Even though the XFINITY Series only got one round of qualifying in on Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, Ryan Blaney was the driver to beat. Fast forward a few hours later, and the No. 22 team was turning laps quicker than his qualifying time in the opening stage, en route to the stage victory.
Due to pit strategy, Blaney finished 18th in the second stage, but it put him in prime position once the final stage started as most of the drivers in front of him would have to pit. With just under 70 laps to go, the No. 22 passed Daniel Hemric for the race lead and didn’t look back.
“With the different strategies in the second stage we had to come from behind a little bit,” Blaney said in Victory Lane. “The car was great and pit stops were great all day. I couldn’t ask more of this team. It’s finally nice to win one here in Texas.”
The victory is Blaney’s first in two XFINITY starts this season. However, it’s the No. 22 team’s third consecutive victory, as Brad Keselowski won at ISM Raceway and Joey Logano crushed the field at Auto Club Speedway. It’s just the second time in series history that an organization won three consecutive races with three different drivers with the same team (Roush Fenway Racing did so in 2011).
With a bunch of early cautions, it jumbled up pit strategy and the win was up for grabs.
Being that Texas is one year out of being repaved, it makes the racing groove very narrow, making track position that much more important. But when drivers pit off-sequence with one another, and there is hard racing on restarts, it’s anybody’s race.
Blaney cruised to victory in the first stage but during the second stage the No. 22 team fell to 18th after pitting late in the stage under caution. While Blaney and much of the front-runners pitted, it let a handful of XFINITY regulars shine.
Brandon Jones was victorious in the second stage — his first career stage win. Ryan Truex finished second, while Ryan Sieg was third, Ross Chastain fourth and Ryan Reed fifth. In fact, XFINITY Series drivers made up the first 14 positions in Stage 2.
Sure, all those drivers came to pit road when pit lane opened, but 10 XFINITY drivers earned stage points, something that rarely happens. It’s good for the sport and the series that the front is represented by series regulars because let’s face it, names are made here.
For the past few seasons, it’s typical that some of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams don’t make it through inspection to attempt a qualifying lap. On Saturday in Texas, that trend sprinkled down into the XFINITY Series.
Seven cars failed to turn a qualifying lap, headlined by series points leader Elliott Sadler, Daniel Hemric and Kevin Harvick. Add Matt Tifft, Kaz Grala, Josh Williams and Bayley Currey to the mix, and these seven drivers had to start shotgun on the field.
There have been rumblings in the garage of NASCAR possibly giving out stiffer penalties to teams that fail to make it through pre-qualifying inspection in the Cup Series. Now, for the first time in a long time, multiple XFINITY teams failed to make it to the qualifying grid.
Prior to the season, NASCAR introduced the Optical Scanning Station. One team owner told me at Homestead last November that between the beginning of the playoffs and the season finale, the sanctioning body tested 55 cars on this system, and they all failed. Fast forward two months into the season, and it’s been an issue at certain tracks in the Cup Series, but has yet to test the waters in the XFINITY Series, until today. Oh boy.
The opening two stages of the XFINITY race felt like an eternity with seven cautions. It took all but two laps until Chad Finchum spun in Turn 2. On the restart, veteran driver Jamie McMurray spun off Turn 4, as all cars were fighting a loose condition, likely due to how cold the track surface was.
On lap 15, rookie driver Vinnie Miller totaled the No. 01 machine, spinning into the outside wall. The final 25 laps of Stage 1 were held under the green flag.
On a treacherous racetrack, drivers weren’t cutting one another any slack, as the driver on the outside line would pin the driver on the bottom to the apron. With 21 laps to go in the second stage, Ryan Reed was on the door of Spencer Gallagher and the No. 23 car spun into the wall. Cautions breed cautions as Finchum wrecked his car on lap 79.
Why were there so many crashes? It could be due to the inexperience of a lot of these drivers, but more importantly, this one-groove racetrack causes sketchy situations when a driver gets out of the preferred line. We saw it last year during every race held at TMS, and it’s going to take a while for it to be multi-grooved, yet again.
Underdog Performance of the Race
Matt Tifft had to start the race from the rear, as the No. 2 team failed to make it through pre-qualifying inspection. However, it didn’t take long to see that the second-year driver had one of the best cars in the field.
By the end of the first stage, Tifft had raced up to ninth, one position behind Harvick and just ahead of Hemric, all of whom started at the rear of the field. Though Richard Childress Racing shouldn’t necessarily be considered an underdog, Tifft got his best finish of the season in sixth.
The No. 2 team started off the season with finishes of 19th, 12 and 11th, and has progressively gotten better since Daytona. Each race besides the exception of Fontana, Tifft has bettered his finishing positions from the previous week.
Through six races Tifft has three top-10 finishes, sitting ninth in the championship standings. As the series heads to Bristol next weekend, he has a best result of 16th last spring.
Double Duty Interlopers
Blaney dominated the event, leading 132 of 200 laps. Jamie McMurray was the only other Cup Series driver that finished inside the top 10 (seventh). Ty Dillon finished just outside the top 10 in 12th.
Kevin Harvick had to start the 300-mile race shotgun on the field and quickly made his way inside the top 10. However, a late pit stop derailed his top-10 effort into finishing 19th.
Ross Chastain will be making his sixth Cup Series start of the season on Sunday, and spent two laps out front on Saturday, before he broke something in the rear gear, resulting in a 28th-place finish.
“I am glad to get back in the top-10. I think we had a car for the top-five but this place is kind of a track position game.” — Austin Cindric
“I wanted to get a top-10 for sure but this is the best finish so far for the 60 and I feel like we are continuing to make gains every week.” — Chase Briscoe
“I want to prove so bad that I can run in the top five and I think we were going to today. We’ve got plenty of races left and we’ll make sure we do it again soon.” — Brandon Jones
The first half of this race was bizarre, as there were eight cautions. Over the final stage, there was just one incident on lap 99 involving four cars.
At a track that is notorious for long green flag runs, there were three cautions in the first 15 laps. Most the field started off the race insanely loose, as the ambient temperature was 34 degrees, while in practice on Friday it was in the mid-80s.
The XFINITY Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway next weekend for the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300. Erik Jones is the defending winner, and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch found Victory Lane at Thunder Valley in August. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.