Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Sammy Smith Gets 1st Career Win in United Rentals 200

High school senior Sammy Smith scored the first win of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career on Saturday (March 11) at Phoenix Raceway.

Smith held off a late charge from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Ryan Truex, who came home second. This win was not the result of luck, circumstance or strategy. Smith straight up outran the competition.

The Johnston, Iowa native led 92 laps and outdueled veterans Austin Hill and Kyle Busch throughout the race. He repeatedly built up sizeable leads and fended off challenges on several restarts in the final stage.

See also
18-Year-Old Sammy Smith Dominates at Phoenix, Scores 1st Xfinity Win

Truex’s runner-up finish was equally impressive. Truex closed the gap in the final laps but ran out of time to get past his JGR teammate.

Sheldon Creed, Riley Herbst and Chandler Smith rounded out the top five. John Hunter Nemechek finished sixth after overcoming a restart-violation penalty and a late brush with the wall. If not for these issues, JGR may have swept the top three.

The Winners

It cannot be overstated how big this victory was for Smith. The Iowa native is just 18 years old. While some other young prospects have struggled to break through for their first victory, Smith did it in his 13th start. Phoenix is a difficult track with less dependency on draft and aero, and Smith took the field to the woodshed.

Despite fellow Xfinity Series rookie and fellow Smith — Chandler — having much more overall NASCAR experience, the slightly younger Smith has made it to victory lane first. In doing so, he has taken the early edge in the battle for Rookie of the Year. He has also likely locked himself in the playoffs. Your humble author was proven right after I predicted Sammy Smith would be the first new winner this season in a Frontstretch Friday Faceoff two weeks ago.

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Friday Faceoff: Will Kyle Busch's Success Help or Hurt Austin Dillon?

Truex’s career has been tumultuous and full of question marks. The 30-year-old showed he can take a fast car and run up front with it on Saturday. Truex did not score any stage points but rose up the leaderboard when it mattered most.

The second-place run tied his career-best finish and was his best run since this same race in 2019, where he also finished second. Truex will get another chance to prove himself next week, once again driving the No. 19 car for JGR.

See also
Ryan Truex Battles To Second In Phoenix, Still Hungry For More

How about Herbst? A driver who seems to be in a ‘prove it or lose it’ type of year finished fourth. He beat his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer yet again and has come home top 10 in every race so far this season, this time collecting his first top five.

Herbst also scored points in both stages and accumulated the third-most points in this race. Going back to last season, Herbst has now scored top 10s in his last seven races.

Creed started the season with two consecutive finishes outside the top 20. I commented here about his need to avoid another deep early-season points hole after missing the playoffs last season. Since those comments after Auto Club Speedway, Creed finished ninth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and scored the second-most points in Phoenix.

Anthony Alfredo finished sixth in stage two and had his best finish of the season, coming home 14th for BJ McLeod Motorsports. Alfredo’s finish may have been even better had he not been spun with 30 laps to go. He has now shown speed on a few occasions this season and scored three straight top 20s.

Losers

This seemed like the type of track where Brandon Jones would break through for a good finish. He has a victory at Phoenix and has generally done well on the flatter tracks. Jones needed a good run today because he came in without any top-20 finishes on the season. This same No. 9 team had finishes of third, second, second and first at this point last year with Noah Gragson driving.

Jones came home 23rd on Saturday and did not score any stage points. His quest for his first top 20 of 2023 will go on for at least one more week. Meanwhile, his JR Motorsports teammates looked much better. Justin Allgaier won both stages before wrecking late. Josh Berry ran inside the top 10 most of the day and finished eighth. Even Sam Mayer‘s 11th-place run was much better.

Gray Gaulding finished 37th after a hard crash. The 25-year-old is excited to be running full time again, as he told Frontstretch after Daytona International Speedway about his high hopes for the season. Since Daytona, though, he has finishes of 38th, 32nd and now 37th.

Custer finished 12th for the second week in a row. While the finish could’ve been much worse, he had higher expectations after winning the pole. He led 38 laps early in the event but finished sixth in the first stage. He did not score any points in stage two.

For the fourth consecutive week, Custer was beaten by his SHR teammate Herbst. However, this was the second race in which Custer showed winning speed, so perhaps next week he will finally move into the ‘winners’ section.

MBM Motorsports has had a horrifying start to the season. The team owned by Carl Long missed the show again at Phoenix. Thirty-nine cars attempted the race and MBM was the only team sent home, even after a late switch from Brian Weber to Timmy Hill behind the wheel.

The underdog team scaled back to just one full-time team this year and has now missed three of the four Xfinity races so far. MBM has been a fixture in the second half of the pack for years now and seemed to be getting more competitive over the last few seasons. This start to the season has got to be tough for a team with limited resources.

Fuel for Thought

The ‘Big Three’ (Austin Hill, Nemechek, Allgaier) remain atop the Xfinity Series standings after Phoenix. But Chandler Smith and Herbst are now each just one point behind Allgaier for third.

There was some teammate drama at Phoenix. Jones got into Allgaier late in the race, setting off a chain of events that would eventually wreck Allgaier and take him out of the race.

Then, on the final lap of the race while battling for third, Busch and Chandler Smith got together, causing Busch to hit the wall and fall to a ninth-place finish. Smith did salvage a fifth-place finish. Smith and Busch have an interesting history, as Busch was his team owner for several seasons in the Craftsman Truck Series. This season, when Busch comes down to the Xfinity Series, they are teammates.

If the race went on for a few more laps, we may have had more teammate drama, in the form of Sammy Smith and Truex.

Where to Next?

Next up, we’re headed to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Austin Hill took home the last Xfinity victory at Atlanta in the fall. The spring race was won by Ty Gibbs.

Atlanta was reconfigured prior to last season and is now a heavily draft-dependent track, sure to bring plenty of excitement. The green flag drops at 5 p.m. ET, and the race will air on FOX Sports 1 along with the Performance Racing Network on Saturday, March 18.

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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