Wow. Have you ever? No, I’ve never. The Dead On Tools 250 at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday (Oct 28) was a demolition derby where a race broke out. The penultimate NASCAR Xfinity Series race of the year, where everything was on the line for several drivers gunning for the Championship 4, turned into a battle of pure survival.
Coming into the race, we had Sam Mayer locked into one of the final four positions with John Hunter Nemechek very safe. That left Austin Hill, Cole Custer and Justin Allgaier all within three points with just two more spots up for grabs.
And for 147 of what became 256 laps, it looked like pole sitter Sammy Smith would do just that.
However, as a game of pit stop roulette unfolded, Smith may have waited one caution too long to make his final stop for tires and fuel. Smith pitted from the lead and restarted 13th with 68 laps to go. He then set out to reclaim the lead he had held for so long but had a lot of work to do and a lot of good cars to pass.
Then, a huge wreck occurred with seven laps remaining, setting up an epic overtime finish where Hill, Creed, Allgaier, Smith and Custer all had a chance to win if the inevitable calamity broke their way. Smith could never quite get up there, leaving his championship hopes fading in the closing laps.
It came down to Hill and Creed on the front row for the final restart. Hill spun his tires from the inside but battled back, drawing even with his teammate. Hill then ran Creed up the track and took the lead, while Creed geared up for the next corner. When they got there, Creed moved Hill out of the way and crawled ahead into the lead.
Paint continued to be traded. Creed overdrove the final turn and had to get on the brakes late in turn 4. The chain reaction caused a massive pileup, collecting Hill, Custer and many others. In the midst of the melee, it was Allgaier who came out of nowhere, got underneath Creed and won by half a car length.
When the dust settled, Custer earned the final spot in the championship, alongside Mayer, Nemechek and race-winning Allgaier. Hill and Creed had a chance to put both Richard Childress Racing cars in, but as tempers flared in typical Martinsville fashion, the RCR teammates eliminated each other.
What a massive win for Allgaier, and he did it without “punting” his way in. At one point, his spotter seemed riled up, telling his driver it was time to start “punting” people. While the bumper was surely used, there was no reckless punting to be found; instead, it was everyone around him who got in trouble down the stretch. But when the pressure ratcheted up, Allgaier emerged victorious and took advantage of a major opportunity. The 37-year-old fan favorite will now have a chance to win his first Xfinity Series championship.
Nemechek ran up front throughout the evening and locked himself into the Championship 4 early in the going. His team elected to stay out on tires longer than anyone else; his car and driving were strong enough to make it work. Restart after restart, Nemechek held off the fresh rubber of Hill. With eight laps to go, he was easily locked in and was moved out of the groove by a desperate Hill. Nemechek was eventually relegated to 18th as the checkered flag waved, but he did what he needed to do and with a bit different strategy, could have been strong enough to win.
What a crazy race for Custer. He was above and below the cutline throughout the race. As Creed held the lead with Hill right behind him, and Allgaier right behind them, it looked clear Custer was about to be eliminated. Instead, Creed’s failure to close the deal along with Hill’s wreck set the stage for a miracle in turn 4. Despite getting banged up in earlier incidents and also getting caught up in the final lap melee, Custer wound up with a seven-point edge on Hill, and he will race for a championship as a result. No matter what happens at Phoenix Raceway, advancing should be good vindication after stepping down from the NASCAR Cup Series this season.
Mayer is a winner because he made it to the Championship 4. Martinsville, however, wasn’t a great race. He sustained some damage in the early part of stage two but continued on and even climbed back into the top 10. In the final running order, Mayer was 25th, killing off some momentum before Phoenix. He has to be the longshot of the group, but given his late-season surge, you never know.
Parker Retzlaff deserves a shoutout, too. Perhaps lost in all the playoff drama, the rookie from Wisconsin ran dozens of laps inside the top 10 and finished seventh. Martinsville marked his seventh top 10 of the season and he is 16th in points, just 19 behind 2018 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt.
It’s hard to say who is a bigger loser – Creed or Hill? Both royally messed up the end of the race, so let’s go with Richard Childress. Ole ‘Pop Pop’ should’ve been wearing a heart monitor during the overtime finish. For a fleeting moment, he had Creed in the lead and Hill second. That finishing order would’ve put both cars into the Championship 4 next week. When was the last time RCR had two cars in the running for a championship entering the final race of the season?
The streak will continue because its drivers both lost their minds. It’s easy to pile it all on Creed but Hill isn’t without blame, either. He knew Creed had to win; being a team player could’ve been Hill easing up and coming home second. In a post-race interview, Hill said he didn’t know whether he needed to win or not, because he didn’t know where Custer was. If true, that’s poor race management from RCR.
After the race, Hill talked about how thrilled he was that Creed was moving on to a new team next year. He even let the cat out of the bag confirming a poorly-kept, much-discussed rumor, that Creed would be moving to Joe Gibbs Racing next season. What a mess for the whole organization heading to Phoenix.
Sammy Smith ran a heck of a race. All those laps led and he was working his way back up to the front, too. With fresher tires than most, he seemed poised to find his way back to the front and get himself in. But with perpetual cautions, Smith never had the chance to get in a rhythm and settled for third. He’ll look to finish the season and his JGR tenure strong before moving on to JR Motorsports next season.
Poor Chandler Smith. He’s another driver who could be referred to as a lame duck, along with Creed and Sammy Smith. Confirmed not to be coming back to Kaulig Racing, the rumor mill has him joining Creed next year at JGR. At Martinsville, Smith took damage early, was penalized on pit road and eventually retired from the race with overheating issues caused by the damage.
Fuel for Thought
Throughout the season, we’ve speculated on who the final four drivers would be. We’ve thought Nemechek and Allgaier would be there. Who else did you have making it?
Riley Herbst came out guns blazing and looked like he’d be a factor. Hill won four races and was almost a lock to make it. Josh Berry had to be there, right? The guy is moving on to a top-tier Cup ride, after all. Sammy Smith won a race early but cooled off as the weather warmed up. Chandler Smith took over a ride that had always been a factor with AJ Allmendinger. Brandon Jones took over a car Noah Gragson won eight races with. Perhaps Creed would take another step forward; he was a Truck champion in 2020, right? Or perhaps Hemric would take over as the veteran leader at Kaulig and get back to the Championship 4; he won it all just two seasons ago.
None of those drivers put a season together that got them into the final four. Instead, it was Custer and perhaps more surprisingly, Mayer. Now these two join Nemechek and Allgaier for what is sure to be a classic at Phoenix. Who is your pick to take home the championship?
Will it be Allgaier? The fan favorite, most respected driver in the garage, who has been so close so many times? Will it be Nemechek? The prodigy who was humbled in the Cup Series and has been clawing his way back ever since? Will it be Custer? A driver who, like Nemechek, is on a redemption tour to prove he belongs in Cup? How about Mayer? The youngest driver in the group, he has been on a tear in the second half of the season. Can he shock the world and make it happen?
Where to Next?
Last call! One more race to determine it all for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. It comes down to Phoenix Raceway this coming weekend as four drivers battle for that coveted title trophy. Last season, it was Ty Gibbs bringing home the hardware ahead of Gragson and Allgaier.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship kicks off on Saturday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. ET. Catch the action one more time this season on USA Network or listen in on the radio; coverage will be provided by Motor Racing Network and SIRIUS XM.
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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