With the regular season winding down in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, tensions were running high in the Wawa 250 at Daytona International Speedway on Aug. 25. When off the off-track fireworks commenced, the playoff picture looked much different than it had prior to the event.
The race was relatively calm from the beginning, with superspeedway ace Austin Hill establishing his grip from the very beginning, winning stage one.
Whenever NASCAR goes superspeedway racing, there is just one guarantee: the Big One. This time, it struck on lap 42 when Brandon Jones and Brett Moffitt made contact and spun across the tri-oval, leaving a 12-car junkyard.
Just as it looked that Hill would sweep the stages, his Richard Childress Racing teammate Sheldon Creed had something to say. Creed also entered with not much of a cushion above the cut line, but backed up a stage one runner-up by edging Hill out for a crucial stage two victory.
The final stage started out fairly calm before the storm struck late in the race. On a restart with two laps to go, Hill hooked Trevor Bayne while trying to jump to his outside, sparking an 11-car crash that took out many front-runners, including Hill.
A first attempt at overtime wasn’t enough, as an eight-car crash unleashed mid-pack entering turn 3 that saw Josh Williams‘ car come off all four wheels and John Hunter Nemechek‘s car burst into flames.
The final attempt was successful, with Justin Allgaier, Creed, Parker Kligerman and Daniel Hemric fighting for the win. Creed got a run through turns 3 and 4 to jump to Allgaier’s outside, setting up a photo-finish.
The result? A margin of 0.005 seconds that saw Allgaier nip Creed at the line for the win. Hemric, Kligerman and Cole Custer completed the top five.
It was truly a low to high race for Allgaier. After failing inspection three times, the JR Motorsports driver had to serve a pass-through penalty. Four other drivers also had to complete a pass-through, giving Allgaier drafting help and keeping him on the lead lap. By the end of stage two, “The Mayo Man” had steered his No. 7 Hellmann’s Chevrolet to 12th. Allgaier took fuel only during the stage break, allowing him to restart up front. From there, he survived the chaos behind him and ultimately scored the photo finish victory that even he was unsure about. It was Allgaier’s second win of 2023 and his first on a superspeedway.
For the fifth time in his Xfinity career, Creed had to settle as a bridesmaid once again, perhaps in what would be the most painful way for most. However, Creed was all smiles when he climbed out of the car, telling Frontstretch and other reporters that he “felt like [he] checked all the boxes.” He certainly makes a case, scoring 54 points and padding his cut line advantage to 60 points. Creed has now scored consecutive runner-up and three top 10s in a row.
Hemric practically echoed the same sentiment as Creed with his third-place run, though there was obvious disappointment that he missed out on the win. In spite of that, he could have easily been in the garage to end the race. During the lap 99 crash on the restart, Hemric was fourth in line on the outside when the chaos erupted in front of him. Sam Mayer‘s spun right in his path, but Hemric took evasive action to slide through and stay in the hunt. He had a couple of opportunities to test Allgaier, but ultimately was trapped in third. Hemric increased his cut line advantage to 56 points and earned his first top five since Pocono Raceway.
Once again, Kligerman was a bloop and a blast away from victory. The Big Machine Racing driver expressed his concern during those final restarts with the lack of help around him, as many drivers were helping teammates or trying to seal their own playoff fate. Fortunately, he was able to hold his own, running up front most of the night and capturing a top five run. While he did not win, Kligerman slipped past Riley Herbst for the final playoff spot with three regular season races remaining, leading Herbst by 20 points.
What a night for the underdogs! Ryan Sieg also had to perform a pass-through penalty to begin the race after failing inspection three times. The No. 39 driver recovered to finish sixth, his best finish of the season. Anthony Alfredo avoided a couple of big wrecks to also score his best finish of the season, finishing eighth. Gray Gaulding continued to show his superspeedway craft by earning his second consecutive top 10 on the track type in ninth. His last top 10 earlier this year at Talladega Superspeedway was his first in three years.
Jordan Anderson Racing, however, may have been the underdog team of the night. Both Parker Retzlaff and Jeb Burton had to serve a pass-through penalty for three failed inspections, and Burton was involved in two incidents during the night, including a spin with 10 laps remaining.
Team owner Jordan Anderson also made his return to racing since his scary, fiery crash in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Talladega last year, and he too had to perform a pass-through penalty at the start. Anderson went for a spin during the lap 42 incident and also had to change a battery following stage two. However, the team performed what is a necessity in pack racing: survival. In the end, despite a last-lap crash for Anderson, all three picked up top 15 finishes.
Herbst’s race and playoff hopes were disastrous at the end of stage one. Already fighting steering issues, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver blew a left front tire at the stage conclusion, shredding his fender. The damage and mechanical woes ultimately left him in 24th. Now, he sits on the wrong side of the cut line with three races left to lock a spot. It is the effect of what has been a steady decline the past three weeks. After three consecutive top-six finishes from Pocono to Michigan, Herbst has been shut out of the top 10 the past three races.
Nemechek has also been taking blows in his fight for the regular season title and 15 playoff points. After leading the standings following his Michigan win, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has dropped to third in points with four results of 13th or worse in the past six races. The 26-year-old was caught in the lap 99 crash before suffering a race-ending punch in the first overtime attempt, finishing 28th.
Bayne made his first start of the season, returning with JGR after 9 starts in 2022. Things were looking promising in the closing laps, as Bayne had his No. 19 up front. However, that all went to the wayside when Hill turned him into the wall, leaving Bayne in 29th. He is set to make two more starts with the team this season at Bristol and Texas.
Jones’ chances of at least pointing his way in were likely dashed following the lap 42 pileup. Alfredo came up the track in the tri-oval, making contact with Jones and causing the No. 9 to slam into Moffitt before taking hard licks between the outside wall and the No. 38 of Joe Graf Jr. The JRM driver is now in must-win territory, 88 points back of the playoff cut line.
Scheme of the Week
Wawa went all out in sponsorship this week, sponsoring four cars in addition to being the race’s title sponsor. While it was tough to choose from the quartet, Moffitt’s No. 25 looked amazing under the lights with blended colors. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it home in one piece, as he was collected in the lap 42 crash and finished 18th.
Fuel for Thought
Two key points races must be observed over the next three weeks. First is the obvious battle between Kligerman and Herbst. With three pure ovals coming up, it could be an opportunity for Herbst to regain his rhythm. However, the momentum and advantage goes to Kligerman currently. He is riding a wave of six-straight top 10s.
The other is the fight for the regular season title. The lens has been focused on Hill and Nemechek, but Allgaier inserted himself with the win, moving to second and sitting 27 points back of the points lead. Hill will be tough to top, but crazier things have happened. And if you don’t think it’s worth anything … just look at the 2021 regular season finale.
Where to Next
The series finally hits a routine oval at Darlington Raceway, though that is no easy feat in its own right. Kyle Larson won in a showdown with Nemechek earlier this season, while Allgaier was second. Keep an eye on Creed, who was runner-up here a year ago.
It all takes place on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET on the USA Network.
About the author
Luken Glover arrived on the Frontstretch scene in 2020. He has been an avid NASCAR fan for the majority of his life, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who used to help former team owner Junie Donlavey in his garage. Glover covers news for the site and took over "The Underdog House" column in 2021. In addition to being a college junior, his hobbies include volunteering at church, playing basketball and tennis, racing go-karts, and helping at his high school alma mater.
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