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NASCAR Xfinity at Kansas: Ty Gibbs drop kicks the playoff hopefuls

Kansas City, KS, Oct 23/21 (GRW): With just three races left until the NASCAR Xfinity championship will be determined, things were getting fraught at Kansas. But it was Ty Gibbs, a part-time Xfinity driver, who won the race ahead of all the playoff contenders, leaving them to fight it out over the remaining two races.

Gibbs started in tenth place in the No. 54 Toyota which, with a variety of drivers this year, had already won then times –more than any other car – but by the second Stage – with 90 of the race’s 200 laps completed – Gibbs was starting to assert himself, finishing the Stage in second place behind Austin Cindric.

In the cycle of pit stops which followed, he beat everyone else out of the pits to take the lead momentarily – but he was caught speeding in pit lane and he had to fall to the back. Almost as soon at the green flew again, playoff contender Daniel Hemric lost control of his car and brought out another yellow. This allowed Gibbs to line up for this restart at the back of the lead-lap cars in 18th place.

Another caution followed almost immediately and, after more pit stops, Gibbs took this restart in third place. Now he was a contender for the win again.

The seventh yellow flew on lap 137 and, after more pit stops when almost everyone took on four tires, Gibbs lined up for this restart in second place alongside race leader Cindric.

The eighth caution saw a few cars stopping in the pits but the race was still between Cindric and Gibbs – but they were lined up behind nine cars that did not pit this time, with Cindric in eleventh and Gibbs even farther back.

Another yellow with 37 laps remaining and now the cars on fresher tires had the advantage. On the restart, both Cindric and Gibbs drove past the slower cars (which had not pitted) to the front of the field. Then Harrison Burton was spun by Sam Mayer and turned up into the wall collecting Noah Gragson, another playoff contender – and bringing out the race’s final caution.

Cindric and Gibbs lined up side-by side at the front for this final restart. At first, Cindric had the advantage but Gibbs soon powered his way past him into the lead. Gibbs led the remaining eleven laps to take the checker 0.76 seconds ahead of Cindric.

“He got a little bit free and kind of slowed down in (Turns) 3 and 4, and I could get to his left rear and side-draft him and get away from him,” the 19-year-old Gibbs said of the winning pass. “I got loose a couple of times over there (pointing to Turns 3 and 4), but I was just trying to give it my all, trying to come back with a win. To have four wins this year in the Xfinity Series is just unbelievable.”

Cindric, who won the second stage and led a race-high 151 laps to 14 for the race winner, said, “I feel like I could hold my own with the track position and we did a good job being consistent and not making mistakes today. Maybe if I didn’t enter (the corner) as high, I could have maybe air-blocked a little better. The cooler it got, the freer I was getting. I thought the tire cycle would help me, but it didn’t help me. I would have loved the win to lock our way in, but it’s better than crashing out at a Kansas Playoff race like I have the last three years. We led a lot of laps but finished second, but it could have been a lot worse.”

Finishing behind Cindric were playoff contenders A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Haley. The other playoff drivers finished well back and their hopes of making it into the finale at Phoenix were fading fast.

I can’t figure out the permutations of the end-of season championship playoffs – but here’s the situation as I see it after this race (with some help from the TV statisticians): Given that neither of the first two races in the Round of 8 were won by playoff eligible drivers, the drivers’ chances of making the finale are so far based on playoff points. The current top four are Cindric (47+), Allmendinger (47+), Allgaier (9+) and Hemric (7+) – with Justin Haley (7-), Gragson (24-), Brandon Jones (40-) and Harrison Burton (51-) below the cut line. It looks like Cindric and Allmendinger will, for sure, qualify for the Phoenix finale but, after that, it still is pretty open. A win or even an outstanding result by any of those below the top two might see any of these bottom six elevated to the final four going into Phoenix.

Next week’s race, the third and final one in the Round of 8, will be held at the Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, October 30th.

• Click HERE for the race results.

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