There’s nothing like a photo finish to kick off the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2016.
The victory is the fifth of the 20-year-old’s NXS career and first at Daytona, giving him a boost heading into Sunday’s Cup race where he starts from the pole.
“Joey gave us a good shove today,” Elliott said following contact while coming to the checkered flag. “He gave me a great shove down the back. I tried my best to hold him off there at the line. I know it was risky but I feel, that close at the end, I feel like I had to take a chance.”
Elliott, just 20 years old becomes the youngest XFINITY Series winner. He was in the driver’s seat down the stretch with JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler pushing from behind until last-lap shuffling left him vulnerable.
“I think Kasey [Kahne] had finally gotten the good push from the [No.] 22 and they just had momentum as we came to the white,” he said. “We got off [Turn] 2, I saw the 22 coming with a big head of steam. Fortunately, he had nowhere else to go but to push me.”Elliott’s Saturday JR Motorsports car owner and Sunday Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said the win can only help the young driver.
“Confidence is such a huge factor out there,” Earnhardt said. “You go out there and win races you feel like ‘Hey, I’m getting somewhere. I’m starting to learn.’ You start to build confidence.
“He’s got the Cup season looming over his head and has got a lot of things going on. For him to get in here, focus and get the win today was impressive.”
Joey Logano had to settle for second place, putting Logano three-for-three in runner-up finishes during Speedweeks.
“Second is not bad, but it kind of sucks at the same time,” Logano said. “That restart, started to get a good push and tried to go around Chase and the No. 1 kind of held me out.”
Despite the initial concern, Logano was beyond pleased with the race with Elliott, saying he would make the same maneuver with a win on the line.
“That’s what I expect,” said Logano. “I’m a racer. I expect him to make the move to make sure I don’t win. That’s what he should do. He did exactly what he’s supposed to do – the same thing I would do and wouldn’t expect any repercussions back.”
The 120-lap event kicked off with three cautions in the opening 22 laps. The most significant incident of the day involved Bobby Labonte crashing on the backstretch with Jeb Burton, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson and Brennon Poole also receiving damage.
Race winner Elliott sparked the incident following a chain reaction bump to the No. 18 of Labonte.
“I know everybody checked up really, really hard in front of me,” Elliott said. “I tried to get stopped and got into Bobby and he got loose. If that was my fault, I take full credit for it.”Labonte, who made a return visit to the XFINITY Series with Joe Gibbs Racing, was unable to stay on the lead lap for the remainder of the event, eventually finishing 23rd.
Unlike 2015, the XFINITY field ran an impressively clean race. A 77-lap green-flag run was interrupted by a caution for Ray Black, Jr. stalled on the track, which set up a restart with 13 laps to go.
From that point on, the aggression cranked up amongst the top 10 drivers. But they raced to the line clean and only 14 finished on the lead lap in an event where the field got fairly strung out.
JRM had a strong start to the season with Elliott’s victory, Kahne in third, and Sadler in fourth. Further back, despite a pit road penalty on lap 99, Justin Allgaier came home 12th in his first start in the JR Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet. Sadler begins the new season as the XFINITY points leader.
“Had some fun. Got a car in one piece to take to Talladega,” Sadler said. “Great shot of momentum moving on to Atlanta for us from here.”
The ninth-place effort for Koch was the first top 10 of his 148-race XFINITY career as well as the first for Kaulig Racing in their debut race.
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