At the start of the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday, September 16, all eyes were focused on Daniel Hemric, Landon Cassill, Ryan Sieg and rookie Sheldon Creed, all of whom were battling for the final two transfer spots to make the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.
When the event concluded following 300 laps of intensity, carnage and chaos, Hemric and Sieg were left victorious as they claimed the final two spots to the Playoffs while Cassill and Creed were left on the outside of the Playoff picture. For Hemric and Sieg, their road to making the Playoffs did not come without drama from start to finish.
For Hemric, who rolled off the starting grid in eighth place, the majority of his event went smoothly as he claimed top-10 results in both stages and was initially poised for a top-10 run on the track. His event, however, briefly turned sour when he radioed power steering issues to his No. 11 AG1 Chevrolet Camaro and fell out of the lead lap category. Needing to finish to have an opportunity to defend his series, Hemric managed to accomplish his mission after surviving a 20-lap dash to the finish to finish 20th, two laps down, and claim the first of two vacant spots in the Playoffs.
With his accomplishment, Hemric, the reigning Xfinity Series champion, qualified for his fourth career appearance in the Xfinity Series Playoffs and his first with Kaulig Racing amid a difficult 2022 campaign, where he has recorded nine top-10 results throughout the 26-race regular-season stretch and is seeking his first victory of the season. Despite the on-track struggles, Hemric sets his sights on the Playoffs and turning the difficulties throughout the regular-season stretch into success for the Playoffs.
“All the money we spent training, it was worth every penny after [the race],” Hemric said on USA Network. “That was the toughest challenge I’ve ever experienced inside of a race car that 80 or 90-lap run, whatever it was. [I] Had a leak somewhere in the system. That caution with 15 [laps] to go, we got the [pit] stop and it took a full bottle and a half of power steering to have power steering back. Obviously, [I] just got to execute better on that. In the Playoffs, you can’t have issues like that. Thankfully, we are part of that. We got a lot of work to do to get this AG1 Camaro, this entire No. 11 team to be championship contenders. We’re gonna fight. We’re gonna continue to fight, go down swinging. Read to go battle.”
Perhaps there was no competitor smiling more on pit road in making the Playoffs than Sieg, who started Friday night’s event in 10th place. His road to the Playoffs started with drama three days earlier when the news from NASCAR emerged that Jeremy Clements, who was initially assessed an L2-level penalty for an intake manifold violation and was disqualified from the Playoffs despite winning at Daytona International Speedway in late August, was reinstated back into the Playoff picture after winning his appeal case. Clements’ reinstatement knocked Sieg back below the cutline as he trailed the top-12 cutline by 19 points behind Landon Cassill.
Throughout the event, however, good fortune struck Sieg, who leaped his way back inside the cutline during the second stage once Cassill took his No. 10 Voyager Chevrolet Camaro to the garage due to a mechanical issue just past the one-third mark of the event. With Cassill multiple laps down, all Sieg had to do was nurse his No. 39 A-Game Ford Mustang to the finish and with a strong on-track result. Despite enduring a total of eight caution periods and a 20-lap dash to the finish, Sieg accomplished his task as he finished in 10th place, which was enough to claim the 12th and final spot in the Playoffs by five points over Cassill.
With his accomplishment, Sieg, who is currently campaigning in his ninth full-time season in the Xfinity Series with his family-owned RSS Racing organization, qualified for the Playoffs for the fourth time in his career. He will now embark on a seven-race stretch to contend for his first NASCAR national touring series championship. He also continues to pursue his first NASCAR victory, having made 294 previous starts without recording a victory to his resume.
“It’s Bristol,” Sieg said. “You never know what can happen. “It’s a lot of fun racing on these short tracks. Too bad we didn’t add a couple next year, but all in all, just a great day for our CMR/A-Game Ford. Just grind it out and find ourselves going to the Playoffs. That’s amazing for our small team and we’ll have [crew chief] Cowboy [Starland] back in the Playoffs in his last year. We got a top 10 [finish]. First time here. It’s all turning around a little bit. We’ve struggled through the summer, but we’ve turned it around. Hopefully, we’re headed in the right direction for these Playoffs.”
The first competitor to be left outside of the Playoff picture following the regular-season stretch was Cassill, Hemric’s teammate. In his first season with Kaulig Racing and amid a roller coaster regular-season stretch, Cassill came into the event retaining the 12th and final spot to the Playoffs after recording nine top-10 results throughout the regular-season stretch. Despite rolling off the grid in 16th place and remaining within striking distance of a strong run to qualify for this first appearance in the Xfinity Playoffs, his championship hopes took a serious hit nearing the Lap 110 mark when he made an unscheduled pit stop under green.
Soon after, the night went from bad to worse for the Iowa native as he took his car to the garage with smoke coming out of his No. 10 Chevrolet due to an apparent mechanical issue involving the brake hub. By the time Cassill returned to the track, he was 112 laps behind the leaders and needed to either gain a bevy of spots below the leaderboard or have Sieg eliminated from the event. With Sieg managing to finish 10th, Cassill could only climb his way up to 35th place in the final leaderboard, which was not enough for him to retain his Playoff hopes for this season as he missed the cutline by five points. He will be the only Kaulig Racing competitor to not make the Playoffs while his teammates Hemric and AJ Allmendinger, the 2022 Xfinity regular-season champion, will contend for this year’s title.
“[The event] was fine,” Cassill said. “We were fast enough and I was doing what I needed to do, and then we had a mechanical failure. I really don’t know what to say. We’ll just move forward from here.”
Another competitor who did not make the Playoffs was Creed, who rallied from a difficult start to his rookie campaign in the Xfinity circuit to endure a strong summer stretch to draw himself back into contention to make the Playoffs. Despite being 32 points below the cutline at the start of the event and qualifying 22nd for Friday night’s event at Bristol, an opportunity presented itself for Creed when he elected to remain on the track with the lead on old tires to start the second stage. Despite being pressured by veteran Justin Allgaier at the start, Creed held his ground on the outside lane and managed to lead 34 laps before he lost the lead to Allgaier on Lap 125.
Three laps later, however, Creed’s strong run came to a crashing halt when he was caught up in a wreck in Turn 2 that started when the eventual winner Noah Gragson bumped into Ty Gibbs and sent Gibbs up the racetrack and into Creed’s No. 2 Whelen Chevrolet Camaro, with the latter two making hard contact against the outside wall with wrecked race cars. The damage was enough to knock Creed out of the race and out of contention to contend for his first Xfinity title as he sets his sights on concluding the 2022 season on a strong note.
“[It] Looked like [Gragson] just got [Gibbs] on the left rear, got him loose and shot him up into me,” Creed said. “[We] Did what we had to do. [I] Didn’t have a great qualifying effort. I got track position there and still was super loose, but I had pace. I felt like that was the first time today I had good speed. I thought we were probably one [pit] stop away from being able to race those guys for a win. Man, that’s just the way my year’s gone. We have speed at times and then, stuff like that happens. Unfortunate, but proud of my guys. We never gave up all year. I felt like we gave it one hell of a fight the last few weeks. [I] Felt like we would’ve had a shot [to win] tonight. We’re gonna keep digging this year and maybe, build some new cars.”
With Cassill and Creed among a handful of competitors failing to make the Playoffs, Hemric and Sieg join 10 other competitors in a seven-race battle for the 2022 Xfinity Series championship. Their Playoff battle begins next Saturday, September 24, at Texas Motor Speedway with the event’s coverage to commence at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.