With three laps to go, Noah Gragson looked to have the Contenders Boats 250 victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday (Feb. 27) in the bag until David Starr had a right-front tire go down. Starr climbed the banking in turn 3, and Gragson had nowhere to go and plowed into the rear of Starr’s Toyota.
This caution set up NASCAR Xfinity Series overtime for the third straight week to begin 2021. Every car came down pit road for fresh or scuff tires and especially fuel. Myatt Snider and his Richard Childress Racing pit crew entered the pits third but exited first. Snider then chose to start on the inside for the restart, with two-time Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick lined up on the outside. Snider spun his tires, giving Reddick the edge going into the first corners. But a caution flew for AJ Allmendinger, who clipped the front of Jeremy Clements’ Chevrolet, bounced off Brandon Jones’ Toyota, and spun. Allmendinger continued, but the race went into a second overtime.
Snider chose the inside once again. However, Reddick was the leader and the control car for the second overtime restart. Reddick spun his tires and had to block the outside as Austin Cindric, and Daniel Hemric made moves to his right. Snider launched successfully and blocked Jeb Burton into turn one. From there, Snider led the final two laps to win the Contender Boats 250, his first national series victory in NASCAR.
Cautions late in a stage are always entertaining when it comes to pitting or not pitting. It was a mixed bag when a caution for a Stefan Parsons spinning while exiting turn 4. When it came time to restart, the top 19 drivers did not pit, and Justin Haley in 20th was the first with four fresh Goodyears. Kaulig Racing teammate Allmendinger restarted 25th, and within two laps after the restart, the pair took over the top two positions in the running order. Allmendinger passed Haley with three laps before the first green and white checkered flag. Homestead is a fantastic track for passing. Coupling it with tires that wear equals fantastic racing.
The same happened at the end of the second stage. This time, Cindric drove from 22nd to first in less than three laps to win stage two. This stage ending also saw lower funded teams score stage points: Clements, Ryan Sieg and Landon Cassill. Allmendinger, who led at the time of caution, fell back to eighth. Cassill’s 10th-place finish in stage two was JD Motorsports’ first top 10 stage finish of 2021.
Tire wear is something people within NASCAR and fans wanted to see more of for a while, especially in the NASCAR Cup Series. What happened at Homestead Saturday was a great demonstration of what tire wear should look like in all divisions.
Despite being a non-factor in the race’s final stage, defending champion Cindric continues his impressive start in 2021. His late charge to the lead after stage two, which earned him a stage victory and playoff point, means he has earned playoff points in each season’s first three races. Through three races in 2020, Cindric had zero.
Riley Herbst had big shoes to fill when he signed on to become the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang driver during the offseason. He replaced Chase Briscoe, who won a series-leading nine times in 2020. He led in the season-opening race on the 2.5-mile oval at Daytona before crashing, and his day came to an early end last week on the road course at Daytona at the end of stage one. Herbst and SHR left Daytona with 26th- and 39th-place finishes. These results, mixed with the other metrics NASCAR uses to determine the starting lineup, placed him 29th on the grid to begin Saturday’s race. With the success the No. 98 enjoyed in 2020 on speedways, I expected to see Herbst be more of a factor and steadily working his way forward. Instead, he wasn’t much of a factor through the first two stages of the race, except when he put on tires before the end of stage two.
Herbst’s day was complicated when he was involved in an incident with Justin Allgaier. Before that, Herbst seemingly had a difficult time finding the speed Briscoe enjoyed last season. The silver lining for the team’s day came in overtime when between the start of the first overtime restart and the race’s conclusion, Herbst jumped from 19th to 12th. After the race, his car caught fire while parked on pit road. Hopefully, that isn’t an omen for the rest of the season, and more speed will be seen from the No. 98 team in upcoming races.
Santino Ferrucci made his NASCAR debut at Homestead and had the seemingly simple goal of bringing the car home in one piece. I was hoping to mention this in a separate section in this race’s breakdown. But I only mention him here because he “found” the wall so soon in the race. It happened in stage two, and it caught him multiple laps down early. While he did finish the race, only two laps down, and didn’t make any more trouble, I would have preferred to see him do more laps in a clean car. Ferrucci had never driven an Xfinity car before, and his Sam Hunt Racing Toyota had the right side pretty scratched up after the race. If he hadn’t hit the wall in stage two, that would’ve given him more time to feel out his machine and learn more for his next race. Ferrucci finished 31st and only has one direction to go. On the lighter side, he did find himself in the top 20 in stage one, which gives me hope for his season going forward.
I hesitate to call the start of JR Motorsports’ season ugly because its four Chevrolets have shown strength and speed, but I am. The results have been a mixed bag. The team’s four cars have only collectively assembled a single top-10 finish and four top 15s. Gragson had the best car in the field and was poised for a victory until misfortune struck the driver of the No. 9 again. He led three to go entering turn 3 when he tangled with Starr following the aforementioned flat tire.
