Justin Allgaier landed in the Arizona desert this week in the midst of a long dry spell. However, by the time the checkered flag waved Saturday afternoon, he discovered the long-sought oasis of NASCAR XFINITY Series Victory Lane.
Allgaier led 85 of the 200 laps, including the final 19, en route to winning the DC Solar 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. It was his first triumph since August 2012, when he won at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal and earned him a $100,000 bonus through XFINITY’s Dash 4 Cash program.
Allgaier waged a spirited battle with Erik Jones over the course of the race. Jones led 65 laps, many of them with Allgaier in hot pursuit as the duo combined to lead 150 of 200 circuits. A pair of late-race restarts gave Jones, Ryan Blaney, Elliott Sadler and others a chance at the lead. But Allgaier’s No. 7 Chevrolet was simply too strong down the stretch.
Allgaier’s win was his first for JRM in his second season with the team, a breakthrough after falling just short throughout a rollercoaster 2016.
“Last year was tough. We had good runs all year but weren’t able to get to Victory Lane,” he said after the race. “This is the same group of guys we had last year, and to be able to do it here in Phoenix and win the first XFINITY Dash 4 Cash race… this is a team effort.”
Also significant is that Allgaier gave his championship hopes a major boost; Saturday’s trophy likely locks him in the 12-driver playoff later this year.
Over the course of his full-time XFINITY career, Allgaier has finished between third and sixth in points every year. Will Phoenix be the start of a springboard towards a title?
For the second time in four races this year, a series regular ended up in the winner’s circle. As the first Dash 4 Cash race of the season, new XFINITY rules were in effect. Cup drivers were only permitted to participate if they had less than five years of full-time Cup experience. This tweak eliminated Kyle Busch, who came into the year having won the last three XFINITY races at the one-mile oval. In fact, the last driver to win an NXS race at Phoenix who wasn’t a full-time Cup Series driver was Sadler in February 2012.
The biggest knock on the tour is that it simply serves as a testing ground for Cup drivers who tend to dominate and win on a consistent basis. A series regular having the strongest car and taking charge is a best-case scenario for a level of NASCAR trying to distinguish itself as a division with its own identity.
The weekend hadn’t gone well for Daniel Suarez and it only got worse once the green flag dropped. Suarez, who started from the rear due to not making a lap during opening-round qualifying, was working his way to the front early on. However, he made an ill-advised three-wide pass on Jeremy Clements and made contact with Clements’ No. 51 in the process. Suarez’s car shot up the track and brushed the outside wall, damaging the car and creating a tire rub on the right rear. Suarez and his Joe Gibbs Racing team were left to hope the tire would hold up until they could pit under caution.
The tire didn’t make it. On lap 12, as Suarez dove into Turn 1, the tire gave out and the Juniper Networks Camry spun backwards, hitting the outside SAFER barrier. Suarez was unhurt but wasn’t very happy with the amount of room Clements gave him (or rather, didn’t give him) after the race.
Very disappointed by the way some people race in the back… tomorrow is a new day, looking forward!
— Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) March 18, 2017
Suarez still has the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday to salvage his weekend in Phoenix.
One day after NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell expressed the sanctioning body’s unwillingness to tolerate a driver using their car to retaliate, Austin Dillon did exactly that. With only 10 laps left, Cole Custer got loose under Dillon, making contact that sent Dillon around and into the wall. One lap later, after the caution waved, Dillon drove his car into Custer’s until it hit the outside wall as well.
NASCAR ordered Dillon to park the car for the remainder of the race and to report to the NASCAR hauler with his crew chief, Justin Alexander. Dillon seemed relatively unconcerned about the potential outcome of the meeting.
“We’ll probably just have a Coke and discuss things,” he said.
Custer, for his part was unfazed by the contact. He understood why Dillon was so upset.
“It was 100 percent my fault,” the rookie said in an interview after the race. “I got in there too deep, got really loose going in and couldn’t put any wheel into it. That was pretty much it. Just all my fault. Something that won’t happen again. We had a great race leading up to that.”
What ramifications, if any, will befall Dillon remains to be seen. NASCAR will likely announce any penalties it hands down during the early part of next week.
Underdog Performance Of The Race
TriStar Motorsports team and driver JJ Yeley finished 16th Saturday. While not overwhelmingly impressive, it was Yeley’s best finish of the young season. The car and driver had a previous best result last week in Las Vegas, coming home in 22nd. The team failed to finish either of the first two events.
For TriStar, it was a welcome bit of progress for a team that has struggled for years with a litany of drivers behind the wheel. The organization has only one top-five finish in 840 starts as of Saturday’s race. Jason Keller finished fourth at Talladega in 2010, the team’s first year competing in the XFINITY Series.
As for Yeley, the quest for his first career win in the series continues. He has scored 15 top-five finishes in 254 starts but never a trip to Victory Lane. While the car may not be quite ready to challenge for a victory, two races like these are certainly a step in the right direction.
“He overdrove the corner and took us out with it.” –Austin Dillon
“It definitely sucks for us points-wise, but I guess you can kind of expect that when he gets taken out. I can understand how frustrated he is about it. It is what it is. I will try not to have that happen again.” –Cole Custer
“I thought the Discount Tire Ford Mustang was really good on long runs. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any of those at the end. The No. 7 was spectacular on short runs, so it just kind of played into his hands. We had a shot at it, just not quite enough. This team is getting really close (to victory).” –Ryan Blaney
The Final Word
- Through four races, only seven XFINITY Series regulars have led a lap in 2017, and only three have led double-digit laps. By comparison, nine Cup drivers have led, and all nine have been out front for more than 10 circuits. Perhaps Allgaier’s strong performance will start a comeback for the full-timers.
- Matt Tifft and Dakoda Armstrong are both in the top 10 in points, yet neither has a top-10 finish. For Tifft, driving under the pressure of Toyota and JGR support that’s a number that needs to change soon.
- The three cars owned by Johnny Davis and driven by Ross Chastain, Harrison Rhodes and Garrett Smithley finished 22nd, 23rd, and 24th, respectively. That’s an impressive trio of lead-lap finishes for the severely underfunded program.
- Looking ahead, the last six NXS races at Auto Club Speedway have been won by a different driver. Also, no one has won from lower than the eighth starting position at the track since 2005.
The NASCAR XFINITY Series wraps up its west coast run with the TreatMyClot.com 300 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Ca. Austin Dillon snatched the win away from a dominant Kyle Busch to take last year’s event, leading only one lap on his way to victory.