Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Austin Hill Survives Chaos in Atlanta

Atlanta Motor Speedway was reconfigured prior to last season. The intention was to create pack racing with drafting, high speeds, huge runs and exciting racing. What unfolded on Saturday afternoon (March 18) was not what the masterminds of the reconfiguration envisioned. The average speed of the race clocked in at just over 91 miles per hour, by far the lowest of any NASCAR Xfinity Series race held at Atlanta.

The Raptor 250 featured an exciting finish that will be marred by the Xfinity track-record 12 caution flags and a bizarre incident courtesy of Josh Williams.

The first half of the race was littered with short runs and wrecks, and there were nine cautions in the first two stages. Austin Hill was dominant in the early and late stages of the race, as he led the final 64 laps and a total of 103 in the 163-lap event.

The victory was the third of the season for Hill after just five races of the 2023 season. Daniel Hemric came home second while Ryan Truex, Parker Kligerman, and Riley Herbst rounded out the top five.

The Winners

By winning his third race of the young 2023 Xfinity Series season, Hill has built up a nice stash of playoff points and an early regular season points lead. This early season surge will allow he and his team to test the limits and experiment with strategy and setups to build their notebook for the playoff run.

Previously thought of as a drafting specialist, Hill’s win two weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway showed any remaining doubters he’s more than a one-trick pony.

Flash forward to Atlanta and he was able to control both lanes with little challenge over the course of the closing laps. Coming to the finish, he was getting right reared after contact between Kligerman and Hemric and somehow hung onto it; Hill kept his car in front of the pack as the field wrecked behind him coming to the checkered flag.

Still, it’s hard to say that Hill is the championship favorite with so much season left to play out. Some regression is to be expected, as it would be difficult for any team and driver to keep winning at this pace.

Behind the dominant Hill, Kligerman appeared to be the worthiest challenger at Atlanta. While most of the pack ran single file in the top lane, Kligerman made his way to the front with new tires by passing cars in the bottom lane with little to no drafting help. He also scored his first stage win of the season in stage two.

He made a power move outside of Hill going into turn three on the final lap and was primed to compete for the win in a photo finish. As he pulled up to the door of Hill, he was tagged from behind by Hemric and spun, resulting in a big wreck. Kligerman crossed the finish backwards in fourth.

Hemric needed a finish like he got today. He overcame the adversity of a crash with Connor Mosack on lap 70. Mosack caught the brunt of the incident that ended his day, but Hemric would continue on with minor repairs.

The second-place run was Hemric’s best finish since joining Kaulig Racing in 2022. He had just three top fives all of last season, so this should be a good shot in the arm for the former champion.

Death, taxes, and another top-10 for Herbst. Imagine someone telling you that three years ago.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver brought it home fifth after leading eleven laps and running a clean race. Going back to last season, Herbst’s streak of top-10s is now up to eight races. He’s outrun his SHR teammate Cole Custer every week this season. The Las Vegas native is now tied with John Hunter Nemechek for second in the regular season standings.

Brennan Poole had his best run of his season. He avoided all the carnage of this crash-filled race and brought his JD Motorsports Chevrolet home in 13th place. This was his best Xfinity finish since Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2017.

Well, almost all the carnage. Despite the solid finish, he was one of the cars collected in the final crash after the checkered flag.

The Losers

The No. 92 car of Williams was involved in an early wreck. The DGM Racing team attempted fix some major right-front damage on the No. 92 car, but their efforts were futile. The bear bond used by the team to hold the fender together looked to have been applied quite haphazardly before sending Williams back out onto the track. The crude repairs did not hold for long, and a smattering of debris hit the track, extending an already long caution period.

NASCAR officials instructed the No. 92 team to park the car, to the displeasure of Williams. The driver who has been called “The Kenny Powers of NASCAR” decided to take the parking instructions literally. He stopped the car on the start-finish line, got out of the car, walked across the frontstrech infield grass, and showed a peace sign to the fans before strutting back to his pit area.

Just before giving an interview to Regan Smith for FOX, he was harangued by a NASCAR official for a discussion in the NASCAR hauler. We have him in the losers column because he finished 32nd, completed just 33 laps, and drew the ire of NASCAR. But in some ways, you could also say Williams was a winner. His sponsors received substantial tv time, and I’m sure Williams picked up a bunch of new fans for his defiance and mullet bearing looks.

Chandler Smith suffered a mechanical issue with the rear gear and finished 28th. A fourth-place finish in stage one salvaged some points in an otherwise poor showing. Prior to the issue, he appeared poised to compete for the win.

Justin Allgaier finished 29th. The JR Motorsports driver has now suffered two poor finishes in a row after crashing out last week at Phoenix Raceway. He collided teammate Josh Berry and crashed on the backstretch after 77 laps. The 37-year-old from Riverton, Ill. has now tumbled down to fifth in the standings after two straight DNFs. After the race, he voiced his frustration with the reconfiguration of Atlanta.

Last week we chronicled the struggles of MBM Motorsports. The Carl Long-owned team made a move this week to align their effort with Alpha Prime Racing and put Caesar Bacarella in the car.

After rain canceled qualifying, the No. 66 car squeaked into the field in 38th place. They would only complete one lap and finish dead last, as Bacarella spun on the frontstretch entering lap 2 and collected Joey Gase, ending both of their days.

Fuel For Thought

There are some weeks where there are only a handful of cars who have a viable chance to win. With the reconfiguration, Atlanta has become a track where many more cars have opportunities to compete up front.

We saw Brett Moffit and Anthony Alfredo run out front, with Alfredo leading 18 laps on speed and looking like a real threat to win. This could’ve been a race where someone stole a playoff spot, as discussed here by Frontstretch’s Tanner Marlar.

As it would be, Hill won his third race and nobody new or unexpected got a ticket. This will keep another playoff spot open for those drivers running in the front half of the field, who can put together consistent points effort throughout the season.

Because while the Cup Series may fill their entire 16-team playoff field with winners, the Xfinity Series is likely to have several drivers point their way in for their 12-team rendition.

Quotable

“It’s [NASCAR’s] sandbox and we play in it” – Josh Williams to the media after exiting the NASCAR hauler.

Where to Next?

Right turns ahead! Let’s go road racing, folks. The Xfinity Series is off to Circuit of the Americas for the first road race of the 2023 season. AJ Allmendinger took home the win at COTA last Xfinity season, and he is expected to join the field again this season, where he will surely be a factor.

The green flag drops at 5:00 p.m. ET, and the race will be aired on FS1 along with the Performance Racing Network.

About the author

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Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023 and covers the Xfinity Series. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and and lives in Wisconsin.

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