While the XFINITY Series Chasers were crashing into each other, Kyle Busch was busy crashing the Chase party. Busch picked up his ninth win of the season and 85th XFINITY win overall, taking the checkered flag in the Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway.
“This Nos Energy Drink Toyota was awesome today,” Busch said in victory lane. “We had really great speed. I think we showed it all weekend. It was just a matter of being able to put it all together and being able to end up in victory lane where we deserved to be.”
Busch made everything look easy during the early stages of the race. He faced only brief challenges on restarts during the first three quarters of the event, in which case Busch emerged with the lead every time. Even when a series of quick cautions in the middle of the race shook up the field behind him, Busch remained the driver to beat. The last 50 laps, however, changed the complexion of the race entirely.
Busch gave up the lead when he made a green flag pit stop on lap 149. As most of the other leaders made their own stops, Regan Smith remained on the track. Smith, piloting the JR Motorsports No. 88 car, Ty Dillon, and Matt DiBenedetto were the only drivers on the lead lap when the caution came out for debris on lap 158. All three drivers were able to pit under caution and keep the top three spots. Busch received the free pass and came to pit road too. The other contenders, including Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, and most of the Chasers, took the wave-around to get back on the lead lap.
The race resumed on lap 164. Busch and Larson began to charge back through the field as Smith and Dillon raced for the lead. On the next lap, chaos erupted back in the pack. Brandon Jones got into the back of Justin Allgaier, shooting the No. 7 up the track and into Cole Custer. Both Allgaier and Custer then spun, triggering a multi-car accident that collected Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Reed, and Ryan Sieg. What had been an orderly race for all of the Chasers except Reed suddenly left some championship contenders with serious problems.
The race restarted on lap 175 with Dillon out front. Erik Jones took the lead away from Dillon two laps later, just before Brendan Gaughan went sliding through the infield, bringing out another caution. The spin damaged Gaughan’s car such that it started smoking and leaking oil, leaving the No. 62 to get towed back to the garage.
As the field prepared to restart the race on lap 183, Jones elected to take the top lane, leaving Dillon on the bottom. When the race went back to green, Larson, who had restarted behind Jones, tried to make a move between Jones and Dillon. However, the hole quickly closed up and Larson ran into the back of the No. 20, knocking Jones down the track and into Dillon’s No. 3. Jones emerged as the leader, but the contact left him with a serious tire rub that forced him to pit road after just one lap. Dillon also had a tire issue and plummeted through the field. As Jones went to the pits, the outer casing of Dillon’s tire came off, prompting another caution for debris.
Meanwhile, Busch had clawed his way back to second by the time the caution came out. Daniel Suarez had taken over the lead, while Elliott Sadler climbed to third. On the lap 188 restart, Sadler gave Busch and enormous push, propelling him past Suarez and into the lead. Busch drove away from everyone in the final laps, with Sadler and Suarez following him to the finish line. Logano bested Larson in a furious late-race duel for fourth place.
With the first race in the XFINITY Series Round of 8 now complete, Sadler and Suarez are tied for the points lead, 12 markers above the cutoff. Blake Koch is third, five points above the cut line. Jones’ late-race issues leave him tied with Allgaier on the bubble. Allgaier managed to finish only one lap down in 14th despite the significant damage to his car. Reed is two points behind Jones and Allgaier, while Gaughan and Wallace Jr. trail the bubble drivers by 17 and 18 points respectively.
Koch, the biggest underdog left in the Chase, survived a chaotic race to finish ninth. The No. 11 team never showed the speed to match the front runners, but Koch kept the car clean and stayed out of trouble all day. He also caught a lucky break when Gaughan spun out, allowing him to pit under yellow after reporting a flat tire. Five points is hardly a comfortable margin over the Chase cutoff, but Koch will leave Kansas in a much better position to reach the final round than some of the other Chasers.
The late-race incidents prevented Reed’s day from being a total disaster, but a 16th place finish will not do much to keep the No. 16’s championship hopes afloat. Just 20 laps into the race, Reed experienced an engine issue with his car. While the motor did not expire, the loss of power knocked Reed out of contention and forced the No. 16 team to play catch-up all day. To make matters worse, Reed scrubbed the wall trying to avoid the big crash with Allgaier and Wallace Jr. Unless Reed finds some more speed, he cannot afford another bad race.
A week after pulling off a one-point advancement through the Chase, Wallace Jr. wound up with a wrecked race car and a 33rd place finish at Kansas. Unlike Allgaier, he was not able to return to the race.
“It’s not our day,” Wallace said after the crash. “We were trying to make the most of it and just get out of here with a clean finish, but we’ll be alright. We’ll go to Texas and rebound, win us one, whoop some ass there, and go have some fun at Phoenix.”
Underdog Performance(s) of the Race
J.J. Yeley had another solid run with Tri-Star Motorsports, bringing home a 10th place finish. Ross Chastain also turned in a good result after a “shocking” incident just past the halfway point. Chastain’s teammate, Ryan Preece, hit the wall at the exit of turn two. The contact sent a shock flying off of Preece’s car, which wound up getting lodged in the nose of Chastain’s Chevy. The No. 4 crew was able to repair the damage, and Chastain went on to finish 13th.
Double Duty Interlopers
Smith and DiBenedetto were unable to maintain their top three running positions in the late stages of the race, but they were still able to finish sixth and 11th respectively. DiBenedetto got a rare opportunity to run the full race and easily scored his best finish of the season.
Austin Dillon was much less fortunate. The No. 2 team had to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 35 for a vibration. Dillon eventually got back on sequence with the leaders, but he inexplicably struggled from there on out, finishing a disappointing 17th.
The Final Word
It is not about the beat down on the NXS field that came courtesy of Busch. Kansas Speedway delivered the real beat down, and the Chasers got the worst of it. Gaughan and Wallace Jr. are likely to find themselves in a must-win situation if they are not there already. The No. 7 team faced another huge test of resiliency and potentially saved its season. If Allgaier advances to Homestead, it will be because of how many points he did not lose at Kansas.
Meanwhile, a 15th place finish kicks Jones right back to the bubble. The No. 20 team took a noticeably more conservative approach to Saturday’s race, but trouble still found them in the end. The NBC broadcast team was quick to criticize Larson’s aggressive restart move, noting that a Sprint Cup regular should be careful not to interfere with the XFINITY championship fight. Indeed, Larson should have used better judgement on that restart. Yet it is hard to place too much blame on Larson because he and Jones are both victims of circumstance.
As a Chaser and an NXS regular, Jones has to be mindful of points. Larson, as a Sprint Cup driver, is in the race only to win, meaning he has a vastly different agenda than Jones and must race aggressively if he has an opportunity to win. Those competing agendas would not have created a bad situation without the Chase. It is true that rules did not force Larson to make that move, but the dichotomy of goals that the Chase creates for multiple drivers on the same track means that these incidents will not be uncommon.
Through it all, Suarez and Sadler are back on top of the points. It looks like the ever-consistent Sadler and the super-fast Suarez are the two drivers most capable of winning the XFINITY title. Jones will probably still make noise, but he will be hard to trust if the No. 20 team cannot put complete races together. Sadler and Suarez are undoubtedly the most likely drivers to reach Homestead, but the other two competitors who might join them is anybody’s guess.
The XFINITY Series gets the next two weekends off. The action will resume on Saturday, November 5th in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway. Race coverage begins at 3PM Eastern on NBC.
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