KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Chase Briscoe must have figured the best way to stay out of trouble was by staying up front.
The red-hot driver of the No. 98 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing swept the first two stages of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night, then he dominated after a restart with four laps to go to capture the first race in the round of eight and clinch his spot in the season finale at Phoenix.
Daniel Hemric was second and Ryan Sieg, who made a couple of pit gambles that left him with a fresh set of tires with seven laps to go, rallied from 10th on the final restart to finish third. Playoff contender Justin Haley also avoided trouble and was fourth with Josh Williams rounding out the top five.
“I’m glad — after all the chaos at the beginning of the race, a lot of the guys will be in scary points situations,” said Briscoe, who won his series-leading ninth race of the season. “I’m glad we don’t have to deal with that.”
Playoff contenders Noah Gragson and Austin Cindric were involved in an early wreck. Brandon Jones and Justin Allgaier were in one later in the race, which also sent Anthony Alfredo on a wild skid on his roof through Turn 1.
Allgaier avoided major damage, though, and came away leading the rest of the playoff field 11 points above the cut-line heading to Texas and Martinsville. Jones is two points back and Cindric nine back, the last driver above the cutoff and two points clear of Haley. Ross Chastain is 12 points below the cut line, with Sieg and Gragson next.
“I was out on old tires forever, it seemed to me,” Sieg said of his unique strategy. “We kind of gambled, and that’s the only way we’re going to make it through to the next round. So we gambled, and it was a hell of a race.”
It could be a heck of a start to a big fall for Briscoe, who led 159 laps on the night. He’s one of the front-runners to take over the No. 14 car in the Cup Series now that Clint Bowyer is stepping away for a spot in the television booth.
“I’m super happy to be locked into Phoenix,” he said. “I can’t say enough to everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. This Ford Performance Racing School Mustang was light’s out.”
The race was red-flagged on a restart with 28 laps to go when the field went four-wide into Turn 1 a few rows back of the lead, and a massive wreck involving playoff drivers Allgaier and Jones sent Alfredo sliding on his roof along the outer wall.
Alfredo’s car briefly burst into flames before coming to rest on its top on the track apron.
Alfredo, who had been running in the top five most of the night, had to wait upside-down for a wrecker to lift his car onto its tires before he could climb out. Nobody was hurt in the wreck, which also collected Riley Herbst and Brandon Brown.
“That was the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced. That definitely shows you how fast things happen in racing,” Alfredo said. “When you’re upside-down, it’s crazy. It felt like an eternity, but I knew the safety crew was working tremendously fast. I could see how they were working to get me out of there, so I just relaxed the best I could.
“The weirdest part was that,” Alfredo continued, “just because of all the blood rushing to you’re head. But I’m good.”
Allgaier and Jones somehow escaped with minor damage and were able to continue.
“I should have bailed earlier,” Allgaier told his team over his radio. “I don’t know what I thought. Just a dumb move.”
The playoff standings took their first big shake-up just 16 laps into the opening stage.
Gragson had chosen the inside line with Cindric right next to him for a restart after the first caution. The duo were side by side heading into Turn 1, where Chastain and Jones pulled alongside them to make it four-wide exiting the second turn.
At that point, Gragson and Cindric touched and both of them had to work to keep their cars straight. And while they kept going the right direction, and avoided collecting anybody behind them, the impact left Gragson with enough damage that he was unable to continue and forced Cindric into a series of pit stops that put him several laps down.
“I mean, when you’re in the middle of four-wide, it’s tough,” Gragson said. “We all got crowded and pinched up out of Turn 2 on the restart. It’s a bummer. Definitely frustrating. But I don’t know what you do. We’re all racing to get the lead.”
It wasn’t the first time Cindric, who had one of the dominant cars during the July race, has seen his playoff hopes crushed at Kansas. Cindric wrecked two years ago and finished 29th and had more problems last year, finishing 25th.
With just two more races before the finale, Gragson’s last-place finish puts him in a likely win-or-else situation.
“We’ve had good speed at Texas in the past, so I’m confident about that,” he said. “The rest of our team, we’re extra motivated. That’s the good thing about these Xfinity playoffs. You can have a bad race and it allows you to rebound.”