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Alex Tagliani Wins in Dramatic Fashion at Toronto

TORONTO, Ont — One year ago Alex Tagliani was in position to win.

After leading all 35 regulation laps, Tagliani was passed in a heartbreaking NASCAR Overtime finish by eventual winner Andrew Ranger. Flash forward to 2019, and Tagliani came to Toronto with one goal in mind – redemption.

Tagliani, who won the E3 Spark Plugs Pole Award, was challenged by stiff competition all race by Ranger and teammate Marc-Antoine Camirand. With two late race restarts and a NASCAR Overtime finish, Tagliani redeemed himself by scoring the victory in this year’s Pinty’s Grand Prix of Toronto.

Tagliani’s No.18 RONA/EpiPen Chevrolet lost the lead to Camirand in a late restart, however Camirand gave the lead back after a late crash set up NASCAR Overtime. Tagliani was able to sneak by the wreck and hold off a bloodthirsty Ranger, Kevin Lacroix and LP Dumoulin.

In the end, the 45-year-old driver from Lachanaie, Quebec was able to hold off all who opposed leading 34 of 37 laps to claim his ninth career NASCAR Pinty’s Series victory and second on the streets of Toronto.

“After last year, we felt like we had some unfinished business,” Tagliani said. “It was a great race, a great qualifying, maximum points for the weekend which is good for the team. It seems like this race track brings a bit of luck and its a turn around for our championship, it was last year. Hopefully it’s going to be this year and hoping for more good things to come this year”

Ranger, who came into the weekend one point behind Kevin Lacroix in the standings, managed to steal the lead from Tagliani near the halfway point. On the final restart Ranger did all he could to get around the No.18, Ranger would ultimately settle for second grabbing the points lead from Lacroix.

“On the start, my car was very fast and we got to lead some laps.” Ranger said. “Last restart, I stayed with Alex. Green, white, checkered, same thing. I tried to make a move on the inside but it didn’t work. I was not trying to push too hard and destroy the car.”

L.P Dumoulin used the overtime restart to his advantage, surging to his first podium finish of the season, and second at Toronto.

Lacroix brought his battered and bruised Bumper to Bumper Dodge home in fourth. He was followed by J.F Dumoulin, who completed the top five finishers.

Anthony Simone was sixth and Peter Klutt following behind in seventh. Jason Hathaway, D.J Kennington and Jason White rounded out the top ten.

Following the Pinty’s Grand Prix of Toronto, Ranger opens a two point gap over Lacroix. With the win, Tagliani remains in third place, moving within 14 points of Ranger for the lead.

The Pinty’s Grand Prix of Toronto will air on TSN July 21 at 1:30 p.m. and on RDS2 July 30 at 10 p.m.

The NASCAR Pinty’s Series next embarks on their annual Western Swing. The Velocity Prairie Thunder Twin 125s at Wyant Group Raceway will be July 24, followed by the LUXXUR 300 at Edmonton International Raceway July 27.

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Matt Brabham Continues Showing Speed in Toronto

TORONTO, Ontario — While racing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2014, Matt Brabham was able to witness the SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks in action for the first time. After watching them, he walked over and told Robby Gordon that he wanted to get involved, because they looked “so much fun to drive.”

That same weekend at the Honda Indy Toronto, he made his series debut in the second race of the weekend.

“Luckily, I got to race that first race in Toronto because Paul Tracy had a TV commitment,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “So I took his seat and been in here ever since.”

Brabham has been fast since the beginning, placing fourth in his series debut on the streets of Toronto. The success has only continued there, with three more top-fives to follow in the streets of Toronto across in the five races run since, including a victory in 2016.

The 2016 weekend saw Brabham go back and forth with Sheldon Creed in both events, with each taking a victory. The series was then removed from the Toronto schedule, with this season marking their return.

“It’s fantastic,” Brabham said. “It’s a really awesome track. it’s really a handful without jumps. So when you throw jumps and the super trucks on track, it’s just wild and crazy. We have so much fun coming here. The atmosphere and the crowd is one of the best at all the races that we go to, so it’s really cool to be back.”

