On a weekend when the Sprint Cup Series drivers have no race to attend, one made the trip to Road America to race in the Xfinity Series. The trip was definitely worth it. Richard Childress Racing’s Paul Menard, driving the No. 33 car, won Saturday’s Road America 180 after having to make the final 21 laps without pitting.
Following the second caution of the 45-lap race, when Cale Conley‘s machine dropped fluid on the track, Menard, Boris Said, Regan Smith and others came to pit road with 21 laps to go. After the restart with 19 laps to go, the leaders, Brian Scott, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott, as well as some of the drivers that pitted under the caution, came back to pit road to refill their cars. However, Menard and Blake Koch were among the very few drivers that decided to try and stretch the fuel.
When the third and final caution of the race came out for Ben Rhodes being stuck in the gravel with 10 laps to go, Menard assumed the lead after Koch ran out of fuel. The 2011 Brickyard 400 winner was able to hold off Blaney, Scott and Darrell Wallace Jr. for his third career NXS victory.
When asked what his biggest concern was in the final laps, Menard said that fuel was definitely an issue. Undoubtedly what helped him at the end of the race was six consecutive caution laps, which took approximately 30 minutes to complete. Several drivers, including second-place finisher Blaney, were unpleased with NASCAR’s call.
“If we wouldn’t have run six laps of caution at the end, he [Menard] would have run out and we would’ve been fine… they just got luck with them [NASCAR] keeping it under caution. We are definitely not happy about that”, Blaney said after the race.
Following Menard and Blaney, Scott finished third, tying his best finish on a road course. Elliott, who lead over half of the race finished fourth after spending extra time on his last pit stop to clear the front end of his car after running through the grass. Elliott said the race that his mistake was “absolutely unacceptable” and cost his team the victory. Wallace finished fifth.
Said, in possibly his final career NASCAR race, finished sixth in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Justin Marks finished seventh, followed by Smith, who came from outside of the top 20 to eighth in the final four-lap shootout. Points leader Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon completed the top 10.
Buescher maintains his 16-point lead but now Elliott sits second in points, followed by Dillon, who is 19 points behind the Roush Fenway Racing driver.
The Xfinity Series will return to the track next Saturday afternoon when 40 drivers will compete for the victory at Darlington Raceway in the VFW Sports Clip Help a Hero 200. The race can be seen Saturday, September 5th at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC.