NASCAR Race Weekend Central

XFINITY Breakdown: Boyd Gaming 300

Sometimes the drivers head off of pit road onto the racetrack to begin the pace laps that will eventually lead to the green flag of the race, and you have absolutely no idea who will win. Several drivers have shown speed in practice, many of them have good records and even wins at this particular track, and, despite loads of data and much information to draw from, you just really have no idea who is going to win the race.

This race wasn’t like that.

Austin Dillon was fastest in both practices for the XFINITY Series, won the pole for the race, and went on to win the Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in dominating fashion, leading 183 of the 200 laps. The only driver who posed a legitimate challenge was Ryan Blaney, who was able to pull up right to Dillon’s bumper on fresher tires with just a couple of laps remaining, and yet he still came up short to the blazing fast No. 33 car.

The win was Dillon’s third career XFINITY Series win, a surprising statistic considering he won the series championship in 2013. Meanwhile, Austin’s brother Ty is leading the series points standings by six points over Chris Buescher.

Fast Facts:

  • The race was slowed a total of six times for 34 laps.
  • There were a total of 13 lead changes among 7 drivers.
  • The race lasted 2 hours, 22 minutes, and 50 seconds.
  • The average speed was 125.021 mph.
  • The margin of victory between Austin Dillon and Blaney was .664 seconds.

 

The Good

It’s hard to put anyone in this category other than Austin Dillon, considering his dominance throughout the weekend. There was no doubt heading into the race—and as the race drew on—that the only way Dillon was going to lose was if he made a mistake or there was some sort of mechanical issue. Otherwise, he was in his own zip code.

That is until Ryan Blaney began reeling Dillon in with just a handful of laps left. Blaney, after making ever-so-slight contact with Erik Jones, pitted for fresh tires and to check for damage after Jones’ crashed while the two were racing. Though Blaney expressed some remorse for the incident after the race, it’s likely Blaney wouldn’t have been able to compete with Dillon without the extra rubber. Plus, it didn’t hurt that there were so few cars on the lead lap (11 at the time of the checkered flag), that pitting to get fresh tires and check for damage wasn’t going to be much of a detriment.

Also, Brennan Poole and Daniel Suarez deserve a shout-out. Neither driver had ever been to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, late alone raced there, and they finished 9th and 10th, respectively.

 

The Bad

For all that is said about Sprint Cup Series drivers competing in the XFINITY Series (and Dillon was one of them), Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. definitely didn’t have much of a presence during the race. Hamlin, who was driving the generally dominant No. 54 car (usually piloted by Kyle Busch, who is out indefinitely due to an injury) only led one lap and that was during a cycle of green flag pitstops.

Meanwhile, Earnhardt spent some time in the top-five, but went a lap down at one point and didn’t lead a single lap. In fairness, there weren’t many cars on the lead lap to begin with, but Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports driver Chase Elliott was able to finish on the lead lap and apparently had a faster car.

That’s good for the XFINITY Series drivers but a little strange for what has been the status quo in this series.

Also, series points leader Ty Dillon wasn’t very competitive during the race either. He was slow during qualifying earlier in the day and, as a result, was forced to start in the 20th position. Dillon didn’t lead any laps either. He finished eighth and on the lead lap, but was otherwise unimpressive throughout the course of the event.

 

The Ugly

Brian Scott looked like he was going to have a strong day … until the race started.

Scott started alongside Dillon in the second position when the green flag waved, but he didn’t get much further. Scott could not get his No. 2 car up to speed, causing the cars behind him (which was, well, all of them) to stack up. Though no one actually crashed, it certainly caused a traffic jam. Scott continued to drop through the field and, when the first caution flag waved, Scott headed to pit road … and then went behind the wall. Scott would retire from the race after completing only 14 laps, succumbing to his second engine issue of the weekend. The team had already made an engine change after a transmission issue in a Friday practice session.

(Photo: Getty Images)
Erik Jones saw a good day turn bad while racing with Ryan Blaney. (Photo: Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Erik Jones, one of the stronger cars in the race, suffered a hard crash on lap 174 while racing with Ryan Blaney. Though the replay shows minimal between the two, Jones got loose as the two raced very closely and Jones was completely sideways. Jones then appeared to over-correct and slammed hard into the outside wall on the frontstretch. Jones was not the strongest car, but he had led seven laps up to that point.

Oh, and that section of the wall he hit? There was no SAFER barrier. In fact, similar to Jeff Gordon’s impact last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he hit the part of the wall just after where the SAFER barriers ended.

That makes the third in as many weeks that a driver has managed to strike a part of the wall that was not protected. Kyle Busch’s injury was sustained after hitting an unprotected part of the wall at Daytona, though Gordon and Jones were able to walk away from their incidents without issue. Regardless, both NASCAR and the tracks alike continue to talk about assessing the safety situations at each racetrack.

 

Underdog Performer of the Race

This absolutely belongs to Brennan Poole, who made his XFINITY Series debut and managed to finish ninth. Poole had never raced at this track before and he outperformed other more experienced drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Aric Almirola, and Elliott Sadler. He avoided trouble, kept his nose clean, and was able to have a solid finish inside the top 10. If this is indicative of the future for Poole, he’ll have a lot more to say in this series.

 

Double Duty Interlopers

Four XFINITY Series regulars were able to lead laps in Saturday’s race. Brendan Gaughan, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliott were all able to lead for a combined total of nine laps. Most of those were during green flag pitstops and Dillon led almost every other lap in the race.