Brabham showed he had not lost his touch either, laying down the quickest lap in time trials – only to start last in Saturday’s race.

“That’s how the series works – if you qualify first, you start last,” he explained. “So I’ll be starting dead last tomorrow. We’ll get through the field and by the time we get to the end of the race, I’ll be up front fighting for the win for sure. it just creates better racing by starting the faster guys at the back. You just have to be smart, stay out of trouble, and be there at the end.”

Brabham was following his own advice well in the event, making his way up into the third position before the halfway mark. He then got by series owner Robby Gordon after a back-and-forth battle for second, with the race being cut short at the Lap 5 of 8 due to rain and lightening in the area.

Now set to start seventh for the second event of the weekend on Sunday, he will hope to make his way to victory lane.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Cole Custer picks up fifth win with dominating run at Kentucky Speedway

Christopher Bell was dominant in the daytime, but when the sun set over Kentucky Speedway on Friday, Cole Custer turned out the lights on his NASCAR Xfinity Series competition.

Under the lights at the end of a 104-lap green-flag run to the conclusion of the Alsco 300, Custer’s No. 00 Ford crossed the finish line 1.651 seconds ahead of Bell’s No. 20 Toyota. Custer had taken the lead from Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Chase Briscoe on Lap 111 of 200 and held it the rest of the way, save for three laps during a cycle of green-flag pit stops midway through the final run.

Bell charged from fifth to second after a restart on Lap 97 but had nothing for Custer at the end.

“It’s been unbelievable,” said Custer, who won for the first time at Kentucky and the fifth time this season, breaking a tie with Bell for most in the series. “This one just goes to my team. That car was just unbelievable, and they knew exactly what to do with it when the track changed, and I was just lucky to drive it there at the end.”

The victory was the seventh of Custer’s career, it was in doubt only when Custer pitted on Lap 151, three laps after Bell had come to pit road for fuel and tires. In the interim, on fresh rubber, Bell had cut Custer’s lead from three seconds to a half-second , but Bell never got close enough to attempt a righteous pass for the lead.

“I think I was a little too conservative on my green-flag pit stop,” said Custer, who led a race-high 88 laps. “It worked out good. He got closer, and I was definitely sweating a little bit.

“But we had a fast car and were able to pull away at the end.”

After winning the first two stages and leading 72 laps, Bell and his team perhaps got a bit complacent.

“We just kind of got worse there,” Bell said. “My car was driving really good. Probably just got a little to comfortable there, needed to free it up a little bit.

“But our Ruud Supra was really fast. We were able to win two stages, so we got a couple more Playoff points. We’ve just got to work on a couple more things, and we’ll be good.”

Tyler Reddick ran third, albeit 12.808 seconds behind Custer, as the Xfinity Series’ Big Three took all three podium positions. Collectively, Custer, Bell and Reddick have won 12 of the 17 races so far this season.

Michael Annett came home fourth, and Briscoe finished fifth in the No. 98 Ford, the last car on the lead lap. Reddick leads second-place Bell by 67 points in the series standings, after Bell trimmed 10 points off Reddick’s post-Daytona advantage.

Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Truex, Ryan Sieg and Justin Haley completed the top 10.

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Daniel Suarez makes decisive pole run at Kentucky Speedway

Daniel Suarez saved the best for last in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying on Friday at Kentucky Speedway.

The 27-year-old driver from Monterrey, Mexico, was the last to run a qualifying lap at the 1.5-mile track, and he used the opportunity to Knock Stewart-Haas Racing teammate off the provisional pole for Saturday’s Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.)

Suarez covered the distance in 29.254 seconds (184.590 mph) to beat out Almirola (183.799 mph) for the top starting spot by .126 seconds.

“The car’s been very fast the entire day,” said Suarez, who earned his Busch Pole Award of the season and the second of his career. “We had probably the fastest car in last practice and the fastest car in qualifying, so I’m very proud of my guys, Ford Performance, Haas Automation—everyone who makes this program possible.

