It’s not about leading the most laps, but leading the final lap. Chandler Smith knows this all too well. The NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie from Georgia led a dominant 118 laps out of 200. But he lost his lead as the white flag flew and Austin Hill went on to win the Alsco Uniforms 300 on Saturday evening (Mar. 4) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
It was the fourth career Xfinity Series victory for Hill, who has now won two of the first three races to start the season.
Justin Allgaier passed Smith on the final lap and finished second. Smith was relegated to third. Pre-race betting favorite Kyle Busch finished fourth after leading just four laps. Josh Berry came home fifth to round out the top five.
We have a Big Three on our hands. Through three races, the Big Three have yet to finish outside the top 10. Hill now has two victories and a sixth-place finish. Last race’s winner John Hunter Nemechek has a victory, a runner-up finish and a sixth. If NASCAR had a podium, Allgaier would be three for three with two bronze-medal finishes and now a silver.
Las Vegas native Riley Herbst finished eighth and ran a clean race, collecting points in both stages. Herbst scored a total of 39 points at his home track, the fifth most on the day. He also outran his teammate Cole Custer, though more on that later. Herbst has finishes of sixth, seventh and eighth so far this season.
Even though Smith was unable to finish the job, everyone knew he was there. His dominating run was far superior to his teammates, 2021 series champion Daniel Hemric and Busch. Not exactly a small deal to outrun those two. A message was sent on Saturday, the No. 16 car is going to compete for multiple wins once again this season. His Kaulig Racing team won the pole and almost turned the race into snoozer a la Jimmie Johnson in 2007. Smith admitted after the race that he used his stuff up too early, but that can be understood in just his sixth Xfinity Series start.
Sam Mayer collected some stage points, kept it clean, and scored a second consecutive top 10. In the most recent Frontstretch Friday Faceoff, one of the questions was, “who will be the next first-time winner in the Xfinity Series?” The answers varied between Smith, Mayer, Parker Kligerman and Sammy Smith. While it looked like the elder Chandler Smith (20 whopping years old) would put that to bed, it will continue for another week. Mayer also looks like a real threat.
Custer was part of my predicted Championship 4 in last week’s breakdown. He started the season with a ninth-place run at Daytona International Speedway. He was a world-beater in the stages at Fontana, but later wrecked and finished 27th. Today, he was never a factor. He was an also-ran. And for the third straight week, he was beaten by his teammate Herbst. Who had that on their roulette wheel?
Custer was moved down to the Xfinity Series after a mostly mediocre three-year stint in the NASCAR Cup Series, with Ryan Preece taking over his ride. Through three races with both drivers struggling, it’s too early to say if that was the right call, but that will be something to watch all season. There is plenty of time for Custer to catch fire and compete for a championship; but after the first three races, somebody get this man some cold custard.
Parker Retzlaff was a nice story coming out of Daytona after finishing fourth in the season opener. The arrow is now pointed in the wrong direction. He followed up that top five with a 20th-place finish at Fontana and now a 37th in Vegas. The Jordan Anderson Racing rookie driver from Wisconsin had a mechanical issue that put the car behind the wall early in the race. He wound end up finishing the race 14 laps down and collecting one point.
Sammy Smith wasn’t lighting the world on fire, but he spent most of the day in the top 10. But inexperience reared its ugly head during stage three green-flag pit stops. He had trouble getting the car slowed down to pit-road speed and spun the car into his pit, incurring a penalty. He finished 17th.
Brandon Jones had a great run going early on. He finished second in stage two and looked like he’d be in the hunt to win the race. During green-flag pit stops in stage three, disaster struck. Jones sped on pit road and was given a pass-through penalty. On the pass through, he was penalized for speeding again. One of the fastest cars on the day came home 21st.
Jones has yet to score a top-10 this season, in a car that already had three top threes at this point last year with Noah Gragson driving. It’s still early and Jones may be getting acclimated to his new team, but this start won’t do him any favors in the standings.
“I got spun out by a cornball.” “I realized some guys it’s not worth fighting with cause they don’t have a clue what’s going on. It’s like the fastest car on the racetrack. You have one of the best cars in you’re running 20th” – Rajah Caruth after being spun by Joe Graf Jr.
Fuel For Thought
The Xfinity Series has now put on a great show in all three races this season. The series is more wide open than ever. Last season featured 20 wins by the trio of Ty Gibbs, Gragson and AJ Allmendinger. With those three graduated to the Cup Series, their 2022 victories have to go somewhere else in 2023. With Custer and Jones struggling so far this season it’s anyone’s guess who will win the most races this year. The favorite at this point is probably Nemechek, but Hill is already in the lead. What are your thoughts? Who will be the next first-time winner in this series? Who will win the most races? Let us know in the comments.
Where to Next?
We’re headed to the site of the Championship 4 event, Phoenix Raceway, for the United Rentals 200. This race was won by Gragson last season. Gibbs won last time we were in Phoenix, taking home the Xfinity Series championship. Allgaier is always a factor at Phoenix and figures to be the favorite for this race. Can he cash in? We’ll find out next Saturday (Mar. 11), as the green flag drops at 4:30 p.m. ET and will air on FOX Sports 1, along with the Motor Racing Network.
About the author
Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.
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