Dillon, of course, is a Sprint Cup Series regular. Denny Hamlin finished fourth. Aric Almirola and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 11th and 12, respectively, with Almirola finishing as the last car on the lead lap. John Wes Townley is ineligible for points, but is not a Sprint Cup Series regular and will not be competing in the race on Sunday. He finished 19th. Erik Jones is also ineligible for points in the XFINITY Series, also instead racing in the Camping World Truck Series. After the wreck, Jones finished 29th.

 

The Final Word

Thank goodness for Ryan Blaney. Dillon’s dominance, though impressive, made the race incredibly lackluster as the field was spread out and there was never a threat in site for Dillon. It wasn’t until the final laps of the race that Blaney made the race exciting, but what a great time to do it! At that point, no one remembered that the rest of the race bore little-to-no excitement. Was Blaney going to beat a dominant Dillon?!

It wasn’t to be, as Dillon was able to hold off Blaney, going so far as to block him all the way down to the infield grass on the frontstretch. Blaney said after the race he wasn’t willing to wreck Dillon to win the race, but he nearly wrecked himself in the process. Blaney was sideways a few times in the closing laps of the race, especially as his car reacted to the dirty air from behind Dillon’s car. In the final few hundred yards of the race, Blaney actually made contact with the wall. He was still able to hold onto second, but Blaney’s car definitely looked like a handful.

 

Quotable

“Man, there at the end the 22 (Blaney) put a heck of a charge on, I didn’t know he had tires … it was like he had a jet pack on. Our XFINITY team did a great job. Pit stops were good. It was just a solid day. When you have something like this, you just don’t want to mess it up. That’s the hardest part, coming down to those restarts and stuff, trying not to make mistakes. We did it, man. We did it. It was a heck of a last two laps.” Austin Dillon, race winner

“I just apologize to Erik Jones. He just kind of sucked me around there. I tried to stay off of him and got into his left rear. Hate to see that. We had a great car there. It was a great car to come and get tires. … We were coming and I got a good run off (Turn) 4 and he did what he had to do to stop my run. It just wasn’t enough. I slipped a little bit on (Turn) 1 and 2 on the top and couldn’t get to his outside.” Ryan Blaney, finished second, on his wreck with Erik Jones and the race with Austin Dillon

“[Our day was] mediocre at best. Proud of this whole Monster Energy team, but that’s about what we had for a car. Just we didn’t have any short run speed and that kills you on these restarts. We had a big hole in the nose that in hindsight we probably should have fixed, but other than that it was kind of a status quo day. It’s kind of what we had. Didn’t tear anything up and we’ll build on it and try to run better next time.” Denny Hamlin, finished 4th

“We are gaining. I think that has been our motto all weekend long really. We were way to free and our balance was too free overall. We couldn’t fire off on restarts and made a big adjustment there on the last one and over adjusted. We are learning as a team and our Ford EcoBoost Mustang was right there as a top-10 car all day and it paid off for us. We got some breaks there with the lucky dog and have some momentum heading into Phoenix. I am excited to see where things are going for us.” Darrell Wallace Jr., finished 7th

“It was good. Overall, a difficult weekend. I was very sick yesterday, but to be honest everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, ARRIS, Telcel, Toyota – they did an amazing job working hard even when I wasn’t 100 percent yesterday in practice. In the race, the balance of the ARRIS Camry was pretty good. We made some mistakes – rookie mistakes like sliding once on pit road, with speeding once on pit road – rookie mistakes, but we never gave up. We were working hard and it resulted in a good top-10 for us.” Daniel Suarez, finished 10th

“We were really fast. We got caught up behind the 2 there and lost all our track position. We had to fight back and got our car really fast during the middle of the race and got off on that long green flag run and got lapped and couldn’t get the lucky dog. That last run our car was really fast. We know how to adjust on it and make it better. It is not the day we wanted, of course, man just bad things keep going our way but we will keep our heads down and dig and go to Phoenix and try again.” Elliott Sadler, finished 13th

“It was a solid day for us. We had a lot of speed in the car on new tires and when the pace was fast and on restarts and stuff but man, after that it just would go away real fast. It would get really, really loose. I am not sure what we are missing there. We have to go do work and kind of figure out a more long run package but the short run speed was there. I could run with anyone on the restarts but after 10 laps I would get real loose and it was hard to drive in traffic.” Aric Almirola, finished 11th

“We were tight and it made for a really long day for us. There isn’t much really to do other than move on to the next one. We will head into Phoenix and try to get this west coast swing try to swinging back our way a little bit.” Chris Buescher, finished 14th

The 22 (Ryan Blaney) just lost it and we were there to catch him and save his day, but it doesn’t take away from how great our day was – awesome Interstate Batteries Camry and one that I thought had a shot to win the race. It’s really a shame we couldn’t be racing for it, but awesome job by everybody from the pit box to the pit crew. Just one of those days where it seemed like everything was clicking right, but just wasn’t meant to be. It’s a shame that it had to end like that, but we’ll move on to the next one. We go back to Phoenix next week. That’s another track that’s one of my favorites, so hopefully we’ll be able to go and grab a win there.” Erik Jones, finished 29th, on his wreck with Ryan Blaney

“I don’t know what happened. That’s, unfortunately, our second engine issue of the weekend. We also had a couple problems last weekend in Atlanta. Procedurally we’re over-looking something. We’re not doing it right at the shop before we get to the race track. It’s a shame, because we do have really fast cars … We just got to figure out what we need to do before we get to the race track to keep this type of stuff from happening.” Brian Scott, finished 38th, on the engine problems

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