The NASCAR Xfinity Series season ended on Saturday, November 6, with a race at Phoenix Raceway. Four drivers headed to the one-mile track with their sights set on the championship trophy, but only Daniel Hemric fulfilled his dream. He pulled off a stunning upset by passing Austin Cindric at the start-finish line to win his first-ever national series race, as well as the championship.
The final stage of the championship race featured a long run from Laps 141 to 181 that allowed Cindric to build up a two-second lead over Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek. However, Allmendinger spun while attempting to head to pit road, bringing out the caution. This incident set up a run to the checkered flag between Gragson, Cindric, and Hemric. Though it was not the final caution.
Incidents involving Jeb Burton, Josh Williams, and Jade Buford brought out more cautions, with the final one ultimately sending the race to overtime. Cindric and Hemric lined up at the front of the pack while Gragson lined up sixth after hitting the wall. They battled throughout the final two laps with Cindric appearing to have the advantage. However, Hemric made contact with the side of the No. 22 and crossed the finish line first by a matter of feet.
The driver of the No. 18 entered the season finale with 207 combined starts across the Cup Series, Truck Series, and Xfinity Series. He had zero wins in his career, but he flipped the switch at the most important moment. He finally won a race and locked up the championship.
Hemric won the first race of his career while Cindric capped off his Xfinity Series tenure with a second-place run. He also clinched the owner’s championship for Team Penske. Gragson finished the race 12th and the season in third. Allmendinger rounded out the championship four with a 14th-place finish.
2 Contenders Fought Their Cars Early at Phoenix
Every driver in the championship four entered the season finale with favorable odds to hoist the trophy at the end of the night. Cindric was a dominant force throughout the season, Allmendinger was the regular-season champion, Hemric was one of the most consistent drivers in the series, and Gragson had the momentum after his win at Martinsville on October 30.
Hemric and Cindric both impressed early in the championship race as they each won a stage. Allmendinger and Gragson, by comparison, just didn’t have the same pace. The No. 16, in particular, struggled with speed and handling, forcing Allmendinger to focus on downshifting through corners instead of using his brakes.
The driver of the No. 16 struggled to crack the top-10 for most of the first stage, but he slowly made progress. He reached sixth by the break and then began making more strides after his team continued to make adjustments. Though other issues surfaced with fewer than 40 laps remaining in the championship race that kept Allmendinger out of contention, including a spin that dropped him outside of the top-10.
Gragson had similar issues early in the race, albeit to a lesser degree. He spent Stage 1 in fifth, but he couldn’t make any moves toward the front. He lined up on the front row at the start of Stage 2 but quickly lost spots in a matter of laps while telling the No. 9 team that his car was too tight while in traffic.
A slow pit stop during the Stage 2 break dropped Gragson outside of the top-10, and then his crew chief decided to gamble. He sent the No. 9 down pit road for fuel during a caution, hoping that the race would go green and give Gragson a fuel advantage. This plan dropped the stock car to 22nd and partially backfired due to a sudden streak of cautions.
Gragson fought his way back into contention for the win and even lined up behind Cindric on two different restarts. However, he slapped the wall and caused damage to the right side of his stock car right before overtime.
3 Contenders Will Return for Another Season
The championship race at Phoenix marks the end of Cindric’s four-year tenure in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. He will now head to the Cup Series and join Team Penske. Cindric will replace Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Ford Mustang while the other three championship contenders return for another battle.
Allmendinger will stick with Kaulig Racing for the 2022 season. He will pursue his second consecutive championship four berth while driving the No. 16. Allmendinger will also run “12-15” races in the Cup Series.
Like Allmendinger, Gragson will return to the Xfinity Series and his team. He will be back in the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro after announcing a one-year extension on August 31. He will pursue his fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
Hemric will make a rather significant change ahead of the 2022 season. He will remain in the Xfinity Series, but he will move to a different team to defend his title. Hemric will replace Justin Haley in the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet Camaro while becoming teammates with Allmendinger.