Suarez, the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, hasn’t won in the Cup series. Suarez would become the first Mexican driver to earn a victory in NASCAR’s premier series.

“I really want to win so bad,” Suarez said. “I haven’t been in Victory Lane for a while. The last time I was in Victory Lane was in Brazil, and it was in a go-kart race. I have been looking forward to bring a trophy home for a while.

“We have very fast cars. Now it’s up to me to make it happen (Saturday) night.”

Three-time Kentucky winner Brad Keselowski went out early, and his speed (183.443 mph) stood up for the third starting spot, as Ford drivers swept the top three spots on the grid and five of the top seven. Kurt Busch (183.355 mph) was fourth in the fastest Chevrolet, and two-time defending race winner Martin Truex Jr. (182.587 mph) qualified eighth in the quickest Toyota.

“I think that’s our best qualifying effort on a mile-and-a-half (track) this year, so that’s something to be proud of there,” Keselowski said. “I didn’t quite have the speed to get to the pole. I’d have liked to have had a later draw. I think there might have been a bit of speed there, but I don’t know if I could have got… Daniel was a tenth (of a second) and a half… I might have been able to get a half a tenth or tenth.

“All in all, a decent run for our Discount Tire Ford Mustang, and happy for (engine builder) Doug Yates and all the Ford guys to have all three of our cars up front with the Fords, but we’ll see what we have (Saturday).”

Kevin Harvick qualified fifth, followed by Daniel Hemric, Clint Bowyer and Truex. Austin Dillon was ninth, and two-time Kentucky winner Kyle Busch claimed the 10th starting spot.

Keselowski, Truex and Kyle Busch are the only former Kentucky winners in the 36-driver field. Front-row starters have won the last three Cup races at the 1.5-mile track, a good omen for Suarez and Almirola.

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Tyler Ankrum grabs Playoff spot with maiden Truck Series win

In a week that started with Justin Haley’s remarkable upset win at Daytona on Sunday, 18-year-old Tyler Ankrum added another on Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway—and simultaneously threw a wrench into the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoff standings.

Driving the No. 17 DGR-Crosley Toyota, Ankrum inherited the lead in the Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at the 1.5-mile track when Brett Moffitt ran out of fuel on the next-to-last lap. Ankrum crossed the finish line 7.373 seconds ahead of runner-up Stewart Friesen, who started last in a backup truck after NASCAR confiscated his primary No. 52 Chevrolet because of an issue with the rear firewall.

“I was driving my butt off—holy cow,” said Ankrum, who led a race-high 40 laps in three stints out front to earn his first victory in the series. “I think I was holding my breath for the last three laps there. Holy cow, that was awesome… I just don’t know what to say. I cannot believe I just did this…

“Honestly, one of my biggest faults is I’ve always doubted myself, and I kind of saw all of that wash away.”

Having turned 18 on Mar. 6, Ankrum has a Playoff eligibility waiver from NASCAR and grabbed a spot in the postseason on a night that proved disastrous for Playoff hopefuls Ben Rhodes, the defending race winner, and Todd Gilliland.

Rhodes hit the outside wall on Lap 127 of 150 and pitted with a flat left rear tire eight laps later. He finished 19th, nine laps down. Gilliland had engine issues and ran 17th, five laps down. He and Rhodes ended the night outside the Playoff grid, perilously close to must-win situations in the next three races.

Sheldon Creed started beside Grant Enfinger, the pole winner, and grabbed the lead going into Turn 1. From that point Stage 1 was no contest, with Creed pulling out to a lead of more than two seconds over Enfinger and more than nine seconds over third-place Ross Chastain.

Creed won the stage wire-to-wire, with Enfinger running second—the 15th consecutive stage in which the driver of the No. 98 ThorSport Ford has finished fourth or better.

That streak ended abruptly and ignominiously with five laps left in Stage 2. Enfinger was chasing leader Brandon Jones, who had driven forward from his 27th starting position after a restart on Lap 65. Enfinger steered to the inside and drove hard into Turn 3 to pull alongside Jones’ Toyota.

