Sometimes the journey really is as important as the destination.
Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway was a perfect example. If you just came in at the end and saw that Kyle Busch won the race, well, yeah, that was no surprise. That’s kind of what he does when he shows up on a NASCAR Xfinity Series entry list, more often than not.
(By the way, good news if you don’t like to see Busch snatching wins away in lower series. We won’t see him in a Joe Gibbs Racing Supra again until Watkins Glen.)
Busch’s victory remains the headline, just not the whole tale. Busch fought a fairly ill-handling race car for big chunks of the race, and he didn’t win either stage nor lead the most laps. There was also legitimate suspense as the laps wound down because Busch and most of the top-15 cars weren’t going to be able to make it to the end on gas. Several drivers who would have made for popular upset winners could have.
It didn’t work out for Chase Briscoe, Kaz Grala or Jeffrey Earnhardt. Up front, what could have been a thrilling battle between Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell turned out to be for second place instead of the race win. For everybody except Bell, who continues to be the saddest driver ever when he finishes second or third, that’s OK. What we saw on Saturday was a hint that the rest of this Xfinity Series season could be very exciting, indeed. You’ve got two drivers who could very well battle for the championship all the way to Homestead, a number of others who could be factors in any given race and plenty of overlapping storylines.
Just another part of the journey.
No one really likes races decided by fuel mileage, right? If you believe the fastest car should always take the checkered, then you definitely don’t.
Yet racing is as much about strategy and teamwork as it is about driving fast. It makes for more late-race drama when teams take chances that might pay off in a race’s final segment.
Texas might have been the best of both worlds, then. A deserving car won, but there was still the specter of unlikely contenders who rolled the dice and pitted off sequence hanging around in case things fell their way.
What was strange about it almost working out for Briscoe, Grala and Earnhardt is that the race had plenty of cautions for incidents over the first 200 miles. Then, all of a sudden, it turned quite calm in the final stage. Most of the leaders figured to be running on fumes by the time they hit 10 laps to go, while the aforementioned trio of cars, who pitted laps later, had enough gas to make it to the end. Probably. Maybe.
Ironically, it was a car that got stuck motionless on pit road which brought out the caution that finally did in the gambit gang. It was fun while it lasted, though, before ultimately putting the race back in the hands of the best cars. Call that a win-win.
Also fun was the first ever stage win for Ryan Sieg, one that also came about due to a pit strategy call. Sieg stayed out late in stage two when almost everyone else pitted. Then, he was able to stay in front for a handful of laps following a late restart. The playoff point Sieg earned could come in handy for a team that very much has the look of a postseason participant.
Cole Custer has already punched his playoff ticket thanks to his victory in California. Brandon Jones is off to a great start to his season for Joe Gibbs Racing. Both drivers were running well on Saturday and were very much in the mix to grab one of the spots in the first Dash 4 Cash race at Bristol.
Until they weren’t.
Custer and Jones were scrapping with each other for position when this happened….
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) March 30, 2019
That was a costly wreck. Not so much because it left them both with finishes in the 30s, but because it took them out of the Dash 4 Cash equation. Briscoe and Daytona winner Michael Annett were the beneficiaries, as they’ll join Reddick and Bell to go for the extra money up for grabs on April 6.
He’s limited to just a handful of starts. But Brad Keselowski must be asking himself why he’s even bothering to run NASCAR Xfinity Series races in 2019. Last time we saw him in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford, his day ended early thanks to #RoofHatchgate. On Saturday, he first got mad at Justin Allgaier after being caught in the middle of a checking-up accordion, then saw his afternoon go from bad to worse.
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) March 30, 2019
It initially appeared the Team Penske gang was going to fix that damage and get Brad K. back on track. But there really was no reason to do so since he’s not running for points, meaning the record will show he finished 36th, ahead of just Timmy Hill and Jeff Green. As the millennials like to say, oof.
“Frustrating day,” Keselowski said in what might be the understatement of the 2019 season so far. His Xfinity ventures have been as dreadful as his Cup campaign has been impressive. Keselowski has to be glad it’s Paul Menard taking a turn in the No. 12 next and not him.
Underdog Performance of the Race
Though his pit strategy gamble didn’t hit big, we shouldn’t overlook Earnhardt. He still finished the race inside the top 10, coming home a strong eighth. It was only his second career Xfinity top-10 result and third in any NASCAR national touring series.
Most significant, though, was that it came not behind the wheel of a powerhouse JGR Toyota but in the No. 81 of XCI Racing, a newcomer to the sport. The new team does have a technical alliance with JGR, sure. But that’s not quite the same as driving for the main team (as Matt DiBenedetto can attest).
We had strong honorable mention candidates, too. You had Josh Williams (who finished 14th) and Ronnie Bassett Jr. (right behind Williams in 15th). Those were career-best finishes for both DGM Racing teammates.
Double Duty Interlopers
We’ve already discussed them both, and they couldn’t have had more different fates. Busch won, while Keselowski ended up in the garage early. Both should be near the front on Sunday.
“He wasn’t better than us anywhere, he just had track position there.” – Christopher Bell
“Certainly a race car, once I got rolling, but Christopher Bell ran a great race. He should have won this thing today.” – Kyle Busch (apparently agreeing with Bell)
Overall, a fun if not spectacular day in unusually cold Texas. There was a little bit of everything, including the late tension and several strong teams flexing their muscles while about 15 others vied for positions in the top 10. It certainly wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Busch was going to win. Plus, there was another tasty hint of the expected smackdown between Bell and Reddick that could well define this season.
It’s Bristol, baby! The Last Great Colosseum will play host to the Alsco 300 on April 6, a race won last year by Ryan Preece. That might bode well for the JGR drivers, particularly since Busch won’t be one of them.
It’s also the first of four Dash 4 Cash races for 2019. That means that Reddick, Bell, Briscoe and Annett will be going for an extra $100,000 with no Cup ringers to be found. Should be a good time.
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