In the middle of the day on Friday (Sept 15), NASCAR and Bristol Motor Speedway announced the spring Bristol weekend will return to concrete. On Friday night, the Food City 300 went on to show everyone why that was a great idea.
We saw extended battles for the lead and two-lane racing throughout the field. We saw tempers flare, teammates clash (and crash). We saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. lead 47 laps and threaten to win the race.
That ol’ No. 88 looks good out front. pic.twitter.com/Bv3gbOKnrw— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) September 16, 2023
A fire inside the car ended Earnhardt Jr.’s day prematurely, but the legend was still able to go to victory lane as an owner.
Josh Billicki brought out a caution with 50 laps to go, and Justin Allgaier and his team decided to pit from the lead. Allgaier was the only car among the leaders to pit and it seemed his loss of track position would leave him short of contending for the win. Fresh rubber turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.
Allgaier restarted from 13th with just 47 laps to go. With 40 to go he was up to ninth. In the laps to follow, Daniel Hemric led the way. The driver recently announced to be returning to the Cup Series held his ground in the top lane. Earnhardt, John Hunter Nemechek, and Cole Custer all took turns trying to pass Hemric, but none of them could clear him.
All that battling and Earnhardt dropping out because of the fire brought Allgaier up to fourth with 30 to go. Six laps later, he reached Hemric’s rear bumper and went to work. As the pair navigated through lapped traffic, a 12 lap battle ensued. Finally, with 12 to go, Allgaier cleared Hemric and set sail, winning by over a second.
Hemric came home second, followed by Nemechek, Custer, and Chandler Smith to round out the top five. Ryan Sieg tied his best finish of the season in sixth. Trevor Bayne finished seventh followed by Riley Herbst, Sammy Smith, and Kaz Grala completing the top 10.
This was the third win of the season for Allgaier. He’s firmly entrenched in a ‘big three’ with Hill and Nemechek. Allgaier has now won two of the last four races on two very different tracks. He has finished in the top 10 in 16 of 27 races run. The veteran driver was smooth all day, kept it clean, and took advantage of a gusty call by crew chief Jim Pohlman to pit during the late caution.
In recent years we’ve seen very controversial finishes at Bristol, but Allgaier managed to put on a great show while keeping it clean, as we’ve come to expect from the 37-year-old from Riverton, Ill. Allgaier can now breathe a little easier knowing he’s locked into the next round of the playoffs.
The box score will show a finish of 30th. But Earnhardt came away a winner after this race. While the car he owned did win the race, I’m talking about as a driver. The 48 year old NASCAR Hall of Famer hadn’t raced at Bristol since 2017 and yet, he was a force to be reckoned with. When a caution came out for Austin Hill and Sheldon Creed with 83 to go, the mostly-retired Kannapolis, NC superstar had a huge lead. Earnhardt is still good enough to win races.
For a driver who was loved by so many for so long, yet caught some flak throughout his career about being overrated, this was an awesome thing to see. It speaks to the quality of car he was able to give himself but it serves as a reminder that he was actually really good. This is a guy who won 50 races between the top two divisions of NASCAR, and two Xfinity Championships. After the race he was interviewed by his NBC colleagues and was sure to mention he’ll be getting behind the wheel again at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, October 21st.
The second place run for Hemric was almost like a win. After being announced as the successor to Justin Haley in Kaulig Racing’s no. 31 Cup car, he nearly proved he deserved it with a statement win. The fresh tires and superior car of Allgaier were too much to hold off, but Hemric should hold his head high after the impressive performance. Despite coming into Bristol near the bottom of the playoff grid, he exits in sixth, 12 points above the cut line.
Nemechek, Custer, and Chandler Smith all had good runs. All three drivers collected points in both stages and finished in in the top five. Nemechek has the points lead, Custer is third, and Smith is fifth.
Sieg’s sixth-place finish was the highest among non-playoff drivers. Its been a tough season for Sieg and his family-owned team. A long time sponsor left the team, and they’ve tumbled down the standings compared to recent years. When we go to short tracks, Sieg’s talent can help shrink the gap to the big teams.
Let’s give a shout out to Jeb Burton. The playoff driver started in a backup car at the rear of the field after cutting a tire and wrecking his primary car in practice. When Jordan Anderson Racing wrecks a primary car in the Xfinity Series, its a totally different situation than when a Cup team wrecks a Next Gen car. Burton had to race his Darlington car, which was not set up to be competitive at Bristol.
By Lap 51, Burton had already been lapped. The biggest underdog in the playoffs kept fighting all night long. He benefitted from attrition and found his car could make decent speed in the top lane. When the dust settled and the checkered flag waved, Burton finished 13th. Not bad for a small team with a backup car. The troubles of other playoff drivers helped Burton creep up the standings. He exits Bristol just four points below the cut line.
Hill had a weekend to forget. He was furious with Creed after the teammates made contact. Creed inadvertently hooked Hill in the left rear and sent him hard into the inside wall. Hill’s team attempted to repair the car to get it on track to salvage some points, but the damage was too severe and the damage vehicle policy clock ran out before sufficient repairs could be completed. Hill’s finish of 33rd was his worst since Circuit of the Americas on March 25.
While JR Motorsports had to be happy about the win and their owner leading so many laps, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. If Allgaier was ‘the good,’ then Sam Mayer and Josh Berry were ‘the bad’ and ‘the ugly.’ As usual, Brandon Jones was the ‘unlucky.’
Near the end of stage two, Berry and Mayer made slight contact coming out of the turn. Berry’s tire apparently was going down after the contact. Berry never made the next turn and slammed into his teammate Mayer on the outside. Brandon Jones then piled into them from behind. The trio of teammates went on to finish 34th-36th.
The field knew Parker Kligerman was there. The next-biggest underdog in the playoff field, after Burton, finished seventh in stage one. His day unraveled on lap 142 when a wheel bearing issue led to a broken hub. Kligerman took his car behind the wall for repairs. He eventually returned to the track and played a minor role in the finish, blocking Hemric as Allgaier pursued. Kligerman finished 54 laps down in 31st and is now 22 points below the cut line.
Fuel For Thought
How many fans were on the edge of their seat watching the laps click off as Earnhardt Jr. led the race? How many drivers who recently retired were inspired by his run? Will we see any of them join Jr. in the future?
The Xfinity Series rules prevent any active Cup drivers from running the Xfinity playoff races. But there is no rule against former Cup drivers joining it. Can we make this a thing? Can we flip these rules on their head to bring about a different form of “Busch-wacking?” Perhaps we can call it ‘Old-whacking.’ No? You don’t like that term? That’s ok, we don’t have to name it.
Think about it. Tony Stewart could realistically participate. Maybe Carl Edwards? Jeff Gordon? Jimmie Johnson? Kevin Harvick? Kurt Busch? If you have a name for this phenomenon we could see more of, I’d love to hear it.
What does this win say about Allgaier’s chance for the title? What do the struggles of Richard Childress Racing say about Hill’s chances? Does he have a score to settle with Creed? What about Berry and Mayer – Have we seen the last of their issues?
Where to Next?
With two races remaining in the round of 12, we’re headed to Texas Motor Speedway for the Andy’s Frozen Custard 300. Last year it was Noah Gragson winning this race with Hill finishing second.
The race gets underway on Saturday, Sept 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET. Follow the action on USA Network, or listen in on Sirius XM and the Performance 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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