For a second consecutive night in the desert, a late caution changed the complexity and initial outcome of a race. Like last night’s NASCAR Truck Series finale, pitting for fresh tires was the key element that determined the overall victor. On this occasion, Austin Cindric used four fresh tires to his advantage to overtake Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson in overtime to win the season-finale Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 at Phoenix Raceway and clinch the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
In the final laps of the finale, Cindric had an advantage of nearly a second over title contender Justin Allgaier evaporated when Chase Briscoe, another title contender, spun and drew a caution. The deciding factor was under caution when Cindric opted to pit for four fresh tires while Allgaier, who pitted earlier, remained on the track. In overtime, Cindric was able to overtake Allgaier and Noah Gragson in a two-lap dash to claim his sixth checkered flag of the season. Above all, he was able to come back around and celebrate on the frontstretch as NASCAR’s 30th Xfinity champion.
The starting lineup was based on four stats: current owner’s standings, driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Xfinity race and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Xfinity race. With that, the four championship finale contenders started first through fourth, led by pole-sitter Justin Allgaier and followed by Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Justin Haley.
For the finale, Haley received a new pit crew, the group that pits Bubba Wallace’s car for Richard Petty Motorsports, due to a crew member of his original team being tested positive for COVID-19.
When the final race of the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series season commenced under green, Allgaier rocketed away with the lead. Behind, Cindric and Briscoe battled for the runner-up spot with most of the leaders diving down the dogleg turn and entering Turns 1 and 2. When the field cycled back to the start/finish line, Allgaier was able to lead the first lap as he retained the lead over Cindric and Briscoe while Haley was in fifth behind Noah Gragson.
The first caution of the race flew the following lap when Jeffrey Earnhardt wrecked on the backstretch and sustained damage to the rear end of his No. 0 Chevrolet Camaro.
The race restarted under green on the sixth lap. At the start, Cindric made a low dive three-wide move on the dogleg turn beneath Allgaier and Briscoe. In Turns 1 and 2, however, Allgaier made a crossover move on Cindric, but Briscoe came out on top on the outside lane entering the backstretch to take over the lead. Cindric moved into the runner-up spot while Allgaier, who led the first seven laps, was shuffled back to third.
By Lap 10, Briscoe maintained an advantage less than two-tenths of a second over Cindric with Allgaier in third and Haley in seventh. Gragson was in fourth followed by Ross Chastain and Harrison Burton while Michael Annett, Riley Herbst and Brandon Jones were in the top 10.
Nearly five laps later, Cindric mounted a challenge for the lead on Briscoe. Despite Cindric making several challenges for the lead and Briscoe making contact with the Turn 3 outside wall on Lap 17, Briscoe maintained his narrow advantage over Cindric’s No. 22 Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang.
When the competition caution flew on Lap 20, Briscoe was still at the front of the pack and the championship battle over Cindric and Allgaier with Haley mired back in seventh. Gragson, Chastain, Harrison Burton, Annett, Herbst and Brandon Jones were still running in the top 10. At the time of caution, Daniel Hemric made an unscheduled pit stop to diagnose a mechanical issue to his No. 8 Poppy Bank Chevrolet Camaro. Hemric’s crew eventually pushed the car back to the garage due to a carburetor issue.
Under the competition caution, few pitted while the rest, including the final four title contenders, remained on the track.
When the race resumed under green on Lap 26, Allgaier made a low dive through the dogleg turn in an effort for the lead, but Briscoe prevailed entering the backstretch. While Briscoe continued to lead, Cindric battled Allgaier for second while Chastain, Gragson and Haley battled for spots in the top five.
A lap later, the caution returned for a multi-car wreck in Turn 2 that involved C.J. McLaughlin, Donald Theetge, J.J. Yeley and Matt Mills.
The race restarted under green on Lap 34 with Briscoe and Allgaier on the front row followed by Cindric and Gragson. At the start, Briscoe and Allgaier battled dead even while diving low on the dogleg before Briscoe prevailed on the backstretch.
When the field returned back to the start/finish line, Briscoe continued to lead followed by Allgaier and Cindric, both of whom were closing in for the lead. Gragson retained fourth place over Kaulig Racing’s Chastain and Haley while Annett, Harrison Burton, Herbst and Brandon Jones were in the top 10.
At the front, the battle for the lead continued to ignite between Briscoe and Allgaier with Cindric lurking behind. Though Allgaier had a run beneath Briscoe for the lead, Briscoe mounted a run on the outside lane through Turns 1 and 2 and entering the backstretch to maintain his narrow advantage.