But Enfinger didn’t have enough momentum to complete the pass. His Ford slid up the track and carried Jones’ Toyota into the fence, eliminating both trucks from the race.

“It’s all on me,” Enfinger said after exiting the infield care center. “I lost my air and wrecked it, trying to make something happen.”

After the incident, Matt Crafton won the stage under caution. Where the first stage ran green from start to finish, Stage 2 was peppered with four yellows that reduced the number of contenders for the win.

Creed had pitted before the end of the second stage and didn’t lead a lap thereafter. After a litany of troubles in the late going, he finished 21st in a race that saw only seven trucks on the lead lap at the end.

Harrison Burton ran third and is currently one position out of the Playoffs, ahead of Rhodes and Gilliland, respectively. Ross Chastain ran fourth, followed by Dylan Lupton, who joined DGR-Crosley teammate Ankrum in the top five.

Moffitt pitted for fuel only 10 laps after Ankrum came to pit road in the final stage, but after a one-can stop, Moffitt’s crew chief, Jerry Baxter, calculated his driver was two laps short and instructed him to save. Moffitt slowed his paced but couldn’t save enough.

“I was just backing it up as much as I could,” Moffitt said. “We were just a lap short. It’s tough. We had a good-sized lead. I’ve never run great here, so it was fun to get up front and dice it out, and Jerry called a great race.”

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Cindric’s Crew Chief Suspended from Alsco 300 at Kentucky Speedway

It’s only practice at Kentucky Speedway, and NASCAR has already began handing out penalties for the NASCAR Xfinity Series teams. 

As a result of illegal body modifications during pre-race technical inspection, the No. 22 Team Penske team was handed a L1-Penalty on Thursday. Crew chief Brian Wilson was escorted from the garage and will be suspended for the weekend, along with being handed a $10,000 fine. Additionally, Austin Cindric and Roger Penske was penalized 10 driver and owner points respectively. 

The team made the required changes, allowing Cindric to partake in the first Xfinity Series practice on Thursday. He was fifth fastest with a lap of 175.970 mph. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Justin Bonsignore Spins To Win Third Straight at Riverhead Raceway

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — Saturday night short-track racing at the highest level of modified racing.

There was contact, and even spinning, but it was enough for Justin Bonsignore to score his third straight NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory at Riverhead Raceway on Saturday night.

Bonsignore restarted to the inside of track regular John Beatty Jr. in overtime, and coming to the checkered flag, contact between the two drivers sent Beatty up the track, and Bonsignore spinning nose-first towards the frontstretch wall. In the midst of his spin, he crossed the line first in the Buzz Chew Chevrolet Cadillac 200.

The victory was Bonsignore’s third of the season and his 23rd career in Whelen Modified Tour competition. He becomes just the third driver in series history to win three straight at Riverhead, joining Mike Ewanitsko and Ryan Preece as the only drivers to accomplish the feat.

“The restart before I was able to hang with him a few laps, but John had a better car, and I was really shocked he took the outside on the last restart,” Bonsignore said. “He gave me a good shot getting into three, but you are coming to the checkered. I hate racing like that. But these races are so hard to win, and we need to win all of the races we can to get back in this points race.”

Beatty looked to have the car to beat in the final stages. He passed Timmy Solomito for the lead on lap 150 and was at the point for a near run to the finish, until a caution for a wreck down the backstretch with three laps to go closed the field up. Beatty selected the top lane, and when the field went down into turn one at the green, the contact started between the two leaders.

They leaned on each other the final two laps, until the contact in turn four, coming to the checkered, sent Bonsignore spinning. Beatty, a regular in Riverhead’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I Modified class, was disappointed in the result, but happy with his effort. He nearly became the first track regular in more than two decades to win a Whelen Modified Tour race at the oval.

“I was just keeping up with the pace and my car just kept getting better and better (before the last yellow),” Beatty said. “Everyone races their own way. I’m not the kind of guy to drive someone up a lane or two, but Justin did his job. He won the race.”

