Starting from the pole Saturday, Kyle Larson had the fastest XFINITY Series car at Dover International Speedway.
That speed was on display as early as the first stage of the race. Larson led every green-flag lap in that opening segment en route to a race high 136 on the afternoon. It seemed Ryan Blaney, who finished runner-up was the only car that could hang with Larson’s No. 42. He even ended the first stage with a photo finish.
Yellow flags also helped keep the race close. There were 10 cautions for 45 laps in this event, the most since 2007 as the Monster Mile chewed up several cars. During the opening 140 circuits, an 18-lap green-flag run was the longest stretch of racing before a caution came out.
It made for a variety of pit strategy and double-file restarts, giving guys like Bubba Wallace time to shine near the front. But in the end, Dover concluded with a 60-lap, green-flag sprint to the finish. That long run gave Larson, not Blaney the edge in that final stage. He passed a gambling Daniel Suarez and then set sail to a 1.173-second victory.
“I knew our car was going to be really good,” Larson said post-race. “As soon as we unloaded it yesterday, our first run was amazing. I didn’t have any complaints about how the car was driving. We got the pole and I was able to lead a lot of laps today.”
Dover marks the first time in Larson’s career he has won three XFINITY Series races in the same season. Clearly, Chip Ganassi Racing’s top young talent is having the type of breakthrough year people have been waiting for.
A college student is now $100,000 richer.
Liberty University’s William Byron was the highest-finishing XFINITY Series regular in the opening stage of the race, earning a chance at the Dash 4 Cash.
Finishing fourth in the first stage, then fifth in the second, Byron came home with a sixth-place result. Overall, he was the third XFINITY Series regular in the running order, good enough to take home the money.
“Hopefully, we can keep building on this,” Byron said. “We got off cycle on the last stop. I wish we could have gotten a win but $100,000 is really good. This was a good top-6 run for us. Hopefully, we can get better next week.”
Saturday marks the third time in four Dash 4 Cash races this season that a JR Motorsports driver has come home with the money. Justin Allgaier won the race and the money at Phoenix International Raceway earlier this year.
Then, at Richmond International Raceway, the No. 7 car led 157 laps before coming home second, still earning an additional $100K.
Cautions breed cautions.
That saying held true on Saturday as the Monster Mile chewed up its share of XFINITY Series drivers. In all, a dozen cars failed to finish, several as the result of damage from early accidents.
The spins started right from the get go.
On Lap 7, Brendan Gaughan got loose out of turn 4 and when he went to save his No. 62 machine, it clipped the No. 39 of Ryan Sieg. On Lap 26, Brandon Jones went for a wild ride out of turn 4 as well, backing his No. 33 car into the inside wall.
Including the yellow to end stage one, there were five stoppages in all within the first 60 laps. It’s the second straight week we’ve seen four yellows or more that early.
Despite the mess, most contenders stayed above the fray with the exception of Richard Childress Racing. When all was said and done, only one of their five cars (Ty Dillon) finished inside the top 10.
Due to television timing, FOX Sports could not get a word with a frustrated Darrell Wallace Jr. Wallace won Stage 2, garnering his first playoff point. But the Ford driver faded to eighth in the race after having a miscue in the final stage.
On a restart with less than 60 laps to go, Wallace got loose underneath Brandon Brown in turn 2. By the time Wallace recovered, he had slid back to 17th and that put a damper on his day. His chance at a victory was all but gone unless a caution flag came out to save him.
There wasn’t. In the final 60 laps, Wallace did rebound to get his seventh top-10 finish of the season. That isn’t enough. With little sponsorship at this point in the season, there is no telling how much longer he will be in the No. 6 car.
“We can’t get any luck,” Wallace said in a press release. “I got a little sideways on that one restart and it cost us a little bit. It was a good day for our Cars 3 Mustang team… it was ours. It would have been nice to get the $100,000 and bought us our Michigan race that we don’t have.”
As reporters attempted to catch up with Wallace on pit road, he was discouraged, almost in tears. He had a Powerade bottle in hand and chucked it at the pit wall.
Underdog Performance of the Race
It was a slow start to the day for Roush Fenway Racing, making up Row 9. But before long, both Wallace and Ryan Reed made their way into the top 10, both leading multiple laps on the afternoon. The No. 6 car was among the only cars that went up to pass for the lead during the race, winning Stage 2.
However, on Lap 113, a caution for debris came out, which brought 10 cars to pit road. Among them was Reed. When the race restarted, he found himself as the leader, pacing the field for five laps.
Throughout the final run, Reed fell back to fifth, but that was still plenty good enough. The driver picked up only his second career top-five finish on a non-restrictor plate track. The other came last year at Road America, also a fifth-place effort.
“Phil [Gould, crew chief] made a good call at the end on strategy,” Reed said post-race. “We had a good enough car to be able to hold on to a top five. It was a nice, clean-executed afternoon.”
Through 11 races, this is Reed’s third top-10 result, the most of his career at this point of the season. Overall, he sits sixth in the championship standings, and the win at Daytona guarantees him a spot in the playoffs.
“It’s just fun,” Reed said of the recent success of Roush Fenway Racing. “Things come easier and your bad days aren’t 20th-place days, they are 14th or 15th. It’s pretty cool.”
Double Duty Interlopers
Surprise, surprise. Cup Series drivers dominate once again, but this time they had to work for it. Larson dominated the opening stage of the event, but Blaney passed him to pace the field for 28 laps in Stage 2.
Combined, those two dominated the event. Fall winner Suarez finished third, but was off pit strategy due to going two laps down earlier in the race for having a flat tire. Despite falling two laps off the pace, the No. 18 team rebounded to lead 19 laps, sweeping the front three positions for Cup Series regulars.
Ty Dillon was next in line for Cup Series regulars back in 10th. But behind the front few, Cup stars struggled as both the older Dillon and Erik Jones finished behind the wall due to mechanical issues.
Sieg and Ross Chastain, who are both making their Cup debuts tomorrow, finished the afternoon inside the top 20.
“Sometimes, when you have an issue like that and you are two laps down, it’s very easy to give up. These guys, they don’t really know that means.” – Daniel Suarez
“It’s good to build some consistency. (That’s) what we didn’t have at the start of the year. If we can continue to make some consistent runs when things aren’t going our way, that will really help us.” – Cole Custer
“Heartbreak day. We have one more race left and this one was the one we were going to win, for sure. It just didn’t happen. We can’t get any luck. I got a little sideways on that one restart and it cost us a little bit.” – Darrell Wallace Jr.
Through the first 11 XFINITY Series races of 2017, Cup Series drivers have gone to Victory Lane nine times, making for little parity in the series (at least at the top).
Combined, Cup drivers led 188 out of 200 laps, dominating another race. Once they were out front, they were gone.
Larson has led at least 10 laps in all six events he has entered this season, while leading at least 137 laps twice. In the events he has entered for Chip Ganassi Racing, Larson has three victories, one second-place finish and a seventh at Bristol Motor Speedway, averaging a 2.5 result this season.
The XFINITY Series heads to the “Tricky Triangle,” Pocono Raceway next weekend for its second race in as many years at the track. Last year, Larson won, leading 27 out of 53 laps in the rain-shortened event. The green flag is scheduled to wave Saturday shortly after 1 p.m. ET.