With less than five laps remaining in the first stage, Cindric moved into second place over Allgaier. He went on to challenge Briscoe for the lead.
On the final lap of the first stage, Cindric, who continued to close in on Briscoe’s No. 98 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang, gained a run beneath Briscoe through the backstretch. They split the lapped car of Jesse Iwuji entering Turn 3 before Briscoe gained a run on the outside lane in Turn 4 and edged Cindric to claim the first stage on Lap 45 and for his 13th stage victory of the season, the most recorded by an Xfinity competitor this season. Allgaier settled in third followed by Gragson, Chastain, Annett, Haley, Harrison Burton, Herbst and Brandon Jones.
Under the stage break, nearly all of the leaders pitted and Allgaier emerged with the lead following a four-tire pit stop and exiting in first place over Gragson, Briscoe, Cindric and Chastain. Following the pit stops, Herbst was sent to the rear of the field due to improper fueling. At the front, however, Tommy Joe Martins emerged with the lead after remaining on the track.
The second stage started on Lap 53 with Martins and Allgaier on the front row. At the start, Briscoe made a low dive to the dogleg and Allgaier charged ahead on the outside lane while Martins was shuffled back. Allgaier led the following lap by a nose over Briscoe, who challenged Allgaier for the lead with the latter prevailing. Behind, Gragson moved into third place over Cindric while Annett was in fifth. Haley was in sixth ahead of teammate Chastain, Brandon Jones, Harrison Burton and Ryan Sieg.
By Lap 60, Allgaier continued to lead the race and the title standings by more than a second over teammate Gragson. Cindric, the second-highest title contender on the track, was in third place followed by Briscoe, who slipped back and had Annett closing in for position. Haley, racing in his No. 11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet Camaro, was still mired in sixth place in front of Harrison Burton.
Five laps later, Allgaier stabilized his advantage by more than a second over Cindric, who overtook Gragson for the runner-up spot. Briscoe remained in fourth place, trailing the lead by more than two seconds, while Annett was in fifth. Haley fell back to seventh behind Harrison Burton while Brandon Jones, Sieg and Jeremy Clements were in the top 10.
By Lap 70, Allgaier’s advantage decreased to less than two-tenths of a second over Cindric while Briscoe moved back into third place following a dive-bomb move on Gragson entering Turn 2 for position that nearly resulted with Briscoe making contact with the outside wall. Earlier, Chastain made an unscheduled pit stop under green.
Five laps later and while Cindric and Allgaier were engaged in a tight battle for the lead, the caution returned due to smoke and possible fluid coming out of Tommy Joe Martins’ car.
Another five laps later, the race restarted under green with JR Motorsports’ teammates Allgaier and Gragson on the front row. At the start, Allgaier pulled away and retained the lead. Entering Turn 2, Cindric moved into second and Briscoe advanced into third followed by Jones while Gragson slipped back to fifth.
On Lap 83, Cindric prevailed and led for the first time after emerging out in front of Allgaier with Briscoe lurking behind. By then, Sieg made contact with the outside wall in Turns 1 and 2.
With the laps in the second stage winding down, Cindric stabilized his advantage by half a second over Allgaier with Briscoe, Jones and Gragson in the top five. Annett and Harrison Burton were in sixth and seventh while Haley was mired back in eighth. Clements and Myatt Snider rounded out the top 10.
At the start of the final lap of the second stage, Cindric increased his advantage to less than a second over Allgaier with Briscoe closing in for more.
With a number of battles occurring behind, Cindric was able to come back to the start/finish line and win the second stage on Lap 90 for his 11th stage victory of the season. Allgaier held off Briscoe and Brandon Jones for second with teammate Gragson in fifth. Annett, Haley, Harrison Burton, Clements and Snider settled in the top 10. By then, Chastain, who was scored in 24th place and a lap behind, received the free pass to return to the lead lap.
Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Brandon Jones emerged with the lead following the pit stops. Briscoe exited ahead of Cindric, Allgaier and Gragson with Haley in sixth.
With 102 laps remaining, the final stage started with Jones and Allgaier on the front row followed by Gragson, Briscoe, Mason Diaz and Cindric. At the start, Allgaier and Jones made a low dive down the dogleg before Allgaier prevailed through Turns 1 and 2 and entering the backstretch.
The following lap, Briscoe passed Gragson for third with Cindric and Haley joining the party. At the front, Allgaier was ahead by less than half a second over Jones. Shortly after, Cindric overtook Briscoe for position with Haley mired between the two competitors.
