NASCAR Race Weekend Central

XFINITY Breakdown: William Byron Wins as Underdogs Reign

William Byron took home the win at Iowa Speedway, the first of his career in the Xfinity Series, but not without some interesting strategy emerging late in the race.

After leader Christopher Bell got caught up in the issues of Ryan Reed and Brennan Poole with 32 laps to go, it was Byron’s race to lose. The caution occurred during green flag pit stops, which trapped many contenders laps down, and elevated some underdogs into the top ten. When Dylan Lupton stayed out, he kept several favorites from gaining their lap back.

While Byron all but ran away with the victory, he was trailed by some rather unfamiliar faces, including Ryan Sieg (2nd), Ross Chastain (4th), and Dakoda Armstrong (5th). Every one of the top five finishers captured their best career finish.

“It feels awesome. Thank you Mr. H. for giving me this opportunity. It’s so cool to run full-time in this series. Everything’s come full circle for me, I raced late models for JRM a few years ago… so just to see it all come to fruition now and have a victory is really awesome,” Byron said in Victory Lane.

The Good

It really was a feel-good race for nearly everyone. Byron was able to one-up his heartbreaking second place run from last weekend at Michigan. Seeing anyone capture their first win is usually heartwarming, but somehow Byron’s was just a little bit sweeter. Maybe it was the redemption of his near-win last week. Maybe it was just plain cool to see the 19-year-old be so humble and mature behind the mic. Nonetheless, watching Byron capture his first win was fun.

Maybe the only storyline more intriguing than Byron’s first career win was the success of several underfunded teams, including Sieg, Chastain, Armstrong, Jeremy Clements, and Garrett Smithley, all of whom captured top-10 finishes.

The lack of Cup drivers didn’t hurt, either. Byron is only the third series regular to win this season, joining Ryan Reed and Justin Allgaier. Not only did it give series regulars a chance to earn playoff points, it also allowed drivers like Kyle Benjamin and Christopher Bell a shot in great equipment, rides that would be given to Kyle Busch or Denny Hamlin on most other weekends. Although many of these non-regulars ran into problems, Benjamin, Bell, and Ty Majeski were all able to flex their muscles and show their teams what they are capable of.

The Bad

This bring us to the not-so-good part of the race. It was pretty painful to see these drivers run into issues, especially when they won’t have too many more shots this season.

The first to come across issues was Sam Hornish Jr., who crashed on lap 79 after making contact with Bell, who got loose while racing below Hornish. Hornish spun into the outside wall, ending his day and relegating him to a dismal 37th-place finish.

The next issue was a double whammy. Kyle Benjamin got a little too high in turn four and spun, and, just when it seemed he’d gotten away with it, he slid a little further down the track, and into the path of Ty Majeski. Benjamin and Majeski made significant contact, but both cars continued, although Benjamin spent several laps behind the wall after meeting minimum speed to erase the crash clock. He would finish 31st.

Majeski’s day, however, would get even worse. Majeski pounded the wall on lap 144, ending his day, and reducing his once-top-10 run to a 34th-place finish.

2017 Charlotte I CWTS Christopher Bell Nigel Kinrade NKP
Christopher Bell didn’t have much to smile about this weekend in Iowa after leading the most laps in the Trucks and Xfinity races but failing to win either (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

The Ugly

The most cringe-inducing moment of the race, though, came when Ryan Reed and Brennan Poole got together directly in front of leader Christopher Bell. Poole got into the left rear corner of Reed, breaking both cars’ momentum. Bell had nearly gotten by Poole when Poole moved down on him, turning Bell towards the outside wall. Bell and Reed would make contact before Bell bounced off the wall.

Bell led the most laps,152 of the 250, and looked to be on his way to his first career Xfinity Series victory, but instead came home with a 16th-place finish and a torn-up race car.

It’s hard to blame Poole or Reed for racing hard, but common sense says they (or at least their spotter) should have been more aware that the leader was coming.

Underdog Performance of the Race

There are so many drivers I could look at in terms of strong underdogs, but Ryan Sieg has to take the cake. Sieg was one of those those who benefitted from the late caution during green flag pit stops, and he restarted second, directly beside eventual winner Byron. After a brief challenge for the lead, one would expect Sieg to fall back, as many lower-tier drivers and teams do after pulling some strategy which places them up front. Sieg, however, didn’t take that route. He both fought off charges from third-place Tyler Reddick and kept leader Byron in sight. Sieg finished second, just over a second behind Byron.

The runner-up is a career best for Sieg, who will moves onto the site of his former career best finish, Daytona, where he finished third twice (2014 July and 2016 July).

Quotable

“It seemed like [Bell] just overdrove it into the corner, got loose and into us.” – Sam Hornish Jr., after a lap 79 crash that ended his night

“It was surreal…I can’t thank everybody enough.” – Ryan Sieg, finished second

“We should have come away with the win there…This is a tough one to swallow.” – Tyler Reddick, finished third

“It feels awesome…Really proud of these guys.” – William Byron, race winner

“Good momentum going into the summer months…Watermelons in the top five feels good.” – Ross Chastain, finished fourth

Final Word

There’s a lot to be happy about leaving Iowa Speedway. Between big finishes for small teams, young guns getting a shot, and the first career win for a rookie, this race may be one of the best this year. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of storylines develop by the time we come back to Iowa in August.

Up Next

Next week comes the wild card: Daytona. Ryan Reed will look for his third Daytona win in as many years, and the whole field just looks to finish the race. The Firecracker 250 at Daytona will take place on Friday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports Network.

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