Austin Dillon claimed his first XFINITY Series victory of 2016 in the Treatmyclot.com 300 by Janssen at Auto Club Speedway. Dillon led only the last lap, beating Kyle Busch to the checkered flag after an unbelievable turn of events on the final lap.
Busch was once again the most dominant driver of the day, watching his biggest competitors fall by the wayside as the laps wound down. Most of the leaders had last pitted under caution on lap 101 and were trying to stretch their fuel to the finish. Busch’s teammate, Erik Jones, ran out of fuel with three laps to go, putting the No. 18 team on high alert. Busch took the white flag ahead of his other teammate, Daniel Suarez, but trouble struck when Busch’s left front tire blew apart entering turn 1. Suarez took the lead as Busch tried to limp his damaged machine around the track, but Suarez’s fuel tank ran dry going down the backstretch, allowing Busch to take the lead right back. Just when it looked like Busch would seal up his fourth consecutive win, Dillon caught up to the No. 18 exiting turn 4. The two drivers nearly made contact as Dillon pulled away to victory.
“That was fun!” Dillon said from victory lane. “I didn’t think we had a car to do that (win), and we didn’t, but we did what we needed to do, and that was win the race.”
Regarding the pass for the win, Dillon said, “He (Busch) tried to screw me right there at the end, but it didn’t work out for him, did it?” Dillon ultimately backed down from that assertion in the post-race press conference. “It’s just racing, I probably would have done the same thing; I was a little aggressive on TV.”
Busch, meanwhile, was unhappy after the race, angrily commenting to his team over the radio that there was debris on the track that NASCAR should have spotted and cleaned up.
Before the last lap, Saturday looked like another day when everything would go perfectly for Busch. His biggest challenger, Kyle Larson, pitted with a flat tire shortly before the fourth and final caution on lap 100. Larson took a wave around to get back on the lead lap, but pitted once again with ten laps to go and did not recover.
Busch’s next closest pursuers spent the final green flag run bouncing off the walls and each other. Jones made contact with Ryan Blaney on lap 110, seriously injuring the right rear of Blaney’s No. 22 and knocking him out of contention. Suarez stayed in the game after scraping the wall himself, but came about half a lap shy from securing his first XFINITY Series victory.
The good news for Suarez is that he held on to finish fourth and increased his points lead to 10 over Elliott Sadler, who finished fifth. Justin Allgaier jumped to third and is 19 points behind Suarez.
Darrell Wallace Jr. scored a season-high third place finish. Wallace flew under the radar for most of the afternoon, but ran strong and had enough fuel to get to the finish. “Bubba” was also the top-finishing XFINITY Series regular.
While one Dillon brother was victorious, the other inexplicably struggled. Ty Dillon never found the handling on his car and wound up one lap down in 17th. It was Dillon’s worst finish of the season thus far and it dropped him from third to fifth in the points standings.
David Starr lost another engine at Auto Club, blowing up on lap 30 and bringing out the race’s second caution. It was Starr’s second engine failure of the season and second finish outside the top 35.
Underdog Performance(s) of the Race
Blake Koch fell short of another top 10 finish, but his 12th place showing was the best of the underdogs. Cory LaJoie (18th) and Ross Chastain (19th) had respectable finishes as well.
Double Duty Interlopers
The eight Sprint Cup regulars who joined the XFINITY drivers in Fontana had mixed results. Dillon won, Busch nearly won, and Matt Dibenedetto and Josh Wise were the first two drivers to drop out of the race. Larson climbed back to eighth in the closing laps, while Blaney fell to 20th as he fought the handling on his damaged car. Aric Almirola led three laps during a green flag pit stop cycle and finished 11th.
Kevin Harvick had a particularly eventful day in the JR Motorsports No. 88 car. He won the first race off of pit road under caution on lap 12 by not taking tires. However, upon seeing the rest of the field take tires behind him, Harvick pitted again the following lap but got hit by another car on pit road. He had a fast car but was stuck in traffic for most of the race, ultimately finishing sixth.
“Sometimes, things just go your way, and today it definitely did, so thank the Good Lord for that.” –Race winner Austin Dillon.
“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. These guys were prepared today, and the opportunity was there, and they capitalized, and that’s what it takes to win.” –Race winning team owner Richard Childress.
“This is definitely what we need after the luck we’ve had these last couple races, destroyed racecars and a lot of headaches from everybody on the team, so this brings us back together and gets us pumped back up.” –Third place finisher Darrell Wallace Jr.
The Final Word
The XFINITY Series badly needed a surprise twist in 2016, and the fans and competitors found one in Fontana. The last lap of Saturday’s race is one that everyone will remember for a long team, with the lead changing three times in the final two miles. The race featured plenty of passing, drivers running inches from the wall (and each other), and four and five wide battles for position on restarts. It is a shame that all the fans who were put off by Busch’s dominance and claimed they would not tune in this week did not get to witness this race as it unfolded, because it was easily the best race of the XFINITY season so far.
Yes, Busch put on another great show of his skill behind the wheel, leading 133 of 150 laps. He did not, however, lead the most important lap. Dillon’s victory does not mean the end of Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance of the XFINITY Series, and the Sprint Cup regulars are now five for five. Yet today was a reminder that not everything will go perfectly for Busch all the time, and that it is often better to be lucky than good. Nobody could have predicted what would unfold on the final lap, and that is why they run the race.
The XFINITY Series will take the next two weekends off and return to action on Friday, April 8th for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. Race coverage begins at 8:30 PM Eastern on Fox Sports 1.
About the author
Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past seven years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and automotive historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.
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