The NASCAR Xfinity Series finished up its Round of 12 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL on Oct. 10. When the checkered flag flew, eight drivers’ hopes of reaching glory in Phoenix Raceway survived, while another four had theirs collapse.
Brandon Brown, Harrison Burton, Michael Annett and Riley Herbst were on the wrong side of the cut line when it was all said and done. To add onto the challenge of winning or pointing their way in was the fact that the track looked like a river for most of the race.
Rain began to fall early on in the race and would only pick up speed. Multiple drivers had issues throughout the race with spinning, missing the chicane or mechanical issues.
The Cinderella story came to an end for Brown. The driver of the No. 68 finished 26th after a crash in the closing laps of the race.
Brown had a strong day otherwise, running in the top 15 for the majority of stage 1. Chaos due to the rain allowed Brown to challenge for the stage win, but he overshot the frontstretch chicane going for the lead, finishing the stage in 10th.
Stage two produced even more fruitful results, as Brown survived the wet racetrack to finish seventh in the stage. Unfortunately, he slid off track and into the wall at the end of the race, ending any hopes of advancing.
The Woodbridge, Va., native has a lot to keep his head up about. Driving for his family-owned team in underfunded equipment was already one challenge Brown overcame, and making the playoffs was a huge accomplishment for the small team.
There were a lot of high hopes for rookie driver Burton entering the 2020 campaign. The 19-year-old was able to reach expectations on many levels, with two wins coming at Auto Club Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Unfortunately, his hopes of a championship in his rookie season are over. Burton entered the race just outside the cut line needing to have a strong run.
Burton found himself in contention for the stage 1 win but missed the chicane twice, relegating him to 13th.
A penalty for not stopping for the missed chicane forced Burton to start 32nd in stage 2. Burton worked his way up to seventh when his playoff hopes took a fatal hit on lap 37; his clutch stuck in the middle of a shift and was ruled broken. The mechanical failure ended his day prematurely and he finished 31st.
All three full-time JR Motorsports cars made the playoffs, and now two have advanced to the Round of 8. Unfortunately, Annett was the odd man out.
Annett entered the race in a must-win situation after a rough start to the playoffs and lack of bonus points. The No. 1 Pilot/Flying J driver started the race from 14th.
Annett fought handling issues with the front of the car through stage 1, running between 15th-20th through the stage. Crew chief Travis Mack called Annett to pit road several times throughout the stage to make adjustments and try to gain track position on new tires. Annett ultimately finished the stage in 20th.
The Des Moines, Iowa, driver reached as high in fourth in stage 2 and stayed in the top 10 for the first half of the stage. Later in the stage, though, Annett was involved in a crash that caused damage to the hood and right-front fender. The issue relegated him to a 28th-place finish in stage 2.
With a little under 15 laps to go, Annett fought his way back into the top 10 and stayed there for the rest of the race. He came home with a solid ninth-place finish, but it was not enough to advance to the Round of 8.
For the majority of the race, it appeared Herbst had the best shot to shake up the playoff field with a win. Herbst was 12th out of the playoff drivers entering the race, starting from 13th .
The 21-year-old struggled through stage 1, staying on the outside of the top 15 for the majority of the stage before fighting his way to 12th by stage’s end.
Herbst started stage two inside the top 10 and quickly worked his way into the top five. He took the lead on lap 26 after making contact with Noah Gragson, who returned the favor later in the race. Restarting from the lead after a red flag to clean standing water, Herbst was turned just over 30 laps into the race, making significant contact with the wall. The damage wasn’t fatal though, and Herbst rounded out stage 2 in 14th.
The Las Vegas-born driver worked his way to fifth on lap 63 but spun late in the race and dropped to 23rd. He rebounded for a 12th-place finish but was ultimately eliminated.
There were flashes of success for the Joe Gibbs Racing rookie, but the sting of being eliminated will certainly set in for the team.