Timmy Solomito, who led 37 laps, crossed the line third. Solomito took the lead for the first time on lap 76, after contact between Coby and Solomito sent Coby spinning in turn one, while racing for the lead. Ron Silk and Craig Lutz rounded out the top-five.

Coby rebounded to sixth, while Patrick Emerling, Eric Goodale, Tom Rogers Jr. and Tommy Catalano completed the top 10.

Coby leads the championship point standings by 31 over Silk, while Bonsignore is third, 32 points back.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns to the track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as part of their annual Monster Energy Cup Series weekend on Saturday, July 20. Select drivers will also compete in the All-Star Shootout at New Hampshire on Friday, July 19.

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Justin Haley gets first Cup win at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As the dark clouds and lightning descended upon Daytona International Speedway Sunday afternoon, Justin Haley climbed out of his No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet feeling like it was perhaps divine intervention. He was first on the scoreboard at the time Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 was red-flagged for lightning 33 laps short of the intended 160-lap distance.

Two hours and 12 minutes later, the 20-year old Indiana native was celebrating his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win – in only his third career start. It was an unlikely turn of events in a very eventful race

As Haley stood speaking with reporters during the long weather delay, a team member walked up and hugged him, delivering the career-defining news to the Xfinity Series standout, “You just won your first Monster Energy NASCAR race.”

“It’s absolutely a blessing, pretty incredible that I have so many people around me who have given me this opportunity,” Haley said, just before receiving a hug from his mother Melissa Dennis.

“I knew eventually we’d be standing there and celebrating a win but I was definitely not prepared on his third Cup start to be here and experience this,” Dennis said, beaming with pride and conceding she nervously spent the red flag downtime cleaning the family’s motor coach just to keep her mind busy.

As Haley – the second youngest Cup winner in Daytona International Speedway history – stood inside the driver meeting room during the weather delay, he smiled nervously and showed reporters how his hands were shaking in tense anticipation.

Drivers were actually called to their cars to restart after the initial red flag, but lightning moved into the immediate area again – necessitating another 30-minute safety delay. Before that time passed, the rain came again. And the race was declared official.

In the end, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet teammates William Byron and Jimmie Johnson finished second and third. And Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five.

As elated as Haley was by the unforeseen circumstances, the 2017 Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch was equally as gutted. He had been leading the race during the yellow flag caution period immediately preceding the red flag stoppage. He had opted not to pit initially with the poor weather approaching, but when given the one-to-go signal prior to the restart Busch zipped down pit road for a last minute fill-up.

Unfortunately for him, however, the weather conditions changed so quickly that by the time the field was on the backstretch, NASCAR decided to keep the yellow caution flag flying instead of dropping the green flag to race again. Within minutes, the red flag came out, and teams were ordered to pit road, their cars covered with the bad weather approaching. Busch had rejoined the field in 10th place – his ultimate finishing position.

That was only one chapter of the race’s fully dramatic story.

The who-and-when of pit stops became especially strategic after a caution flag on lap 120 of the scheduled 160-lapper. The “Big One,” as multi-car accidents are called on the Daytona high banks, occurred when the frontrunning cars of Austin Dillon and Clint Bowyer touched at high speed in Turn 1. In all 18 cars were collected – most of them considered pre-race favorites such as polesitter Joey Logano, Hendrick Motorsports cars Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman and all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and defending race winner Erik Jones.

Asked what happened, Bowyer said in his typically candid fashion, “I guess he didn’t want me to pass him.

“I don’t know,” Bowyer said of Dillon. “I got under him and he blocked and we got together, I got off of him, moved down and got off of him – and here he comes back down even more and just finally wrecked us all.”

Even though their competitive hopes were finished in that accident, Logano (41 laps) and Dillon (46 lap) led the most laps on the afternoon. The time up front was especially impressive for the polesitter and Stage 1 winner Logano, who was involved in two accidents to varying degrees. But he still rallied to finish 25th.