With 95 laps remaining, the final four title contenders were battling in the top six with Allgaier leading by more than a second over Brandon Jones, who started to have Cindric close in for position. Briscoe was in fourth followed by Gragson while Haley was in sixth ahead of Annett, Harrison Burton, Snider and Chastain.
Five laps later, with 90 laps remaining, Allgaier continued to lead by more than a second, but Cindric started to close in as he moved into the runner-up spot. Briscoe remained in fourth place behind Jones while Haley continued to battle Gragson for fifth.
Another five laps later, with 85 laps remaining, Allgaier’s advantage decreased to less than half a second with his No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet Camaro dealing with loose conditions. That all but gave Cindric the time needed to close in back for the lead in the overall race and the championship.
With 80 laps remaining and with the leaders surrounded by lapped traffic, Cindric narrowed the deficit to three-tenths of a second to Allgaier, who continued to lead with a title in sight. Behind, Briscoe went wide entering Turn 4, which allowed Gragson, Haley and Harrison Burton to close in on him for fourth place.
Ten laps later, with 70 laps remaining, Cindric reassumed the lead in the race and the championship battle over Allgaier as Brandon Jones started to close in the battle for the win in the finale.
Another 10 laps later, with 60 laps remaining, Cindric stretched his advantage to more than two seconds over Brandon Jones with Allgaier back in third place. Briscoe and Haley were in fourth and fifth while Harrison Burton, Chastain, Gragson, Annett and Snider were in the top 10. Herbst, who was a lap behind the field earlier, rallied back in 11th ahead of Clements, Brett Moffitt, Josh Williams and Bayley Currey.
Down to the final 50 laps of the race, Cindric continued to lead, but he had Jones, who won at Phoenix in March and racing in his No. 19 Toyota Service Centers Toyota Supra, close in and with the leaders mired in lapped traffic. Behind, Allgaier, who was in third place, radioed concerns about a right-front tire going down, but he continued to run on the track and ahead of Briscoe. Haley, meanwhile, was in sixth in between Harrison Burton and Chastain.
With 45 laps remaining, Briscoe overtook Allgaier for third place while Cindric continued to lead by six-tenths of a second over Brandon Jones. Haley was still in sixth.
With approximately 40 laps remaining, pit stops under green commenced as Allgaier made the turn to pit road followed by Harrison Burton and teammate Riley Herbst. Not long after, Haley pitted along with leader Cindric, Briscoe, Jones and Snider, who was then penalized for speeding on pit road.
With less than 35 laps remaining, Chastain, who still needed to pit and who was making his final full-time start with Kaulig Racing, was the leader followed by Gragson, Annett and Josh Williams while Cindric was in fifth place. Allgaier was back in eighth, a lap behind, while Briscoe and Haley were in 10th and 13th.
Five laps later, the caution returned when Joe Graf Jr. made contact with the outside wall in Turn 3. The incident occurred in front of Allgaier, who was battling Jones for position. At the time of caution, Chastain was still leading and among a handful of competitors who had yet to pit. Cindric and Allgaier were on the lead lap while Briscoe was awarded the free pass to return on the lead lap after being scored a lap behind. Haley, meanwhile, was a lap behind the leaders.
Under caution, Allgaier pitted along with teammate Annett and Chastain while Cindric and Jones remained on the track. Briscoe also pitted for adjustment, not for tires. In addition, Haley was among a number of competitors who took the wave around and returned on the lead lap in eighth place with Briscoe in sixth, Allgaier in fifth on fresh tires and Cindric the leader over Brandon Jones and Chastain.
With 23 laps remaining and 10 competitors on the lead lap, the race restarted under green with Cindric and Chastain on the front row followed by Jones and Allgaier. At the start, Chastain received a boost from Allgaier inside the dogleg turn to take the lead. Entering the backstretch, however, Cindric reassumed the lead with Allgaier following behind.
Shortly after, Allgaier mounted a challenge for the lead on fresh tires, but Cindric continued to maintain his position at the front with Chastain shuffled back to third.
With 20 laps remaining, Cindric was out in front by two-tenths of a second over Allgaier, with the battle for the win and the championship coming down to a two man show. Briscoe was back in sixth while Haley was mired back in eighth.
Five laps later, with 15 laps remaining, Cindric, racing on old tires, continued to lead the battle for the win and the title by half a second over Allgaier, racing on fresh tires. Chastain, Annett and Brandon Jones were in the top five with Briscoe in sixth and Haley in ninth.
Down to the final 10 laps of the finale and the 2020 season, Cindric stabilized his advantage for the win and the championship by more than a second over Allgaier, who started to see Cindric pull away on his front windshield. By then, Briscoe moved up to fifth place while Haley was back in ninth place as both competitors were seeing their title hopes coming to an end.
