Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Random Caution Sets Up Big One at Phoenix, Chandler Smith Wins

Chandler Smith won his second career NASCAR Xfinity Series race after taking control of the lead in overtime at Phoenix Raceway.

Smith inherited the position after Justin Allgaier cut a tire and hit the wall with five laps to go. He then set sail on the overtime restart and earned Joe Gibbs Racing’s 17th Xfinity win at the 1-mile track.

Jesse Love came home second, while Sheldon Creed, who had to start the race in the rear after the team fixed an oil leak, took third. Austin Hill was fourth and Cole Custer rounded out the top five. 

See also
Chandler Smith Wins Xfinity Race at Phoenix After Justin Allgaier Loses Tire

Winners

Smith started on the front row but quickly nabbed the lead from polesitter Custer and led all the laps in stage one. However, a poor pit stop put him behind the eight ball in stage two, which Custer went on to lead and win .

The No. 81 eventually got up to Custer and made some slight contact with the No. 00 battling for the lead. However, a caution for practically nothing changed things for Smith. 

He again lost some spots on pit road thanks to a slower stop and restarted in the second row. John Hunter Nemechek came out with the lead but had a bad restart in the outside lane. As Smith attempted to get underneath the No. 20, Nemechek appeared to come down off the right front of Smith and spins in front of the field. 

It definitely was the Big One, yet Smith got away with very little damage. He was still behind Justin Allgaier, though… until he wasn’t. Allgaier cut a tire and hit the wall with five laps left, allowing Smith to secure his second win. 

It was redemption for the Georgia native, who lost the lead last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after being out front for 74 laps. Smith seems to be adapting to his new team fairly well with four top fives to start the season. He already has half the number of top fives he had in 2023 with Kaulig Racing. However, with so many mouths to feed in the Toyota camp, will this be a multi-win season for the 21 year old? Time will tell.

Creed stayed in the top 10 for much of the second half of the race after starting in the back of the field. Fast pit stops and his driving skills helped him steadily move to the front, eventually battling for the top three spots. While he wasn’t able to earn his ninth second-place finish, a place on the podium was well-earned for Smith’s JGR teammate.

Shane van Gisbergen snagged his second top 10 of the season in just his fourth career start. The New Zealand native competed in the top 15 for much of the race, and though the Big One took many contenders out, he still kept his nose clean. I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually finds victory lane later this year.

Parker Kligerman was probably the most impressive of all the drivers, as he put on a masterful job of getting through that large wreck on a restart. At one point, he even saw the front end of Nemechek’s car before scooting by him. 

“I just did what every great racecar driver does and that was close my eyes and hope for the best and come out the other side and take credit for it,” Kligerman told FOX Sports after the crash. 

Job well done.

Lastly, here are some shout outs for a few underdogs who capitalized on others’ misfortunes, including Anthony Alfredo in 10th. Young’s Motorsports’ Leland Honeyman just missed getting his first top 10, finishing just behind Fast Pasta in 11th.

RSS Racing drivers Ryan Sieg and Blaine Perkins were 12th and 13th, respectively. BJ McLeod also got a top 15, as well as Jeremy Clements, who recovered from an earlier incident. Some may say that it’s mostly because some of the leaders crashed. While that’s partly true, Allgaier, who was leading when he blew a tire, finished 29th, just nine spots ahead of the others who were knocked out. That tells me that some of these underdogs have some skills on these short, flat racetracks.

See also
Justin Allgaier Foiled by Flat Tire While Leading Late at Phoenix

Losers

Corey Heim had a fast car but suffered an issue with his right-rear tire that put him further back. He was going to try to hang on without pitting but came down around lap 74 in stage two. Unfortunately, he ended up finishing 22nd, two laps down. We’ll never know just how well he might’ve done if he didn’t have that problem.

One of the most heartbreaking endings to a driver’s run happened to the No. 7 JR Motorsports car of Allgaier. Cruising along with five laps to go, nobody could’ve expected that he’d blow a tire with five laps to go in the race. Frontstretch caught up with Allgaier after the race.

“I think the heartbreaker from today was being that far out, knowing that we had the car to win at the end there.”

One thing is for certain, once he shakes loose of whatever gremlins have come on to him, he’ll break through to victory. 

Nemechek went from the highest of highs last week to the lowest of lows this week in the desert. After coming off pit road in the lead, he had a bad restart that allowed Allgaier to get the lead and Smith to peek in below the No. 20. You know what happened next.

Two other drivers caught up in that melee were Jordan Anderson Racing’s Jeb Burton and Parker Retzlaff, both of whom had nowhere to go. After a strong start to the year, Retzlaff has exited early from each of the last two events. Where might the team turn things around? Perhaps Circuit of the Americas, but more than likely at Talladega Superspeedway in April. That’s where JAR shines the most, at these pack racing tracks.

Some other drivers who had not-so-good results were AJ Allmendinger and Josh Williams of Kaulig Racing, and Sam Mayer of JRM. Allmendinger was probably happy to even finish the race in 18th considering he felt his car was starting to blow up. Williams’ day, however, was practically over before it really began after he got spun off the outside of Jeremy Clements within the first 10 laps. While he continued on, he came home 27th, five laps down.

As for Mayer, it’s just sad at this point, as he’s only finished one of the four races run so far. But bad luck can’t stay forever, right? 

Fuel for Thought 

The obvious elephant in the room is the phantom caution for a slightly out-of-the-groove Hailie Deegan, who lightly brushed against the wall.

I mean, what was that? I could see if she even skidded against the wall a little more, but that was just a kiss. If you had looked away for a moment during the replay, you’d miss it because it was hardly anything at all.

Apparently NASCAR wants wrecked racecars, because it should know how crazy restarts are at Phoenix. The wide dogleg entering turn 1 often sets up four-and five-wide action, and while that is not the actual cause of the accident, racing hard for the lead and potentially the win likely was. 

Everyone knows that the racing in front intensifies as the laps wind down, and at a track like Phoenix where clean air is very important, all of the frontrunners will duel for the lead on the restart and try to hold off their competition.

Yes, even teammates. 

“Oh, but the racing is boring, we need viewers and fans to talk about the race,” one might say. To that, I say, let the race play out naturally. I mean, look at what happened on the last long green-flag run: Allgaier cut a tire in the final five laps. The finish could’ve been the biggest storyline coming out of this race, but instead it’s a random caution for a great save by the No. 15.

Where to Next

The Xfinity Series takes a week off before heading to the Lone Star State of Texas for some road course racing at Circuit of the Americas. Practice and qualifying is on Friday, March 23, starting at 5:30 p.m. ET. Then, on Saturday (March 23), the Focused Health 250 runs at 5 p.m. ET and airs on FOX Sports 1.

About the author

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

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Joshua

I’m sure there was debris blown back from the wall or something. We aren’t at the track and TV cameras, even though they have resolution that lets you see the stray hair growing out of a pimple, might have missed a piece of metal. Kill stages AND THEN the race would play out naturally. The sad thing about the audience watching on TV today is that they aren’t going to the track…so now NASCAR has created stages that equal restarts that equal cautions. Man, I loved the “REAL” racing of the 90s when there were 500 mile races (for LESS DURABLE cars) and people didn’t whine so much about a race being A RACE. Now, with the attention span of society gone, and the classically conditioned desire for sensationalism (from the Internet) and instant gratification, I’m afraid the days of “natural” racing are gone.

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