Another NASCAR XFINITY Series race, another victory for Kyle Busch. His win in the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 is his eighth of the season, his sixth at Richmond International Raceway, and 84th overall. Busch led 197 of 250 laps, taking the lead after a quick pit stop put him at the front of the pack. Once he was in the top spot, Busch dominated all the way to the checkered flag.
“True testament to everyone on this NoS energy drink Camry,” Busch said of his strong race.
Suffice it to say that Busch and the No. 18 team have high standards for their level of performance in the XFINITY Series. Their seventh place starting spot was the only time all season that Busch did not qualify in the top five.
“I didn’t doubt (crew chief) Chris Gayle, I just doubted our car today,” Busch said. “It just wasn’t right. We just kind of missed it all through practice and it wasn’t good there. And then we qualified, and man, it was just a handful in qualifying. We didn’t qualify very well, in seventh; it’s not very well for my expectations.”
Busch did not stay down for long. He had climbed up to fourth by lap 49 when the first caution came out for Justin Marks’ spin on the frontstretch. When all the leaders pitted for fresh tires and fuel, Busch came out first. Polesitter and erstwhile leader Austin Dillon had a slower stop. When the race resumed on lap 57, Busch pulled away from everyone and began setting a torrid pace. Dillon, meanwhile, got stuck back in traffic and never mounted another serious challenge for the lead.
The only thing that slowed Busch down was the second and final caution flag of the night, coming out for debris on lap 165. The caution came shortly after a cycle of green flag stops, so Busch, Dillon, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez, and Brennan Poole all stayed out. Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Alex Bowman, Ty Dillon, and Darrell Wallace Jr. pitted. The long green flag run allowed some of the drivers who took tires to move through the field, but Busch, Jones, and Keselowski were fast enough to hold down the top three spots. Those three drivers also took the top three spots, with Sadler and Allgaier completing the top five.
“It’s unfortunate,” Jones said after the race. “We want to win and I feel like we had a car that could do it, just not against Kyle and the 18.”
Jones does have three wins to his credit this season, making him the number one seed in the Chase with one race to go in the regular season. Sadler remains on top of the overall points standings for one more week. As of Richmond, everyone in the top ten in points is locked into the Chase.
Brennan Poole has had better finishes this year than his tenth place on Friday night, but he gets to be featured in this section for running such an interesting race. Poole started 31st and battled an ill-handling car in the early going, fighting hard to stay on the lead lap. He had an anxious moment on lap 24 when he got loose underneath J.J. Yeley in turn three, sending both cars sliding toward the wall. But Poole made a nice save and continued to work his way through the field.
Under the final caution, Poole made a last-second decision not to pit and narrowly avoided the orange commitment box. The strategy play allowed him to restart in the top five, but he slipped backward on the older tires. Still, Poole earned a good finish in a race that started out with some difficulty for the No. 48 team.
If you drove for Richard Childress on Friday night and your last name is not Dillon, you had a rough race. Brendan Gaughan had an unusually poor performance, finishing 18th three laps down. Brandon Jones fared even worse, winding up five laps down in 23rd. If RCR cannot get its other teams running as well as the No. 2, it will be difficult to win a championship with any of the other three.
What was up with that last caution? Could the “debris” really have been a tire that escaped from Brandon Brown’s pit box? It is good of NASCAR to be conscious of safety, and throwing a caution to retrieve the tire during green flag pit stops would have been a terrible decision. But why did NASCAR need the caution at all? Richmond has a wall between the infield and the outer edge of pit road. Why change the complexion of the race when it only takes ten seconds to fetch a runaway tire? And if the caution was for actual debris, why was it never shown on camera?
Underdog Performance of the Race
Ryan Sieg needed a mistake-free day, and he got one. His 14th place finish puts him 20 points ahead of Dakoda Armstrong for the final Chase spot. Sieg has not wrapped up a place in the postseason yet, but he is nearly there.
Double Duty Interlopers
Austin Dillon will compete for a spot in the Sprint Cup Chase on Saturday. The first 50 laps of the XFINITY race went flawlessly for him, but the No. 2 team never could fully recover after losing the lead. Dillon still finished seventh, but that result had to be a little disappointing, especially considering the run that the No. 2 team has been on.
For the other Sprint Cup regulars in Friday night’s race, Richmond offered nothing new. Keselowski ran well but is still winless in NXS competition this year, and Matt DiBenedetto still has not finished a race since Texas in April.
The Final Word
Indeed, nothing new to see here. At first glance, Busch’s disappointment with his “bad” qualifying result might seem ridiculous, but it was his worst of the season. That said, anybody who was surprised that Busch drove to the front and stayed there, decimating the field in the process, has not been paying attention this year. Busch is the driver to beat every time he gets into the No. 18 car in the XFINITY Series, no matter how much the team might “struggle” in practice.
Meanwhile, Sieg and Blake Koch look like they will emerge victorious in the battle of the underdogs to take the last two Chase positions. Armstrong qualified ninth and ran in the top ten early in the race before fading to finish 16th. Jeremy Clements finished right behind him in 17th and failed to pick up any points on the drivers ahead of him. Koch and Sieg could encounter problems in next week’s race that would shake up the Chase standings. Yet unless either of them have really bad days, the window to get into the postseason for those currently on the outside is very near completely shut.
NASCAR’s XFINITY drivers will get one more chance to solidify or secure a Chase spot on Saturday, September 17th in the Drive for Safety 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Race coverage begins at 3:30 PM Eastern on NBC.
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