From the moment the XFINITY Series took to Dover International Speedway on Friday (Oct. 5), Christopher Bell turned fast laps. He repeated that on Saturday en route to winning the Bar Harbor 200.
In qualifying, Bell didn’t win the pole, though did grab the second position. It took the No. 20 car until the exit of Turn 2 on the first lap to grab the lead from Daniel Hemric, and from there Bell would lead the entire 45-lap stage to the stage win.
After having a bad pot stop, Bell lost a handful of positions and gained all but one of them back, finishing second in stage two. During the final half of the race, the No. 20 car used the high line to his advantage, eventually passing Cole Custer for the race lead, where outside of a late-race caution and Brandon Jones taking two tires, Bell didn’t look back.
“Whenever you’re back in traffic, this track is so fast,” Bell said of his race. “Everything is so fast and everyone is really fast for a while until the track rubbers up and gets greasy. It’s hard to do anything until the laps get put on the race track and it starts to widen up. [It] was so fast on the long-run and especially when I could get the top going. It was really good.”
Bell set the record for most wins by a rookie driver in XFINITY Series season. Dover was his sixth victory of the season.
Ryan Truex had hoped for a miracle to help him move on in the playoffs but his 10th-place finish wasnʻt enough. Truex enjoyed a solid full-time season in the XFINITY series which should be something to build on.
Until late in the race, it looked like Dover was going to be tame and lackluster. But the final 30 laps was some of the best edge-of-your-seat racing in quite some time.
Ross Chastain came into Dover nine points above Austin Cindric for the final transfer position in the playoffs. But with the No. 22 car earning eight stage points during the first two stages, Chastain’s chances of advancing grew a whole lot slimmer — so much so, that Cindric passed Matt Tifft on the playoff grid, which allowed the Nos. 2 and 4 to duke it out to the finish.
That’s exactly what happened with 23 laps to go when Chastain was driving through the field after speeding on pit road. He was approaching Tifft, needing to gain six points on the No. 2. Without a caution, that was going to be unlikely, and the reason why Chastain took matters into his own hands.
As Tifft was struggling to get by lapped car Chase Briscoe, Chastain drove under the No. 2 car, sending him up the racetrack. A miraculous save allowed Tifft to continue and maintain his playoff hopes.
“I was trying to pass him, it’s my job,” Chastain said after the race. “He runs into me after the race. It’s all good. My owner won’t be happy about it, but it’s just racing. We got our car to be good enough, even in dirty air to be better than them. They should be mad, but they should be mad because the [No.] 4 car outran the [No.] 2 car, and we’ve done that a lot this year. We are not sorry about that at all.”
At one point in the waning laps of the race, Chastain was tied with Tifft for last transfer position. Had that remained the same, little ‘ole JD Motorsports would have advanced to the Round of 8 due to a second-place finish at Richmond Raceway by Chastain. However, the No. 2 was able to bypass three cars, finishing 15th, good enough to advance, as Chastain’s Cinderella shot at the championship came to a close.
“I sped on pit road and that’s ultimately what did it,” Chastain said after the race (sped on pit road after a caution with 38 laps to go). “I don’t know where it would have shaken out, but even after that I had a chance to get around the [Nos.] 1 and 11 and I should have taken the spot but waited a split second too long.
“I asked for an update at the end. I gave it all I had on the restarts at the end. I tried to run the top — anything for clean air and did whatever they didn’t do. It probably wasn’t the best thing, but I felt like if I followed them, I was going to be like all of them and just follow each other. A lot of these guys out here are happy just following each other and I’m not like that. That’s why a lot of racecar drivers out here get mad at me.”
Despite coming up three points short and outrunning a Richard Childress Racing machine that runs on a much bigger budget than JD Motorsports, the No. 4 car has nothing to be ashamed of. The little team that could, did what they needed to do to have a shot, but came up just short of advancing. Chastain believes the heartbreak will sink in much later.
For Tifft, he didn’t do himself many favors on Saturday. But a ninth-place finish in stage one awarded him two additional points in the standings, points which turned out to be big. Meanwhile, it was just about advancing for the No. 2 team, but had roles been reversed, it would have been a similar outcome.
“If I’m in his spot and I have to get those positions, I’m pushing, shoving and clawing as much as I can, too,” Tifft said. “He was doing what he had to do, and I was just the one on the receiving end of it that time. I had to force my way back by some guys to make sure we got back into the next round. If I’m in his position, I’m probably doing the same thing and pass anybody to make sure I can secure a spot.”