With five laps remaining and the leaders started to catch lapped traffic, Cindric remained at the front with the lead by more than a second over Allgaier with Chastain, Annett and Briscoe in the top five. Haley was back in ninth.
With approximately two laps remaining, the caution returned when Briscoe spun his No. 98 Ford in Turn 4 and made slight contact with the outside wall. The caution all but evaporated Cindric’s on-track advantage over Allgaier, who received an opportunity to pounce and win his first title.
Under caution, however, most of the lead lap competitors led by Cindric pitted while Allgaier remained on the track and emerged with the lead. Chastain also remained on the track in second place.
In overtime, the race restarted under green. At the start, Allgaier took the lead from Chastain entering Turns 1 and 2. Entering the backstretch, however, teammate Gragson and Cindric cleared Chastain and closed in on Allgaier for the lead. Though Allgaier got Cindric boxed in exiting the backstretch, Cindric found his opportunity to win it all entering Turns 3 and 4.
Coming back to the start/finish line for the start of the final lap, Cindric made a three-wide move in between Gragson and Allgaier, who made contact with Cindric at the line as Gragson moved his No. 9 Bass Pro Shops/True Timber Camo Chevrolet Camaro into the lead. Following the contact and through the dogleg turn, Gragson emerged with a slight advantage alongside Cindric, who cleared Allgaier and was leading the battle for the title.
In the backstretch, Allgaier lost his momentum and was overtaken by Brandon Jones and Annett while Cindric challenged Gragson for the lead. With fresh tires, Cindric took the lead entering Turns 3 and 4 over Gragson, and it was enough for him to prevail out in front and storm to the checkered flag with the win and the overall championship.
At age 22, Cindric became the fifth-youngest champion in series history as he delivered the second Xfinity Drivers’ championship for team owner Roger Penske. He also became the sixth different Xfinity competitor to win in career start No. 100 as he collected his eighth career victory along with the series title. This marked the 10th consecutive season where the Xfinity champion was 25 years old or younger.
“Well, I watched [2020 Truck Series champion] Sheldon Creed do it last night, so why couldn’t we?” Cindric said. “Amazing effort by this No. 22 team. [Crew chief] Brian Wilson and all the guys. Everybody back at the shop. There was a lot of work put into this race car. Roger Penske. Everyone from Penske Racing. The Menards family, John, Paul, Jim, Jeff — all those guys that put so much support into racing itself. It’s awesome to get them a championship in NASCAR, to be a champion in NASCAR, and do it in front of all these great people cheering us on at championship weekend. Ford Performance, Doug Yates, everybody at Roush Yates Engines. I’m speechless. I can’t believe it. I’m pretty humbled by the effort for sure.”
“I’ve certainly learned how to race a little better,” Cindric added. “The people that have put the support in me and been dedicated — my spotter Coleman Pressley. All the folks that have supported me throughout my career, not just here but the road racing, driving Rallycross cars. My mom and my dad. I can’t forget them. They’re my parents and they’ve put more support behind me than anyone else. My mom has been my rock for my entire racing career. I told you guys that early in the week and I’m so glad she was here to watch.”
In addition to pitting for fresh tires towards the end, Cindric credited his team for the performance of his race car throughout the race that kept him in contention and allowed him to win the championship battle.
“This [car] came to life Lap 1,” Cindric said. “Talk about a relationship between driver and crew chief…we were terrible here in the spring race when I moved up. I asked [Wilson], I told him exactly what I needed and he gave it to me and look where we are. It’s amazing.”
Gragson finished in second place behind Cindric followed by Brandon Jones and Annett. Behind, Justin Allgaier finished in fifth place in the finale and in a career-best second place in the overall standings. While Allgaier was disappointed in falling short in winning his first Xfinity title in his 10th full-time season in the series, he remained humble over the defeat and the opportunity of his late surge to compete for the title.
“So close, but so far away,” Allgaier said. “First of all, hats off to Austin [Cindric], the entire Team Penske group. They’ve been strong competitors all year and to have the race they did tonight, they, obviously, were the best car and they deserve to win. Proud of our guys, proud of everybody at JR Motorsports. We had a shot at it at the end and when it’s all said and done, that’s all you can really ask for…We’ll be back next year. Hopefully, one spot better.”
