For the first 195 laps in Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway, Erik Jones was on rails, leading 186 circuits. Coming to four laps to go, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell made a dive bomb to pick up his first career victory.
Over the final 10 laps, Bell closed on Jones from more than two seconds behind. Heading into Turn 3 with four laps to go, Bell went low after running most of the race against the wall, clearing the No. 20 car only to slide in front of Jones to get creamed in the rear.
Bell went on to lead the final four laps, while Jones had damage to his radiator and blew a right front tire, finishing 15th. The rookie driver was ecstatic about his victory.
“I never want to wreck anyone, especially my teammate,” Bell said in Victory Lane. “My spotter said clear and I drove it in really deep. I felt like I cleared him — I don’t know. It’s my first XFINITY win. I’m sorry that Erik couldn’t finish the race, but I’m just stoked. This thing was awesome.”
Prior to Kansas, Bell had four other XFINITY starts this season with a best finish of fourth coming in his series debut at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The victory came a week after announcing he was making the jump full-time to the XFINITY Series in 2018 with JGR.
After being repaved in 2012, Kansas Speedway looks like it’s beginning to enter a phase where tires actually matter.
NASCAR has events on a plethora of 1.5-mile tracks, each having its own unique element. However, for the last few years, Kansas has been a place that XFINITY cars could run full throttle, having less horsepower than the Cup Series.
Because of that, it made for lackluster racing and not many on-track passes, specifically for the XFINITY Series, though leading to an increase in cautions. Over the past six races, there has been an average of nine cautions, only four coming on Saturday.
Joe Gibbs Racing has been dominant in recent years, winning the last five races at Kansas. But in four of the six races since the repave, at least one driver has led over 100 laps.
Yes, Jones led 186 laps on Saturday, but the restarts were absolutely insane. Drivers such as William Byron and Matt Tifft were able to charge from the back of the pack and finish in 12th and 16th, respectively at the conclusion of Stage 1 (lap 45). When tires began to wear, the preferred groove was right next to the wall, which happens at most tracks that tire management comes into play at.
Though another dominating performance from JGR at Kansas, the track is coming into its own zone, and each year gets more and more character.
Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes.
A pair of playoff drivers didn’t help themselves with a couple of pit road penalties, as well as a right front flat with four laps to go. It all started during a cycle of pit stops with 60 laps remaining.
Daniel Hemric slid through the No. 21 pit stall and his pit crew serviced the racecar outside of the pit box by taking off one of the tires. Due to recent no calls in the Cup Series, it’s likely the crew wasn’t sure what the actual rules were. However, by servicing the car outside the box, it cost the rookie driver one lap. NASCAR did clarify that had the team bolted the old tire back on the car before backing up to complete service, no penalty would have been assessed.
The final stint to the finish went green the entire way, leaving Hemric mired a lap down, though he had enough speed to pass multiple cars on the track. The No. 21 car finished 18th, his worst finish since an 18th-place result at Darlington Raceway at the beginning of September. By earning four stage points, he sits six markers behind Brennan Poole for the final transfer spot to Homestead.
— RCR XFINITY Teams (@RCRNXS) October 21, 2017
Cole Custer was on pace to have a solid top-10 finish, until the No. 00 car blew a right front tire with less than a handful of laps remaining. It was a decision earlier in the race that most likely contributed Custer’s inability to make it the final 57 laps on his last set of tires.
With 11 laps to go in Stage 2, Custer pitted for fresh tires, while most lead lap cars stayed out. In the sprint to the green and white checkered flag, the No. 00 team rebounded to seventh, earning four stage points.
By earning stage points in the first two stages, it limits the blow Custer’s 19th-place finish has on his championship hopes. He sits eight points behind Poole.
Clearly, the incident between Bell and Jones was the most interesting part of the race, which led to two damaged Joe Gibbs Racing racecars.
Coming to four laps to go, Bell made a dive-bomb, similar to one that he has aced in dirt cars, but it didn’t stick and the No. 18 car faded up the track in front of a charging Jones. The No. 20 car backed up the corner, which meant he was going to her one helluva run off Turn 4.
A battle for the win between teammates ended with them both hitting the wall!
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) October 21, 2017
When Jones got that run, Bell was parked in front of him and the No. 20 car had nowhere to go, damaging the front end of his car as well as putting Bell into the wall. The No. 18 car was able to go the final four laps with tire smoke in the cockpit to pick up the victory.
“It’s not dirt racing, he’s not clear,” Jones said of the incident. “I can’t just stop on the top. I didn’t expect him to drive in on the bottom so far he wouldn’t be able to hold his lane. I thought we were going to race for the win and it wasn’t much of a race, it was more of a wreck.”
Jones went on to say that this race was the first in a while that he had a good shot at the victory in the XFINITY Series. Meanwhile, he did say “it is what it is and it’s going to happen.”
While celebrating in Victory Lane, Bell didn’t want to take away from his victory but had to address the incident with Jones.
“I’m going to apologize and it sucks that we couldn’t race it out or he didn’t finish the race,” Bell said. “I don’t know — I cleared him there — we were both on told tires and we were both sliding around and I was going to the top.”
Bell is scheduled to have more starts in the XFINITY Series this season before going full-time for JGR in 2018.
Underdog Performance of the Race
Finishing in 22nd position is nothing to brag about, but for a small team like Precision Motorsports, it goes a long way, especially on a 1.5-mile track.
Rookie driver Quin Houff was making just his fifth start of the season at Kansas, and only his second at a mile-and-a-half track. At Kentucky Speedway in September, the 20-year-old finished 27th in his first attempt at an intermediate track.
Prior to Kansas, Houff had a pair of top-20 finishes, though both coming at short tracks. However, the 22nd-place finish was Precision Motorsports best finish on an intermediate track in team history.
The organization has made just eight starts this season, five coming from Houff. In those five races, the No. 46 car has an average finish of 20.6. Parker Kligerman picked up the teams first career top 10 at Road America in late August.
Double Duty Interlopers
Erik Jones dominated this event leading 186 of 200 laps, but colliding with JGR teammate Christopher Bell late in the race cost the No. 20 car a shot at the victory. Jones finished the afternoon limping across the finish line in 15th.
Ryan Blaney looked to have the second-best racecar all day long, finishing second in the first two stages. For much of the final stage, the No. 22 car was running in second but had a tire shred coming to the checkered flag, falling to third.
“Nothing we could do at the end of the race because we ran over something late in the race and crippled the right front.” – Cole Custer
“We’re going to have to be better. We need to find some more speed.” – Ryan Reed
“You know that’s racing. It’s not always going to go your way and you know it definitely didn’t go our way today.” – Erik Jones
The final five laps of Saturday’s race at Kansas were some of the most dramatic laps run in the XFINITY Series this season. It was the longest stretch of racing to the finish at Kansas in XFINITY history, and the longest stretch of green flag racing of the day, which had drivers dropping like flies in the waning laps.
With just two races remaining until the field for the Championship 4 is set for Homestead, Brennan Poole is on the cut line, five points ahead of Matt Tifft, six ahead of Ryan Reed and Daniel Hemric, while Cole Custer is eight markers back.
After going 20 consecutive weeks of competition that went from Charlotte in May to Charlotte at the beginning of October, the XFINITY Series heads into it’s second off week in the past three weekends. The Series will resume competition at Texas Motor Speedway in two weeks, where Kyle Larson is the defending winner. The green flag is set to fly at 8:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 4.
Heck ya @CBellRacing nice slider!
— Brad Sweet (@BradSweet49) October 21, 2017