Gragson was physically animated after exiting the car. After all, he suffered terrible luck in both Homestead races last June and before Saturday’s race, deemed it a “checkers or wreckers” race. He was on the way to checkers but wound up on a wrecker. He had an eventful day, even finding the wall a few times, but had the fastest car from races start to end. I don’t believe he saw a replay of the accident before his television interview because Starr looked like he would give him the bottom. Had Starr’s tire not gone down, Gragson was most likely going to be standing in victory lane.
Josh Berry was running in the top 10 in the middle of the final stage before he had to pit for a flat tire after hitting the wall. He fell two laps down, got both back and rallied to an 11th. Annett was in the top 10 with four laps to go before pitting for fuel and tires and finished 14th.
Seasoned Xfinity veteran Allgaier had a rough two weeks in Daytona. You can now make that a rough three weeks in Florida. He had finishes of 28th and 26th to begin the year. He made a rookie mistake and slid in front of Herbst on the exit of turn 2. Allgaier’s right rear clipped the left front of Herbst and Allgaier crashed into the wall. The team was unable to repair the Brandt Chevrolet and subsequently retired from the race.
Leaving Florida, JR Motorsports has none of its three full-time drivers in the top 12 in points. Annett is the highest in 17th, with both Allgaier and Gragson being outside the top 20. The season is still young. There are 30 races to go: 23 in the regular season. The start is so out of character for the team that it leaves me wondering what will go wrong next week?
Underdog Performance of the Race
Two drivers get the nod from me this week, with Clements being the first. A caution in the closing laps of stage two allowed Clements and his team to pit for tires and an opportunity for stage points. Clements took full advantage of the new Goodyears and drove up to a sixth-place finish in stage two. He remained near the top 10 for the remainder of the race and finished 10th at the checkered flag. That is back-to-back 10th-place finishes for Clements who is currently eighth in points.
Meanwhile, Jade Buford, who made his first career start on an oval since was named the driver of Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Racing Team full-time for the 2021 season in January. He wasn’t cleared to race the superspeedway at Daytona by NASCAR officials as he had no experience on ovals. His four career starts before 2021 were all on road courses in 2020. Essentially, Homestead was an opportunity for the sanctioning body to evaluate whether he’ll be allowed to compete at Talladega April 24. Aside from getting in a couple of the leaders’ way late in the race, which I interpreted as holding his line, he ran a clean race. A 21st-place finish hopefully is a good step in getting the go-ahead to take on superspeedways for Big Machine Racing Team.
Double Duty Interlopers
Reddick was the only NASCAR Cup Series regular in the field for Saturday’s race at Homestead. He started 38th in a joint effort between Our Motorsports and RSS Racing and was quiet for much of the first two-thirds of the race. With 54 laps to go in the race, Reddick was 10th and slowly worked his way up toward the top five. With 30 laps to go, he was fifth and with 14 laps remaining. On the first overtime restart, Reddick bested Snider, but the quick caution spoiled what could have been an upset victory for him and Our Motorsports. After spinning the tires on the final restart, Reddick had no choice but to block Cindric and Hemric. If he didn’t, he likely doesn’t finish second, maybe not even in the top five. That maneuver to block those to his right allowed Snider to get just enough ahead to win in the two-lap shootout. Had it been a three-lap sprint to the finish, Reddick might have had Snider.
“Yep, found it (wall).” – Santino Ferrucci
“What are you going to do? You’ve got dips**** in the way every single week.” – Noah Gragson
“I guess I learned my lesson on that first restart. I spun my wheels, then I saw Tyler (Reddick) spin the wheels [on] the next one, and I knew I might have a chance. I knew Tyler had a lot of experience as a Cup driver, so I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task beating him, but luckily, we did it. I can’t thank everybody enough. We slayed it.” – Myatt Snider
Homestead has not disappointed in recent Xfinity Series races and today was no exception. The track itself is a model for what 1.5-mile tracks should strive to be like, as the racing was once again phenomenal. There were multiple lanes of passing, even from the start on a green racetrack. Tire wear played a factor in deciding the outcome of stages one and two and the finish. I was entertained through the entire race, which may not happen tomorrow with the NASCAR Cup Series. It just goes to show that the best racing in NASCAR at the moment is in the Xfinity Series.
The West Coast Swing begins next week as the Xfinity Series rolls into the Neon Garage at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Alsco Uniforms 300 next Saturday (March 6). Race coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. ET on FS1 and PRN. Chase Briscoe, in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang, swept both races in Las Vegas in 2020. With Briscoe ascending to the Cup Series this season, there may not be a previous winner in the field next week. Hometown drivers of Riley Herbst and Noah Gragson will look for redemption in Sin City after disappointing outings in Homestead. After Las Vegas, the Xfinity Series will visit Phoenix Raceway (March 13) and Atlanta Motor Speedway (March 20) before having back-to-back weekends off.