round of 8 in the playoffs as a wreck at Kansas saw him fall below the cutline. Martinsville He knew what he had to do at Martinsville and got the job done. Can he do it for a second straight week in the championship race?
A.J. Allmendinger | No. 16, Kaulig Racing
The return to full-time racing has resulted in a remarkable resurgence for the oldest driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4. A.J. Allmendinger has five wins on the year in the Xfinity Series. He also scored the first-ever Cup Series win for Kaulig Racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course back in August. All of those wins propelled him to the regular-season points championship. This banked 15 additional points for the No. 16 team, heading into the playoffs.
Allmendinger pretty much coasted to the Championship 4 thanks to his massive points cushion. “The Dinger” has never raced a full season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Can he put the final stamp on an incredible 2021 campaign with a championship?
Daniel Hemric | No. 18, Joe Gibbs Racing
It is still hard to fathom the fact that Daniel Hemric has yet to win a race in any of the NASCAR national touring series. With a goose egg in the wins column, Hemric has had to consistently finish up towards the front this season in order to qualify for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4. Driving the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Hemric certainly has powerful enough equipment to go out and capture a championship this weekend. The question more likely becomes whether or not he has the experience to go with it?
Hemric has been in this situation twice before but has not been able to get the job done. Both of those came back when NASCAR’s Championship Weekend was held at Homestead-Miami. Perhaps Hemric has what it takes to finish the job at Phoenix Raceway, That being said, he finished outside of the top-20 here in the spring after encountering trouble in the final stage.
Austin Cindric | No. 22, Team Penske
The defending NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion is back to defend his crown at the same one-mile track where he won it a year ago. Austin Cindric will aim to win back-to-back titles this weekend before moving up to drive for Team Penske’s NASCAR Cup Series fleet on a full-time basis next season. It has been an amazing season for Cindric thus far. Along with A.J. Allmendinger, the No. 22 Mustang was the co-dominant car in 2021. Cindric bagged five wins (including the spring race at Phoenix), a whopping 21 top-5s and 25 top-10 finishes.
In addition to his widespread success this season, Cindric has won each of the last two Xfinity Series races at Phoenix. He and Allmendinger have been going back and forth at the top of the series all year long. Here they both are yet again with a championship on the line. Allmendinger bested him by inches at Bristol to capture the regular-season crown. Can Cindric get his revenge and take home the grand prize this Saturday?
NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Prediction
This race is a tough one to pick as any one of these four talented drivers very well could take home the title. Noah Gragson would be a surprise but has been at his best in high-pressure spots throughout the playoffs. Perhaps Daniel Hemric can finally get the monkey off his back and score a race win while capturing a championship in the process. In the end, it will likely come down to A.J. Allmendinger and Austin Cindric as has been the case in the NASCAR Xfinity Series all season. The slight edge goes to Cindric at Phoenix Raceway as he aims to capture the championship for the second straight year.