As the series heads to Kentucky Speedway next week, Logano still maintains an 18-point lead over 14th place finisher Kyle Busch in the Cup championship standings.

The first major incident of the afternoon ironically involved one of the two cars also part of the only practice wreck leading into the race. Only this time, it was Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford that got the rough end of contact.

On Lap 83, his Ford was hit from behind by fellow Ford driver Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford sending Keselowski hard into the high side wall and multiple cars spinning off track in reaction. Ultimately Keselowski retired his car, Harvick returned after multiple pit stops to repair damage as did his SHR teammate Daniel Suarez, who spun off the track with Richard Childress Racing rookie Daniel Hemric – the lone Chevy involved in the incident.

Shortly after the dark skies started creeping in and the race intensity increased accordingly.

All the teams were keeping an eye on the sky and Haley’s veteran crew chief Peter Sospenzo conceded that the game plan was absolutely to keep Haley on track not stopping in the pits.

“My thought process was even if we had four flat tires we weren’t going to pit,” Sospenzo said. “We were going to ride out the weather. It was our only option to steal a win, if you want to call it that. We were not going to come in and I was actually a little surprised a couple guys in front of us did.

“We just wanted to have a decent finish,” he added, “not get caught up in any wrecks and it just worked out.”

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Ross Chastain leads podium sweep at Daytona for Kaulig Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kaulig Racing found the key to victory in Saturday night’s Circle K Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway, and the team did so in triplicate.

In a wild race that featured five multicar wrecks, hired gun Ross Chastain teammates Justin Haley and AJ Allmendinger across the finish line in a 1-2-3 finish for Kaulig Racing, which collected its first NASCAR victory.

Chastain finished .109 seconds ahead of Haley and .206 ahead of Allmendinger, who made his first NASCAR start since last year and his first-ever Daytona start in a NASCAR Xfinity Series car.

“Oh, my god, we did—Daytona!” exulted Chastain, a watermelon farmer from Florida who continued his roller-coaster ride in NASCAR racing with his first Xfinity victory of the season and the second of his career. “I watched these races in July as a kid, and I never could come (to the track) because we were growing watermelons

“The guys right here (from Kaulig Racing) gave me a car that could win at Daytona!”

Chastain took the lead from series leader Tyler Reddick on Lap 93 of 100 and pulled Haley with him. Allmendinger, who steered his way adroitly through an 11-car incident on the backstretch on Lap 87, worked his way forward after a restart on Lap 91 and picked off fifth-place finisher Austin Cindric and fourth-place Christopher Bell to put an exclamation point on the first win for team owner Matt Kaulig.

“I’m so pumped to be a part of Kaulig Racing,” Allmendinger said. “Of course, you want to be the driver that tries to get the win, but there’s nothing cooler than being a 1-2-3, and I just can’t thank Matt Kaulig enough.

“When I got to fifth, I wanted to make it a Chevy 1-2-3, and all I cared about was getting to third. Once I got there, I wasn’t ever going to do anything. I just wanted to get there and have that cool photo coming across the start/finish line of a Kaulig Racing 1-2-3.”

For Haley, the race was a redemption of sorts for last year’s event, when he crossed the finish line first but was demoted for passing below the double yellow line approaching the flag stand.

“After last year at Daytona, finishing second here is pretty cool,” Haley said. “To have a 1-2-3 finish is absolutely incredible for us.”

A race that was a pinnacle for Kaulig Racing took its toll on a number of heavyweight teams. Bell survived late contact with Michael Annett to run fourth and trails Reddick by 77 points. Reddick had to pit with a flat tire after losing the lead to Chastain on Lap 93.

But four-time winner Cole Custer caught pieces of three different wrecks, the last of which (on Lap 87) totaled his No. 00 Ford and relegated him to 27th place.

“That was terrible,” Custer said. “It’s just speedway racing. I just have never been good at it, I guess. I always get caught up in the wrecks, so I don’t know.”

