Prior to Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300, Joey Logano had never competed in an XFINITY Series event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It took the No. 12 car until the beginning of the final stage to lead a lap, never looking back.
Logano led 105 of the final 110 circuits, only surrendering the lead during a cycle of green flag pit stops. With two cautions in the final 20 laps of the middle stage, pit strategy was jumbled up, handing the No. 12 team the lead on older tires.
Once Logano got the lead, it was hard to keep it. There were five restarts in the final stage, four of which came in the final 30 laps. The Team Penske car needed to beat Cup Series regulars Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Daniel Suarez and Austin Dillon in the final laps en route to the checkered flag.
“It’s hard to figure out what to do and what lane to pick,” Logano said of the restarts. “Those restarts are crazy. You don’t know which lane to pick because it depends on who is a good pusher and trying to remember what you did on the last one.”
Dating back to Logano’s victory at Watkins Glen International, he has piloted the No. 12 car in four races, winning all of them. In three of those races, he has led the most laps.
For the second week in a row the XFINITY Series put on a great show on an intermediate track. Restarts were at a premium, as once a driver got out in clean air, it made it difficult to pass.
However, throughout the rest of the field the racing was superb. Justin Allgaier rocketed from his 13th starting position to round out the top five in the first stage, earning the most points to an XFINITY Series driver.
The new aerodynamic pacakge played a major role, and put the racing back into the drivers hands. On restarts, drivers on the outside would crowd the guy on the bottom, oftentimes getting them loose. Late in the race, Daniel Suarez got Darrell Wallace Jr. extremely loose battling for a top five position, both drivers losing control, but continuing on.
Jamie McMurray, who was in the broadcast booth for Fox Sports contributed the racing to the tire combination Goodyear brought for the weekend. At the beginning of the run, cars are flat flying around the track. As the run continues, managing tire wear is the key to being fast on the long run. There was rubber being laid down from the white line to the outside wall.
Brendan Gaughan made his 500th career NASCAR start at his hometown track on Saturday. However, it was a long afternoon for the Las Vegas native.
Gaughan started the race in 17th position, worst of the five Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets. Battling a tight condition in the first stage, the No. 62 car never improved and had to change the carburetor behind the wall.
When Gaughan came back out on track, he went for a spin with 11 laps to go in the second stage. To add insult to injury on this day, the No. 62 car slapped the outside wall with a few laps remaining.
In what Gaughan hoped to be a special day, he finished 35th, 11 laps off the pace, losing four positions in the championship standings in the process. Going into Phoenix International Raceway, the NASCAR veteran sits eighth in the points, 35 markers behind Elliott Sadler.
For the second consecutive race, Cup Series regulars dominated the race. Combined, they led 199 of the 200 laps, with the exception of JJ Yeley leading one circuit through an exchange of green flag pit stops.
It should not come as a shock that the Cup Series regulars dominated an event in a preliminary event. It happens all the time, but is it fair?
Yes, NASCAR announced coming into 2017 that competitors with less than five years of experience in the Cup Series are limited to 10 XFINITY Series events. But with affiliated teams and a vast amount of young drivers in the top division, there will likely always be a Cup Series regular leader.
With Erik Jones and Suarez moving up to the Cup Series full-time, getting away from running every week with Joe Gibbs Racing, other XFINITY Series regulars will have to step up. Jones recorded four victories in 2016, most of all XFINITY Series regulars. Suarez posted three, as did Sadler, but two of those three drivers were in the JGR camp, which won 19 of the 33 races. In order for the series to survive on younger talent, other drivers from different teams will need to be a factor.
Underdog Performance of the Race
Roush Fenway Racing has gotten off to a hot start in 2017 with its two returning drivers. Ryan Reed won his second career race at Daytona two weeks ago, and on Sunday he picked up his second-career top-10 finish on an intermediate track, the other coming at Kentucky Speedway last fall.
Wallace fell as far back as 18th on Saturday, after pounding the wall early on. However, caving in the right rear quarter panel seemed to knock some speed into his Ford for the second consecutive week, rebounding to finish sixth.
It marks the second straight week that Wallace hit the wall early in the first stage and come back to finish sixth. This time he did it strapping into his vehicle with flu-like symptoms.
“I wanted a top five,” Wallace said. ” That’s where we should have been. We were fourth to fifth all day. We got a little bit more speed to gain, but I tell you it’s fun coming back to the race track. Being fast, hell, I’ll do it with the flu every time when we’re that good.”
Double Duty Interlopers
After winning the second stage, Brad Keselowski fell two laps down, making an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel. In the final 90 laps, the 2010 series champion rebounded to round out the top 10.
Six of the top 10 in the finishing order came from the Cup Series.
“I’ve been racing for 15 years and that always makes me feel better anytime I can climb in a race car, so that helped out a lot. It was tough, though. Under caution I just wanted to go to sleep every time.” – Darrell Wallace Jr.
“Our day was a lot of up-and-down. We fought hard all day and there’s a lot to be proud of and a lot to build off of, and the [No.] 6 had a really good run, too, so we’ve got good Ford Mustangs right now. – Ryan Reed
“The fun part is a lot of these guys are racing just for the win, just like myself, and they are very aggressive. If a mistake happens, it happens.” – Daniel Suarez
The Final Word
For the majority of the 300-mile event, the racing was excellent. Races on older surfaces that wear tires, seem to put on some of the best racing in any division of NASCAR. Case in point, last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and especially in two weeks at Auto Club Speedway.
Logano recorded his 28th career XFINITY Series victory on Saturday, and first victory of any kind in Sin City. Throughout his nine-year partial career in the series, he has posted a top 10 over 81 percent of the time (130 out of 160).
After leading 199 of 200 laps in 2016, Busch won the opening stage on Saturday, leading 48 laps. Larson led three laps, Keselowski led 12 and Yeley one.
Through the first three races of 2017, championship favorites Brennan Poole and Matt Tifft have yet to record a top-10 finish. The No. 48 car struggled in Las Vegas, running outside the top 10 the entire race, finishing 16th. The No. 19 team was involved in three separate incidents, finishing 34th, nine laps down.
The XFINITY Series will stay out West for the second of three straight races in the Pacific Time Zone. Phoenix International Raceway is next up on the schedule, where Busch swept the pair of races in the desert last year. In the March race, he led 175 laps en route to his third consecutive victory.
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