“I knew that [Cindric and his team] were gonna be good on tires,” Allgaier added. “I was hoping that there would be a few more cars in our rearview mirror when we took the green…Just didn’t have the speed at the end. We were off a little bit all night. The hard part is our balance is so good. That’s the frustrating part. We brought a fantastic race car and the balance was so good. It’s disappointing to be in the situation that we’re in, but again, hats off to these guys, everybody back at the shop. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Justin Haley finished in eighth place on the track behind Harrison Burton and teammate Chastain, with the Winamac, Indiana, native notching a career-best third place in the final standings.
“We were not too good there at the start,” Haley said. “We actually took a little time on one of the pit stops. We started running in the top five. It’s super hard to pass. Just super fast race track. This is an awesome P3. It’s the farthest that Kaulig Racing’s ever gone. Still really proud of all of my guys. It’s not exactly what we wanted, but I think if we wouldn’t gotten trapped a lap there, that strategy’s really what played in to it at the end,…just too far back to make anything happen on that green-white-checkered…Super excited, super blessed to have another year, another shot at [the title].”
Following his late incident that evaporated his championship hopes, Chase Briscoe salvaged a ninth-place result in the finale as he concluded his final full-time season in the Xfinity circuit in fourth place in the final standings and in a season where he won a season-high nine races.
“It was just a frustrating day,” Briscoe said. “This is by far not my best racetrack. We started the race and, for me, just leading laps here I was like, ‘Wow, this is different.’ I was just so loose at the beginning of the race and as the night came, I was just getting freer and freer. I don’t know how many times I about wrecked into [Turn] 1 and would end up hitting the wall. I’ve got to do a lot better job coming here. There’s something about this place that I just really struggle at, so I’ve got a lot of homework to do. It’s definitely frustrating to finish fourth in the championship after the year we had, but, overall, to win nine races it’s been a phenomenal year. I’m happy that we were able to just make the final four with our HighPoint.com Mustang. I’m just thankful to be driving in NASCAR honestly. I’m obviously looking forward to next year, but this one obviously hurts. Anytime you can win nine races and finish fourth in the championship isn’t what you wanted, but we’ll keep our heads high and, like I said, just proud of the whole team. To be able to work with me these last two and a half years from where we started to where we are now has been a huge difference, so just thankful to be driving for Stewart-Haas Racing and come back next year.”
While Cindric became the fifth Ford competitor to win the Xfinity title, Chevrolet clinched the Bill France Performance Cup, the Manufacturers’ title, for the 22nd time. In addition, Roger Penske won his fifth Owners’ championship in eight years.
In a season where he achieved his first four career victories, 15 top-five results, 22 top-10 results, an average result of 10th place and a final points result of eighth place, Harrison Burton claimed the 2020 Xfinity Rookie-of-the-Year title.
There were 16 lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured eight cautions for 47 laps.
1. Austin Cindric, Stage 2 winner, 72 laps led
2. Noah Gragson, one lap led
3. Brandon Jones, three laps led
4. Michael Annett
5. Justin Allgaier, 76 laps led
6. Harrison Burton
7. Ross Chastain, 10 laps led
8. Justin Haley
9. Chase Briscoe, Stage 1 winner, 41 laps led
10. Jeremy Clements
11. Riley Herbst
12. Brandon Brown, one lap down
13. Josh Williams, one lap down
14. B.J. McLeod, one lap down
15. Bayley Currey, one lap down
16. David Starr, one lap down
17. Kyle Weatherman, one lap down
18. Myatt Snider, two laps down
19. Brett Moffitt, two laps down
20. Colby Howard, two laps down
21. Alex Labbe, three laps down
22. Kody Vanderwal, three laps down
23. Timmy Hill, three laps down
24. Mason Diaz, four laps down
25. Daniel Hemric, five laps down
26. J.J. Yeley, six laps down
27. Joe Graf Jr., seven laps down
28. Stan Mullis, eight laps down
29. Jesse Little, eight laps down
30. Jesse Iwuji, nine laps down
31. Ryan Sieg, 10 laps down
32. Jeffrey Earnhardt, 21 laps down
33. Ryan Vargas, 82 laps down
34. Tommy Joe Martins – OUT, Engine, three laps led
35. Matt Mills – OUT, Accident
36. Donald Theetge – OUT, Accident
37. C.J. McLaughlin – OUT, Accident
1. Austin Cindric
2. Justin Allgaier
3. Justin Haley
4. Chase Briscoe
5. Noah Gragson
6. Brandon Jones
7. Ross Chastain
8. Harrison Burton
9. Michael Annett
10. Ryan Sieg
11. Brandon Brown
12. Riley Herbst
Bold indicates Championship finale contenders
The NASCAR Xfinity Series enters its off-season period before returning for the 2021 season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway scheduled on Saturday, February 13.