Kyle Larson led 94 laps in the 200-lap feature portion of Saturday’s XFINITY Series Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300…but it wasn’t enough. Kyle Busch led 43 laps…but it wasn’t enough. Instead, polesitter Erik Jones had the restart of his life with just three laps to go, getting by second-place and then leader Larson, pulling Busch past Larson along with him to win by .413 seconds, leaving Larson to finish third. Austin Dillon finished fourth and Justin Allgaier came home fifth. Daniel Suarez finshed sixth, Ty Dillon came home seventh, and Sprint Cup regulars Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola filled up the top 10
Jones’ win also means he takes home a $100,000 bonus for being the best XFINITY Series regular in the first of four Dash 4 Cash races. Those four races have a very different look this year. In previous years, the top four regulars in the previous Dash 4 Cash race competed for the prize, but this years rules include heat races to set the field for the Dash races, with the top 2 NXS regulars in each heat competing for the prize. Jones beat out Allgiaer, Suarez and Ty Dillon for the bonus.
Jones is also the first series regular to win a race in 2016, and that gives him a spot in the newly-added Chase come fall.
Jones started the feature from the pole thanks to a wire-to-wire win in his heat, and he jumped to an early lead over second-place starter Austin Dillon. Kyle Busch, who was coming off four straight national touring series wins, struggled a bit early, falling back as far as ninth before rebounding to battle for the win in the second half.
It was clear from the get-go that being able to use the bottom of the racetrack to pass would be a key to winning the race, but what was a bit surprising was that the bottom groove never really worked in as it generally has in the past, leading to concerns about the 500-lap Sprint Cup race on Sunday.
The first of three caution flags flew on lap 39 when Ryan Ellis got loose racing three-wide with Ryan Sieg and Ryan Reed. Ellis had to back out and got tagged by Jeremy Clements, sending the No. 97 for a spin. Busch used the pit stop on that caution to gain a handful of spots on oit road, coming out third and battling Larson for the runner-up position.
Larson, meanwhile, had a fast car that was getting faster as the race progressed, and he passed Jones for the lead on lap 61, and Busch was able to get by his younger teammate as well. Larson and Busch swapped the lead a couple more times before Larson settled in with a car that was a bit better on a long run than Busch’s No. 18.
Derrike Cope spun on lap 125 to bring out the second caution of the day, and Larson came out of the pits with the lead, holding it on the restarts and staving off several runs by Busch as the laps wound down, the entire race having a sense of urgency, perhaps due to the feature being just 200 laps instead of the usual 300. At one point, Busch dropped to the inside of Larson, forcing the No. 42 up the track into the side of the No. 0 driven by Garrett Smithley, but Larson still clung stubbornly to the lead, though Busch managed to lead two laps during the exchange.
Larson’s undoing was the final caution of the day, which was unfurled after Mario Gosselin spun on the backstretch, dropping enough debris that NASCAR had no choice but to slow the action. The leaders all stayed on track, but Jones was ready on the restart that came with just three laps remaining, pouncing first on Busch and then tag-teaming with his teammate to pull them both past Larson for the 1-2 finish.
The victory was bittersweet for Jones, who revealed afterwards that his father was recently diagnosed with cancer, and this marks his first victory without his parents on hand. Jones held an emotional conversation with his father via phone in Victory Lane after the race.
Daniel Suarez continues to lead XFINITY Series points by six over Jones, who jumped three spots to second with the win. Justin Allgaier sits third, eight behind Suarez. Elliott Sadler lost two spots, falling to fourth after a NASCAR penalty for failing to follow a NASCAR directive on the lineup for the final restart dropped him to the last position one lap down in 15th. Brandon Jones dropped a spot to fifth with his 11th-place finish. Ty Dillon, Brendan Gaughan, Brennan Poole, Ryan Reed and Darrell Wallace, Jr. round out the top 10 in series point standings.
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