Brad Keselowski, who started on the pole, may have had the strongest car and led the most laps, but in the end it was Kyle Larson who emerged victorious in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge Saturday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway.
“We had a really strong car and we made a major stride forward with this team and this program which feels really good,” Keselowski said during his post-race media availability. “I am very happy about the speed we had and being able to lead a lot of laps and am disappointed to not be able to bring it home there at the end. All in all it was a good weekend for the 22 Discount Tire Ford XFINITY team.
“Whatever car got out front with the way the aerodynamics are is going to control the pace. It is so hard to pass because the aero is so important and the cars are so equal that way. I thought maybe we were a touch faster but without the track position you lose too much grip behind the guy to do anything.”
Leading just 30 laps, Larson scored his second XFINITY Series win in 15 starts this season.
“We should have won this race last year and cut a tire late,” Larson said. “Today was a fun race. I was worried with Brad coming behind me. I was able to get up top and get rolling up there, was a little loose up top and actually loose and into the wall one time and flattened the right side a little bit – or a lotta bit. It actually tightened my car up some, and I was able to be more comfortable up top there those last few laps.
“I know Brad probably had the best car, but long runs I felt like we were pretty even. Clean air was big today and our pit crew did an amazing job to get our ENEOS Chevy out on the front row for that final restart. Then Elliott Sadler gave me a heck of a push, which he’s done all year. He helped me win Pocono and then he helped me win today, so I definitely owe him one.”
Kevin Harvick, who drove the No. 88 for JR Motorsports, finished third, follwed by Erik Jones. Daniel Suarez rounded out the top 5 with his sixth-straight top-5 finish.
Elliott Sadler, who held the point lead over Suarez on a tie-breaker coming into this race, finished sixth, followed by Austin Dillon. Rookie Brennan Poole finished eighth. Matt Tifft, who will join the series full-time next season with Joe Gibbs Racing, and Justin Allgaier rounded out the top 10.
The race was slowed by five cautions for 22 laps. Four of those yellows were for single cars incidents – two for Brandon Hightower, one for Ray Black, Jr. The worst incident of the day came when Matt DiBenedetto slammed the wall in turn 4, causing terminal damage to his No. 14 Toyota. He finished 36th.
“I’m fine,” DiBenedetto said from the garage area. “A lugnut got in the wheel and knocked the valve stem out. It let all of the air out going into (turn) 3.”
The entire field of Chase drivers finished inside the top 15, though it wasn’t without it’s challenges for a couple drivers. Suarez struggled with voltage issues, which forced him to switch to the backup battery. The problem, caused by a faulty alternator, was minimal enough that Suarez managed to finish the race on the backup battery.
“I was worried because we were a little bit before or after halfway and I knew we had at least 90 more laps to go,” Suarez said. “I know that I had a second battery, but you never know and you want to be able to go. We have a lot of time we could work on the tires and brakes and everything, but after that issue I wasn’t able to use anything, even my AC, I wasn’t able to use it. We’re lucky that it was cloudy and fresh, in a hot day it could have been more difficult. We made it.”
Darrell Wallace, Jr. ended up 11th, followed by Ryan Sieg in 12th. Blake Koch recovered from a myriad of troubles that plagued the No. 11 team throughout the weekend to finish 14th, and Brendan Gaughan brought the No. 62 Chevrolet home 15th.
Suarez’s fifth-place finish was enough to move him tot he top of the championship standings with one race remaining before the Championship 4 field is set. Elliott Sadler dropped one spot to second and just a single point behind. Erik Jones sits third, 10 points back, followed by Blake Koch.
Justin Allgaier, who is in his first season with JR Motorsports, is the first driver below the cutoff by a single marker heading into Phoenix next weekend. Ryan Reed sits sixth, followed by Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Brendan Gaughan.
The XFINITY Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway next Saturday night to set the field for the Championship 4. The Ticket Galaxy 200 will run at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
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