Last Updated: 2017-11-08
The biggest weekend of the Xfinity Series season for the top rookies is here. This weekend’s Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway is the final race in the Round of 8 playoffs and three of the circuit’s top four rookies are on the chopping block. This is the second stop at Phoenix and the 32nd race of the 33-race season. The finale comes at Homestead-Miami next week with the Ford EcoBoost 300.
The drama at the Xfinity Series level certainly can’t match that of the Cup Series level, but this is still a pretty compelling race this weekend. Elliott Sadler, William Byron, and Justin Allgaier don’t have a whole lot to worry about. Sadler leads all drivers with 3,103 points. Byron is five points behind him and Allgaier is nine points in back of the leader.
After that, however, the drama builds. Brennan Poole currently holds the last spot for the championship with 3,079 points. Rookie Matt Tifft has 3,074 points. Fellow rookie Cole Custer has 3,066 points. Rookie Daniel Hemric has 3,061 points. Ryan Reed is bringing up the rear with 3,046 points and would need a win to advance. Most of these guys need a win to advance. It seems unlikely that they will get it, since Reed is the only one with a win among that group of five and it came in the restrictor plate race at Daytona to open the season.
Obviously a full field will be on hand at Homestead-Miami next weekend, but only four drivers will have a shot at winning the championship. At that point, the point totals are thrown out the window and the best finisher of the bunch will be declared the champion. Cup Series drivers that meet the eligibility requirements will still be a part of that Ford EcoBoost 300.
None of the drivers in the playoffs have managed to win a playoff race as of yet. Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell, and Erik Jones are the winners of those five races. Reddick is points eligible, but he only has 18 starts. He’s still 18th in points despite running a low number of events.
The favorite this week at 5Dimes Sportsbook is Ryan Blaney at +200. It makes sense for Blaney to be the favorite. This will be the 13th start for Blaney at this level this season and he has finished outside the top five just once. That was at Chicagoland in the final race of the regular season. He was fifth once. He has two wins, six second-place finishes, and two third-place finishes. He was second and won the second stage in the spring race at Phoenix. Blaney doesn’t have any wins at Phoenix, but he also only has two starts, with a 10th way back in 2013 and a second this spring. He’ll be running near the front of the pack, so it will simply come down to how it works out for him at the end.
Erik Jones is really hitting his stride late in the year. He’s priced at +325 this week. In the last three races, Jones has one overall win, five stage wins, and has led the most laps twice. If we extend to the race at Chicagoland, Jones has seven stage wins in his last five events. But, the knock on Jones has been his inability to finish off races. We’ve seen that once again this season, as his win last week at Texas was his first since his win at Bristol in the spring. He did complete the Texas sweep and there are some similarities to the track in Phoenix. He was third in Phoenix and won the first stage back in the spring. Jones was 10th in this race last year after finishing second in the spring. Two years ago, he was fifth and third at PIR and he was sixth in 2014.
Alex Bowman is the third favorite at +500. Bowman ran his only race of the season to date a month ago at Charlotte and won it. The 24-year-old Tucson native would love to snag this one in his home state. That was his first career win in 51 Xfinity Series races. He has 14 top-10 finishes, but none of them have been at Phoenix. In fact, in four starts in this race dating back to 2012, Bowman hasn’t finished higher than 11th. There is some recency bias with that win two races ago, but he’s not a good bet at this price.
William Byron is priced fairly low at +650 this week for a guy that has had some consistency issues since his win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Byron won three out of five races in the middle of the season at Iowa, Daytona, and Indianapolis, but only has three top-five finishes since and only two in these playoff races. He won the first stage at Dover en route to a third-place finish and was fourth at Kansas. He was fourth and held the pole at Phoenix in the spring.
Justin Allgaier won the spring race at Phoenix and carries a lower price than normal at +850. He does have three top-five finishes in his five playoff races. Christopher Bell, who won the race at Kansas two events ago, is also +850. His finishes have been all over the map, but he did lead the most laps in his 16th-place finish at Iowa. He could certainly win this week, especially with the random results we’ve seen lately.
Overall, your best bet is to take one of the two favorites and hope the chalk holds up. Guys like Matt Tifft at +2750 and Cole Custer and Daniel Hemric at +3300 have to take some more chances than usual, so they may be good dice roll picks. Brennan Poole at +3750 just needs to avoid danger and have a decent finish. He might be worth a long shot look at Homestead-Miami next week.
Coverage of the Ticket Galaxy 200 will be on NBC on Saturday with a 3:30 p.m. ET start time.
Odds as of November 8, 10 a.m. ET:
Ryan Blaney +200
Erik Jones +325
Alex Bowman +500
William Byron +650
Justin Allgaier +850
Christopher Bell +850
Austin Dillon +1350
Elliott Sadler +1350
Matt Tifft +2750
Field (any other driver) +3000
Cole Custer +3300
Daniel Hemric +3300
Ty Dillon +3750
Brennan Poole +3750
Blake Koch +7500
Ryan Reed +7500
Michael Annett +12500
Brendan Gaughan +12500