A caution-filled first two stages of Saturday’s (March 6) Alsco Uniforms 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway seemed to have given away to a calm, cool and collected final stage when AJ Allmendinger snatched the lead from Daniel Hemric on lap 139. Within the next 10 laps, the Xfinity Series field started a round of green-flag pit stops, during which Allmendinger retained the lead. Then on lap 173, Austin Cindric gave Harrison Burton a bump he won’t soon forget, sending the 20-year-old Toyota driver spinning. This incident set up a chance for teams to put on their last set of sticker Goodyears.
Ty Dillon stayed out on the 21 to go restart, as he had no more tires and was rapidly disposed of by those behind him. Hemric and Allmendinger quickly scooted by him on the bottom. One lap later, Dillon was in the wall after a collision with Brett Moffitt, setting up another restart.
As the leader, Hemric chose the outside for the restart, and Allmendinger took the bottom. On the 13 to go restart, Hemric launched well but wasn’t able to clear Allmendinger, who received a great push from Noah Gragson. Allmendinger sent his Kaulig Racing Chevrolet into turn 1, hugging the white line, clearing Hemric onto the backstretch, and cruised to victory.
If you were still in need of an example of Cindric’s maturation as a racecar driver, look no further than today. He mysteriously had a tire go flat and slowed. Stuck on the outside, he could not turn down to the apron of the track until the entire field had passed by, but not before he missed pit road entry. One lap later, as he crept his No. 22 Team Penske Ford along the inside wall, Dillon got loose, climbed the track, and nearly hit Michael Annett before turning down and hitting Riley Herbst.
This brought out a caution, which Cindric would benefit from as he was the lucky dog. Cindric then had to charge his way back up through nearly the entire field of Xfinity competitors. While the 2020 Xfinity Champion never regained the lead, he would finish fourth following a clean and methodical charge back to the front. Two years ago, maybe even one year ago, Cindric may have tried to force the issue. But in 2021, following many lessons learned, he knows when and when not to force an issue.
JR Motorsports was finally able to string together a group of great finishes. Annett and Gragson were consistently the two best JRM cars, though Allgaier did spend some time in the top few positions in the first half of the race. Gragson, Annett, and Josh Berry finished fifth, sixth, and seventh, respectively. Allgaier struggled in the closing segments of the race, making contact with newcomer Santino Ferrucci (13th) and finishing 14th.
Once more, Hemric showed strength behind the wheel of his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He was the best of the four JGR cars and won the second stage. If he could’ve cleared Allmendinger on the final restart into turn one, Hemric might have been the one in victory lane. His day is coming, and soon we can forget about his eight second-place finishes and instead talk about his first career win.
There were high hopes for Herbst before today’s race because the team he drives for swept Las Vegas in 2020 with Chase Briscoe. But lady luck has not been kind to Herbst and the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing team so far in 2021 and didn’t play kind to the Vegas native at his hometown track. Herbst was, yet again, an innocent bystander in someone else’s mess. He had nowhere to go when Dillon’s Toyota came down the track at him on Lap 56. Herbst’s right front smashed into the door of Dillon’s car. The right front wheel assembly for Herbst was too damaged for his crew to repair, and the team had to call it a day. He was running 11th at the time, one position better from where he started. With still three-quarters of the race to go, the team would have a few more opportunities to work on the car. But out of four races in 2021, Herbst has been involved in a crash some way in each.
Ryan Sieg received a tire rub during the restart on lap 63, and the tire slowly went down. It came to a head on the exit of turn four on Lap 65. Sieg attempted to gather the car and bring it down to the apron but couldn’t keep the car off the grass. His Ford Mustang’s splitter dug into the grass, which violently removed it from the vehicle. The car wasn’t thrown around as seen in previous accidents involving a car’s splitter and grass, but it was still enough to see Sieg call it a day a few laps later. It’s such a shame to see a minor incident produce such damaging results. This incident isn’t the fault of the grass; it was the fault of the splitter. Sieg is just the latest example of why a valence is better for sliding through the grass, or in this case, clipping it, compared to a splitter.
An ugly moment that wracked up several dollars worth of damage for car repairs occurred when Dillon crashed on lap 181. Dillon exited turn two three-wide with Berry below him and Moffitt creeping alongside him on the top. However, Dillon didn’t know Moffitt was there and moved up, clipping the left-front of Moffitt’s Chevrolet. Why didn’t Dillon know Moffitt was there? The battery of his spotter’s radio, Drew Herring, died and was in the process of changing it as the crash occurred. Again, it falls under the ugly umbrella this week because it was an unnecessary crash that wrecked both Dillon and Moffitt’s cars, along with Alex Labbe’s car, from a secondary incident. It was a hard lesson learned by Herring — one that I’m sure he won’t forget soon.
Underdog Performance of the Race
I have to give this to Ferrucci. Last week I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t run a cleaner race longer. But this week, he did nothing to warrant a comment from the commentary booth until the final 10 laps. For a new driver, that isn’t automatically a bad thing.
He started 23rd and hovered around the 20th running position for most of the race. As the laps clicked away, he slowly passed a few more cars. During the caution for Harrison Burton on lap 173, he was the lucky dog, putting him back on the lead lap. He battled and passed Justin Allgaier and survived contact from him, too. He finished on the lead lap in 13th, which, through 14 career starts, is Sam Hunt Racing’s third-best career finish.
Double Duty Interlopers
Tyler Reddick was the only NASCAR Cup Series points-regular driver in the field today. Driving the No. 23 for Our Motorsports, Reddick finished 12th but ran as high as seventh. Justin Haley recovered from a spin to finish eighth; he will be in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet tomorrow (March 7). Garrett Smithley and Timmy Hill, who are also in tomorrow’s Cup race, finished 24th and 37th, respectively.
“First of all, it’s awesome to have y’all back in the grandstands. That is the most important thing. And without all of you [and] all of you at home, we can’t do this, so thank you so much for showing up and packin’ this place!” – AJ Allmendinger
“You hate to have one get away like that, but we came here…and wanted to try and have more speed to lead laps and win stages, and we did that today. [We] lined up with a shot there and just got beat. Congratulations to AJ, we just got beat.” – Daniel Hemric
You never can tell how a NASCAR Xfinity Series race is going to play out. For the second straight year, NASCAR’s second-highest division has produced four different winners in four races to open the season. Cindric started his Xfinity Series title defense by giving team owner Roger Penske his first win on the Daytona oval. The Daytona road course produced a surprise winner, Ty Gibbs, who won in his first career NXS start. Myatt Snider won last week by beating a two-time Xfinity champion Reddick in a second overtime restart. And today, Allmendinger recaptures the lead on the final restart of the race to win on an oval for only the second time in his career (Atlanta, 2020) and secures a place in the 2021 Xfinity Playoffs.
If you aren’t watching the Xfinity Series races live, you are missing out! From the green flag to the checkered flag, every race is fun to watch, and you never know how a race will shake out.
The West Coast Swing wraps up at Phoenix Raceway next Saturday (March 13). The Call 811 Before You Dig 200 starts at 5:30 p.m. on FS1 and MRN. Cindric won the most recent race at Phoenix to clinch his first Xfinity Series championship last November. Ty Gibbs returns to the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in what will be his second career start. In two weeks, Atlanta Motor Speedway will host its first of two races in 2021 before the Xfinity field has a two-week spring break.
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