RICHMOND, Va. — A fairly clear division of power looms over this season’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, with Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick presiding as a tenacious trio at the top. Their regular-season dominance — 17 wins in 26 races — has afforded them a substantial insurance policy for the postseason.
They insist the path to clinching one of four championship-round berths at Homestead-Miami Speedway is no straightforward waltz.
“This year, we come in with the ‘Big Three’ and this and that, and you don’t want to let the pressure build up and you don’t want to be the guy that buckles under that pressure of well, he’s expected to be one of the final three at Homestead,” says Reddick, who won the Xfinity title last year with far less burden heading into the playoff hunt. “You’ve just got to phase that out and do your thing.
“I understand you’ve got to run it stage by stage and race by race and just be smart. We’re in a place to where it would be a gain to win, but it would be really, really bad if we had an error and didn’t finish a race.”
The battle to break up the so-called Big Three or claim the fourth seat at the Homestead table remained a prominent topic at Thursday’s Xfinity Series Playoffs Media Day at Richmond Raceway, site of Friday’s postseason-opening Go Bowling 250 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Bell carries the biggest bounty of playoff points — 55 — entering the seven-race postseason. Custer — like Bell, a six-time winner this year — and regular-season champ Reddick are tied with 44. Next on the list is Austin Cindric, a distant fourth with 17.
The scenario takes a page from last year’s Monster Energy Series Playoffs, which had its own Big Three in Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., who combined to also go 17-for-26 in the regular season. All three navigated past the eliminations to reach the Championship 4 round.
The playoff points edge doesn’t equal immunity, something Bell knows well.
“Well, we definitely have the advantage, but last year was a rude awakening,” said Bell, who cruised through the first round last season before crashes in the first two races of the Round of 8 placed him in a precarious spot for the next-to-last race at ISM Raceway near Phoenix. In a must-win spot, he did. “… It happens fast, man. You get on the other side of it very, very fast.”
On the other side of the three, nine other drivers hope to wedge their way into the Homestead conversation. “We’ve been joking all day between the 12 of us, who’s going to be the fourth guy,” said Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley, who enters as the 10th seed. “No one’s really come up with a firm answer, but I hope it can be us.”
The rest of the field carries similar hopes, some with even greater aims.
“I don’t see why not. I’d like to think that we could be the first guy,” Cindric said. “That’s the best way to look at it in my opinion, because we don’t to just be part of the party, we want to be the best car. It’s understanding that these next seven races what it’s going to take to be that best car, whether that’s executing races and putting ourselves in position or going out and winning races.
“The goal, yes, is to make the Championship 4 and then go run the best you can, but at the same time, if you can be better than those three other guys that’ve pretty much swept the whole regular season, that’s how you win a championship, for sure.”