JR Motorsports rookie William Byron won the XFINITY Series’ Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday afternoon thanks to taking two tires on a late restart. Normally, that would have locked Byron into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. However, Byron clinched his spot earlier in the race by earning points in the first two stages.
By no means was Saturday’s win easy for Byron. He and the No. 9 team had to work for it.
“We grinded all day, great job by this team,” Byron said in a post-race interview with NBCSN. “To make that pit call by (crew chief) Dave (Elenz) is awesome. This one got robbed from me last year at Phoenix. Got it back and just can’t thank these guys enough for that. Awesome job.”
Byron is looking to be the second rookie in XFINITY Series history to win the championship, as Chase Elliott won the 2014 title in JRM’s No. 9.
The win, his fourth of the season, was extra sweet as last year in the Camping World Truck Series’ penultimate event at Phoenix, Byron’s Kyle Busch Motorsports machine blew an engine, keeping 2016’s dominant driver out of the title hunt.
Hemric was battling Stewart-Haas Racing rookie Cole Custer for the final championship placing, taking it by four points, and they fought fiercely but cleanly for the fourth position on the track late.
“It got a little nerve-wracking there once the 18 [Bell] followed us, but I knew, kind of, what we needed to do with the 00 [Custer],” Hemric said post-race. “I just had to make sure he didn’t pass both of us. Fortunately it worked out that way; awesome time racing with Cole all year long.”
“It sucks,” Custer said of failing to advance after coming so close. “The short tracks weren’t our strong suit all year, the mile-and-a-half tracks were really good for our Haas Automation Mustang, we just had a lot of bad luck this round.”
The whole race was relatively clean, with four cautions in total and 31 vehicles finishing, a far cry from Friday night’s CWTS carnage in the Lucas Oil 150, where over half the field wrecked and only ten vehicles finished on the lead lap.
Aside from fellow playoff drivers Byron and Hemric, JRM’s Justin Allgaier clinched his championship ticket on lap 177 and finished in 10th-place, JGR’s Matt Tifft finished in 11th, Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Reed was 14th, JRM’s Elliott Sadler was 18th and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Brennan Poole was 38th after being wrecked early.
With one race to go in the year, Byron, Allgaier (Phoenix spring), Reed (Daytona opener) and Jeremy Clements (Road America) have been the only series regulars to win.
Byron’s former teammate Christopher Bell was fourth this week, as he prepares for a full-time run with JGR in XFINITY in 2018 while racing for a CWTS championship with KBM next weekend. In the closing laps, Bell made one of the passes of the day as he dispatched of both Hemric and Custer with a three-wide pass on the outside exiting turn 4.
Kaulig Racing’s Blake Koch quietly drove to a sixth-place finish, scoring points in both stages. It was his fifth top 10 this season and his best 2017 result.
Richard Childress Racing’s Brendan Gaughan spun on the opening lap and hovered in the 15—20th range most of the race before pancaking into the Turn 4 wall on lap 181, setting up the final sprint. Gaughan finished in 32nd place.
Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Reed needed a miracle victory to make it to the final race as a contender, and that didn’t happen. He qualified 20th and stayed around there all day long, finishing in 14th.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Brennan Poole entered the race in fourth place in the standings, but his day (and title hopes) were destroyed by lap 22 after the lapped No. 8 car drove him into the Turn 3 wall. The No. 8 was being driven by Caesar Bacarella, who was making his XFINITY Series debut with BJ McLeod Motorsports.
“Bad luck, bad circumstances,” Poole said in an NBCSN interview. “I guess I could’ve been more cautious there, but just trying to get stage points and keep moving forward. Just a bummer. I don’t know what else to say.”
Teammate Kyle Larson was sympathetic in his frustration:
Poole finished in 38th place after a failed attempt to repair the damaged DC Solar Chevrolet led to a second encounter with the wall under yellow.
Underdog Performance of the Race:
Casey Mears finished a very respectable 12th place for modestly-budgeted Biagi-DenBeste Racing. The team will partner with Stewart-Haas Racing’s XFINITY effort next season.
JR Motorsports is the top team in this series, but they earn a mention here because all four of their regular pit crews were stranded in Arkansas, after their plane had an electrical problem. Throwing together a MacGyvered group of pit crews from other teams and developmental guys, they had two drivers in the top 10 in Byron and Allgaier, while Sadler had enough of a points cushion that an 18th-place finish didn’t hurt him.
The crew for JD Motorsports was aboard the same flight, and they got help from Poole’s pit crew after the No. 48’s day was done.
“That’s what the playoffs are all about. So intense, man… .Had fun all day, it was great racing for the fans.” – Daniel Hemric
“The best defense is offense, so you’ve got to be aggressive and that’s what we were today. We just got to do that one more weekend.” – William Byron
“Our short run speed was really good, we could just never get the car to last on long run speed,” Matt Tifft said. “Once we lost the track position it kept getting worse and worse.” However, Tifft praised his team’s effort and improvement throughout the season.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars dropped into the race, as usually happens, the results were predictable: Ryan Blaney was second, Erik Jones third, Alex Bowman eighth, Austin Dilion ninth, Ty Dilion 13th, Corey Lajoie 22nd and Gray Gaulding was 40th.
CWTS regulars Christopher Bell and Joe Nemechek finished fourth and 35th, respectively.
Justin Allgaier’s No. 7 Camaro failed post-race inspection for an unattached brake cooling hose. This is a L1 penalty, and could result in his crew chief, Jason Burdett, being suspended for the season finale.
Roush Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. offered to help with the pit crew situation:
I’ll change tires for u if u need me.
— Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (@StenhouseJr) November 11, 2017
Just as the season began in Florida, it will wrap up there as well as it all comes down o one race for the series championship on Saturday afternoon, November 18, in the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET). The race will be televised on NBCSN.
A Chevrolet driver will win the title, as Richard Childress Racing’s Hemric battles the JR Motorsports trio of Byron, Allgaier and Sadler.
The owner’s title will feature all three manufacturers, as Byron’s win means his No. 9 Camaro will battle the Team Penske No. 22 Ford Mustang and a pair of Joe Gibbs Racing machines in the No. 18 and No. 20 Toyota Camrys. No Cup drivers will be allowed to compete.