In a race that started two hours late because of rain and was red-flagged for 17 minutes 45 seconds after the Lap 87 pileup, Justin Allgaier also had an evening full of contact. His last incident came on Lap 92, when he spun after contact from Allmendinger’s No. 10 Chevrolet. Allgaier finished 18th, a lap down.

But the big winner was Chastain, who lost his Xfinity ride with Chip Ganassi Racing when his sponsored folded in the offseason. Opting in midseason to run for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship, Chastain lost a victory on a disqualification at Iowa, only to win at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois in the next event.

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Alex Bowman earns first Monster Energy Cup win with late-race theatrics at Chicagoland

JOLIET, Ill. – Alex Bowman’s first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup victory at Chicagoland Speedway was as much a lesson in perseverance, determination and guts as it was a show of his raw talent. It took it all those qualities for the 26-year-old to reach Victory Lane for the first time in Sunday’s Camping World 400.

Bowman’s No.88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet held off a hard-charging Kyle Larson for the win by .546-seconds – the two young drivers door-to-door in the closing laps, exchanging the lead twice in the final eight laps of the race.

Reigning Cup champion, Team Penske’s Joey Logano rallied to a third place finish, leading Bowman’s teammate Jimmie Johnson and Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney to the checkered flag.

During his inaugural victory lap celebration, the Tucson, Arizona, native Bowman drove into the track’s infield still soggy from rain showers that delayed the race finish by nearly three hours. Despite the good celebratory intentions, Bowman’s Chevrolet stuck there, but the good vibes of the night resumed when he climbed out and climbed onto the car’s roof, waving to the cheering crowd and taking in the moment as a first-time race winner.

“It’s all I’ve wanted my whole life,’’ Bowman said after climbing down off his car’s roof.

“I’m just tired of running second, didn’t want to do that anymore,’’ he said smiling in reference to his three runner-up finishes in the first 16 races of this season.

And he had a good laugh about his stuck-in-the-mud car as he navigated the mucky infield to walk across the track and take the checkered flag he earned.

“I’m the dumb guy that won the race but got the car stuck in the mud.’’

Actually Bowman’s win was an impressive display of drive – both figuratively and literally. His NASCAR career essentially got a “second chance” at glory, when he was hired by the championship Hendrick team to replace the retired Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the famed No. 88 last year. He had competed fulltime at the Cup level in 2014-15 in a car that was not considered competitive, hoping to gain experience.

He was hired by Hendrick in 2016 to drive Earnhardt’s No. 88 while the sport’s star rehabbed from injury. Bowman then sat out a year of full-time Cup competition in 2017 as Earnhardt finished out his own decorated career. The car was all Bowman’s as of last year.

Earnhardt, who was part of the NBCSN broadcast team that officially took over the NASCAR Cup Series race broadcasts from partner FOX just his week, was understandably proud in the broadcast booth.

“I’m just so happy for Alex,’’ Earnhardt said. “I’ve seen a majority of his career up close and I’m so happy to see him achieve his dream.’’

Certainly Bowman’s victory Sunday night was not only a shot of emotional adrenalin for himself, but for the whole Hendrick Motorsports team. In addition to Johnson, second-year driver William Byron finished eighth and Chase Elliott finished 11th – the first time this season all four drivers have finished among the top 11. Bowman (88), Johnson (10) and Byron (nine) all led laps.

The big lap leader on the day was Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick, who led a race-best 132 circuits and won Stage 2, but finished 14th after hitting the outside wall late in the race.

For runner-up Larson, the outcome was obviously disappointing since he finished second last year after a tough last-laps battle with Kyle Busch. But the popular Californian seemed genuinely happy for his friend Bowman as well.

“I was actually surprised I even got to him,’’ said Larson, who took the lead from Bowman for two laps on lap 260.

“I thought when he came out about the same distance off pit road in front me, I thought he was just going to check out. But like I said, he was struggling and we were able to get to him and get by him, but did a good job. He did a good job regrouping and figuring out how to make his car driver better and got the win.

“Cool to see him get the win there. Would have liked for him to have to wait another week or so, but happy for him,’’ Larson added with a grin.