2018 playoff outlook for Xfinity, truck series as schedule winds down

Brett Moffitt takes the checkered flag before Johnny Sauter during the truck series race at Michigan on Aug. 11. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

The truck series playoff field will be set Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway and it is a pretty simple scenario.

The next night, the Xfinity Series teams will take to the track with five races left in the regular season. That series' playoff scenarios also are fairly simple but still have time to get complicated.

The two NASCAR development series have quite different schedules.

In trucks, five drivers are in the playoffs with wins -- Johnny Sauter, Brett Moffitt, Noah Gragson, Justin Haley and Ben Rhodes -- and Grant Enfinger is in as long as he starts the race at Bristol. It leaves Stewart Friesen and Matt Crafton on a little bit of a bubble -- each can get knocked out if a driver who is not in the top-8 in the standings wins at Bristol.

If a driver outside the top-8 wins at Bristol, Crafton likely would be the driver who would miss the playoffs as he would need to gain 40 points on Friesen. Just 19 points are needed by Friesen to finish ahead of Crafton to clinch the final spot. Friesen can do that with an 18th-place finish even if he doesn't score any stage points.

But it appears the championship could come down to a Moffitt-versus-Sauter battle. Moffitt passed Sauter on the last lap to win the truck race Saturday at Michigan.

"I already see that unless something weird happens, he's going to be one of the final four at Homestead and he's the only other guy to win four races this year, and it's good to be able to join him on that level and get some points back on him," Moffitt said. "We're tough competitors and we don't like losing to each other."

Sauter, who won the 2016 trucks title, has the depth of GMS Racing to use to his advantage. The Hattori Racing Enterprises team with Moffitt has little depth as a one-truck team that has at times weighed not entering races if there isn't enough funding to be competitive.

Both drivers hit a little bit of a slump during the early summer, but both also showed at Michigan they will be factors in the playoffs.

"A lot of people have been questioning where we're at," Sauter said. "You've got to try some stuff, too, along the way. Otherwise if you keep doing the same thing, you might not have the success. We've learned a lot over the last couple of weeks."

On the Xfinity side, there is still a little bit more intrigue as those drivers have five races -- Bristol, Road America, Darlington, Indianapolis and Las Vegas -- before the playoff field is set.

Why is there a great difference between the two series? There are just seven races (not 10) in the playoffs for the trucks and Xfinity. The opening round of the truck playoff spans six weeks as the truck teams have two weeks off between the playoff-opening Canadian Tire Motorsport Park race Aug. 26 and the Sept. 14 race at Las Vegas, and then another four weeks off before the Oct. 13 race at Talladega.

Only three Xfinity drivers who are eligible for the playoffs have won races this year -- Christopher Bell (four), Justin Allgaier (three) and Tyler Reddick (one).

That means four -- and possibly as many as nine -- drivers will make it into the playoffs on points.

Elliott Sadler, Daniel Hemric and Cole Custer, all with at least a 193-point cushion on the fifth winless driver in points, are all but guaranteed a spot.

And in reality, another five drivers -- Brandon Jones, Ryan Truex, Austin Cindric, Matt Tifft and Ryan Reed -- should feel good. They are all at least 96 points ahead of Ross Chastain, the last driver at the moment who would get in on points. And Chastain has a 49-point cushion on Michael Annett, currently the first driver out, and a 100-point cushion on the next eligible driver, Ryan Sieg.

So if Annett is going to catch anyone, it would be Chastain. The chances of two drivers outside the top-12 winning is incredibly slim.

Considering their wins and playoff points, Bell and Allgaier are looking like the championship favorites. Allgaier believes his win at Mid-Ohio is a good predictor.

"To be able to come here and change everything and put ourselves in position [to win] shows the strength of our team and hopefully we can carry that same strength into the playoffs," Allgaier said after the win Saturday at Mid-Ohio.