The playoffs are officially here, as the NASCAR XFINITY Series kicked off their post-season action in style at Richmond Raceway on Friday night.
The 0.75-mile oval in Virginia has been called the perfect short track for a couple years, and that showed during the GoBowling.com 250 under the lights. From the drop of the green flag to the checkered, there were battles throughout the field with drivers able to battle side-by-side without touching each other. The aging of the surface also helped the excitement, with comers and goers over the course of the run as the tires began to fade away.
Christopher Bell made the most of the short run at the end, working his way from third on the restart with just under 40 laps to go to take the lead, holding off a late challenge from Daniel Hemric on an ensuing restart to score the victory. The victory allows the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to lock himself automatically into the second round of the playoffs.
Through the first half of the season, it seemed Bell was putting himself in a position to contend for the championship. However, the late momentum for Justin Allgaier, and a string road courses which aren’t the rookie’s strong suit caused many to forget about the potential shown. Thankfully not having to worry about the Charlotte roval next weekend, the rest of the playoffs could play into Bell’s wheelhouse.
Bell wasn’t the only driver who led laps, though, as different contenders emerged throughout the night. Hemric won the first stage, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. victorious in the second. You also had Matt Tifft factoring himself into the equation – possibly set to play a bigger role if the flat tire hadn’t happened under the yellow flag, along with Ross Chastain trying to write another chapter in his Cinderella story.
Just imagine the scene if Earnhardt Jr. had won in his lone NASCAR start of the 2018 campaign. He led a bunch of laps and looked to have the car to beat, however the final run did not see the No. 88 Chevrolet fit his handling as he faded back to fourth. The smile in seeing him back behind the wheel was affectionate for everybody watching, and the promise of another race next year should allow the hype to continue.
The embrace post-race between him and Elliott Sadler post-race was also special as the best friends realized this would be their last time competing on the track together. The emotions on Sadler’s face was easily seen as he made his final start his home track, once again missing out on visiting victory lane.
JR Motorsports wasn’t all smiles, though. Allgaier entered the playoffs with a ton of momentum following back-to-back wins, but contact while four-wide ended his night early. Thankfully, those points he collected from the five victories and stage wins will allow him to be seeded third, still 22 points above the cut-off line. His mulligan is used, though, so the next two weeks will need to see things go back the way they were previously.
Chastain is set to return to his previous ride beginning next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway as he ends his three-race span driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. He did what he wanted in the process – showcasing that he can get the job done if in the right equipment as evident with last week’s win and a runner-up this week. While worry was expressed post-race in seeing that potential recognized in the future due to funding, one can only hope that it works out and the Watermelon farmer gets the ride he deserves next season.
Lastly, is the No. 60 car cursed for Roush Fenway Racing? They’re currently at 11 DNF’s this season with a crash in all of the events except for two.
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