Prior to this schrimish, the race wasn’t very good. Without a caution, Chastain had no shot of advancing. He drove his ass off over the final 30 laps, but it wasn’t quite enough.
Daniel Hemric won his third pole of the season on Saturday, and was a factor for the first half of the race, after winning stage two. However, the No. 21 car got caught being too fast on pit road following the stage victory.
Hemric was moved back to the end of the longest line, meaning he would have to pass the lap cars, in addition, to lead lap cars to even have a shot at the victory. But being back in the pack at the Monster Mile is not what you want to do.
Sure, Hemric was flying through the field at the beginning of the run, getting inside the top 10. But with a few late cautions, the No. 21 car crossed the finish line in seventh and wasn’t even able to pass Brandon Jones, who took two tires on a late pit stop.
Some people believed this was finally going to be the day that Hemric won a race in NASCAR. He’s been oh, so close, but always a bridesmaid or worse. Hands-down, the No. 21 car was among the quickest three cars, but a mistake cost him a shot at the victory.
Hemric led 23 laps, moving hit total up to 269 for the season. It was his 19th top-10 finish, but for someone being shot to the Cup Series next season, you have to win a race!
Though Dover was a rather lackluster race for much of the afternoon, nothing out of the ordinary happened. It was, in some ways, a typical Dover race, but Miles the Monster didn’t come out and eat anybody up for lunch.
The only caution for any sort of incident was Josh Bilicki getting into the wall with 38 laps to go. Matt Tifft and Chase Briscoe were sent into the wall, of course, the No. 60 was involved in an incident. But, it was a rather clean race.
Underdog Performance of the Race
Since Spencer Gallagher was able to return from his suspension in July, he’s run a partial schedule for GMS Racing. Dover was by far the best he ran since coming back.
Gallagher qualified fourth for the race, proving the No. 23 was among the quickest on single-lap speed. The race speed for his Chevrolet was also in top shape, finishing fifth in the first stage. In the second stage, he finished fourth, earning more stage points. But Gallagher also spent two laps out front when Daniel Hemric sped on pit road, handing the lead to the No. 23 car.
Over the final half of the race, Gallagher remained around the top five, taking the checkers in fifth.
“It was grand,” Gallagher said of his fifth-place finish. “That was by far the best car I’ve ever had at Dover for sure. It made my day a pleasure — as much of a pleasurable day you can have at Dover.
“A great day at Dover is like a great day wrestling an alligator. No matter how much fun you had, you still just spent three hours wrestling an alligator. I enjoy this place, it’s cool, but nerve-wracking.
Prior to the fifth-place finish, which was Gallagher’s third career top-five finish in the XFINITY Series, he had a best outing of sixth in four career races at the Monster Mile, dating back to the Camping World Truck Series. Since this was his best finish since winning at Talladega Superspeedway in late April, the driver believes it was one of his best racecars, period.
“Pretty much the whole last part of the run, I was thinking ‘don’t screw this up. You’re having such a good day, don’t screw this up,” Gallagher said. “I think it was a banner day for us at GMS and demonstrates the strength that this team is capable of.
Double Duty Interlopers
Once again, no drivers running for Cup Series points were eligible to compete in the playoff race, a new rule for 2018. But out of drivers pulling double duty, Ross Chastain was the highest finisher in 13th.
“It’s gonna be close, so I think you definitely want to try to get a win and push for it as hard as you can.” – Cole Custer
“It’s always amazing when they can take a knucklehead like me and put it in the top five.” – Spencer Gallagher
“I don’t feel like I maximized everything today, but being able to execute all day, this is one of the few races this year I really feel like I’ve been able to do that, we’ve been able to do that as a team.” – Austin Cindric
Somehow, someway, the XFINITY Series seems to always steal the show. The first three-quarters of this race was — well to be blunt — boring. However, when Josh Bilicki got into the wall with 38 laps to go, shit hit the fan.
Ross Chastain, who had a speeding penalty on the eventual pit stop, drove out of his mind to get back in contention for the playoffs. Yes, he moved Matt Tifft out of the way, but shouldn’t you do everything you can to make the next round of the playoffs, especially when you drive in underfunded equipment?
Personally, I don’t believe Chastain didn’t do anything wrong. He’s notoriously known for racing hard, and should he have outright crashed Tifft, then it’s a different story. Chastain’s a future superstar. Mark my word.
Next week, the series will have its first off week in 16 weeks, dating back to mid-June. It will return to the track at Kansas Speedway in two weeks (Oct. 20) at Kansas Speedway, where Christopher Bell is the defending winner — his first series victory.