Short track racing.
The first 240 laps were relatively lame in Saturday’s Toyota Care 250 at Richmond International Raceway. But that all changed with a caution with 12 laps to go.
Justin Allgaier had dominated the afternoon, leading a career-high 157 laps. In the final 10 laps it looked as though he was going to hold off his JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler for the race victory, as the No. 1 car had 18 lap fresher tires than the No. 7 machine.
Sadler rocketed his way from 19th on a restart with 65 laps to go, making his way up to second, before the caution with 12 laps to go came out, putting the No. 1 team at a disadvantage, having no new set of tires.
On the restart, Larson pulled away from Allgaier, before there was yet another pileup, just crossing the overtime line on the backstretch leading to the automatic finish with the No. 42 car in Victory Lane.
“I was happy to see them all wreck behind me because I didn’t want to race with Justin [Allgaier] behind me,” Larson said of his victory. “He had the dominant car, by far. I didn’t expect to be the winner, but I definitely ran a little bit better than I thought I would. Richmond is a place I struggle at, and I know I still do.”
Despite Allgaier coming up short in his quest for his first career multi-win season, there were a lot of positives that came out of the day for his JR Motorsports team.
Leading 157 laps was the most laps an XFINITY Series regular has led since Erik Jones led 154 laps last July at Iowa Speedway (154). It is also the most laps that a JR Motorsports driver has ever led in any race.
Allgaier’s car was on rails, at points getting out to a 3-4-second lead on second place. It looked as though the victory and the additional $100,000 for being the top Dash 4 Cash driver was his until the end.
Though Allgaier did not ultimately win the race, the money is his. He edged out Daniel Hemric, who finished a career-high third. The disappointment on the face of the 30-year-old after the race outweighs the good run that the No. 7 car had. But so far, 2017 has arguably been his best season in the XFINITY Series, and it’s only eight races old.
“Here at Richmond, yeah,” Allgaier said of on whether or not this was his best racecar ever. “Last year at Richmond, I was following my boss man Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. and I about wrecked on a late race restart taking the lead. It’s kind of fitting that I make it to about 95 percent of this race and something happens, and it doesn’t go the way I want it to go. Last year it was good, but you can’t ask for cars any better than that. You can only hope when they do come, you make the most of those days and today, we just didn’t do that.” It’s definitely one of the best cars I’ve ever had.”
The last 15 laps of Saturday’s race was a mess.
Who would have known B.J. McLeod would have as much of an impact as he did, after his engine let go with 12 laps to go. That led to a series of incident to follow.
The younger Dillon brother came out as the race leader, but jumped the resuming restart of the race, handing the lead over to Larson on the next restart when there was a six-car pileup on the backstretch, going into Turn 3.
Then, on the resuming restart for that crash, the leaders just crossed the overtime line when there was another melee for Cole Custer, Ryan Reed and Matt Tifft. When the caution lights came out, Larson was ahead of Allgaier, handing him the victory.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much NASCAR could do as there could have been cars in harms way when the leaders got to the backstretch. Though those three drivers did get their cars going, the final lap of the race was confusing, and even the drivers thought so.
“The yellow lights were on before we even came off Turn 4,” Allgaier said. “We were probably entering [Turn] 3 when the lights came on, and so I was like do we go, do we not go, do we race, do we not race. I didn’t know what was going on there. Then we came to the start-finish line and the white flag was out, so you’re like ‘okay, are we still racing?’ and nobody knew. It’s just really frustrating that it even got to that point.”
As it seems like it has happened much of the 2017 season, the caution flags in-between stages have become a problem.
After the conclusion of the first stage, there were 11 laps of caution before the second stage even began. Ultimately, the middle stage went from being a 75-lap battle to a 64-lap feature.
The same thing happened to begin the third stage. However, this time it took even longer, 13 laps. Stage racing overall has been great, especially in the XFINITY Series, but the transition between stage needs to be improved.
Obviously, the goal is to provide more green flag racing on television, so the majority of time spent off-air is used at the beginning of the stages. However, there is no way it should take more than 10 laps at any track to make the transition because essentially NASCAR throws the caution for no incident, oil spillage, nothing that involves a clean-up. This needs to be looked at.
Underdog Performance of the Race
This probably should go to Kyle Benjamin. The 19-year-old made his first career start in the XFINITY Series, and began the race in second position and spending the first 240 laps in the top 10. On the final pit stop of the day, he left before the left rear tire was secure on the tire hub, having to make another pit stop.
Benjamin got collected up in a wreck with four laps to go, ultimately finishing 32nd.
However, Dylan Lupton made his first start of the season, qualifying 28th for JGL Racing. Going a lap down in the first stage, it looked like it was just going to be another day at the office for the No. 24 car.
Lupton got his lap back midway through the second stage, competing around the back-half of the top 20. But with a few incidents late in the race, the California native came home 12th, his second best finish in 11 career XFINITY Sereis starts.
“The best we were was when we fired off,” Lupton said post-race. “After about 10 laps in the first stage, we were the best. I don’t lnow if we put on some tires and the stagger was just a bit off in the second run, but we lost a lot of track position. We got it fixed halfway through the race and it wasn’t bad.”
Richmond is Lupton’s first of seven scheduled races with a possibility of more.
Double Duty Interlopers
For a while, it looked like the Cup Series drivers were not going to be a factor in today’s event. Sure, they were running well, but the race started off with a pair of rookie on the front row with Hemric and Benjamin. But then Austin Dillon took the lead midway through Stage One, en route to leading circuits.
Following the first stage, Dillon’s car fell off a bit, allowing Allgaier to take over. The No. 2 car remained in the top five for the rest of the race, but Larson and the younger Dillon brother became the best Cup Series regulars.
At the end of the day, Larson wound up in Victory Lane, handing the Cup Series regulars their sixth win in eight races this season in the XFINITY Series. The 2013 series champion, Dillon, finished fourth with Ryan Blaney coming home fifth.
The younger Dillon brother finished the 254-lap race in 16th, after receiving the late race penalty. Daniel Suarez was involved in an incident with four laps to go, getting spun by William Byron, who cut a right front tire. The No. 18 car finished 19th.
“Unfortunately, that’s what these come down to, they come down to the end. We just got the shaft, unfortunately, and it wasn’t of our own doing. That’s probably the hardest part.” – Justin Allgaier
“This sixth place finish is not like our other ones. We definitely didn’t deserve it but our attitude is to never give up. I was pretty pissed off after qualifying but I told myself that we never really run good here so put that behind you and start with a cool head and be patient.” – Darrell Wallace Jr.
“To run where I was running I felt like was pretty good for a debut. We had some work to do at the end on that last pit stop to run with those guys. I wish I could’ve seen what we had at the end.” – Kyle Benjamin
Saturday’s race was all about should have, could have, would have for Allgaier. The No. 7 car had the dominant car by far. Leading 157 laps increased his season total to 242 laps, the most laps the Illinois native has ever led in a single season.
Larson picked up his second victory of the season, much like he did his first. The No. 42 car was out front for only 10 laps on Saturday, and at Auto Club Speedway five weeks ago, he led just 21 circuits.
However, Larson failed to win at Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend after dominating the event leading 180 laps, the most laps he’d ever led in a single XFINITY Series event. This victory makes up for some of the pain that he felt in Thunder Valley.
Oh joy, it’s the drivers favorite weekend as NASCAR invades Talladega Superspeedway next weekend. The XFINIITY Series race is scheduled to get underway shortly after 1 p.m. ET. Sadler has won two of the last three races at the 2.66-mile speedway, including last year in thrilling fashion.
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