Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Kyle Larson Ends Up in the Right Place at the Right Time

Another race weekend where a NASCAR Cup Series regular wins over the NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers. 

That did happen, but not in the way you might think.

Kyle Larson won the pole at Circuit of the Americas, but the No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports team had to replace a cracked brake rotor, sending him to the back at the start.

Larson eventually found himself near the front, but Shane van Gisbergen and AJ Allmendinger led most of the race.

Things changed around lap 43 when Ed Jones went off course and leaked fluid, bringing out the caution. Larson pitted for fresh tires under the yellow and restarted in the 20s. Chaos ensued in the first overtime, and the No. 17 found itself back near the front.

Austin Hill then took the lead from van Gisbergen in the second overtime restart, but as they battled, Larson got by both on the last lap and won the race.

See also
AJ Allmendinger’s Dominant Day Undone by Late Race Drama at COTA

Hill came home second (after van Gisbergen was penalized for cutting a corner on the final lap), John Hunter Nemechek was third, Cole Custer took fourth and Parker Kligerman rounded out the top five. 

Winners

Yes, you read that right. Larson led only the final lap and took the win. The California native earned his 15th Xfinity victory and second on a road course. 

What’s interesting about it all is that when there was mayhem, he stayed cool but aggressive when he needed to be. Larson was methodical and showed just how much skill he had to even go through the field after starting in the back. 

I remember some drivers in the past commenting about how they liked racing with Kyle Busch because it helped them become better racers, and I believe the same can be said about Larson. I mean, yes, the Nos. 16 and 97 were class of the field, but Larson kept his car within the track limits and proved he could still take the trophy from the Xfinity regulars.

Hill’s No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was in the top 10 for a good chunk of the race, finishing sixth in stage one. But when the caution flew toward the end, that’s when Hill’s desire to challenge for the lead ramped up. He nearly had it made, too, but the fight with van Gisbergen allowed Larson to sneak by.

Still, it was Hill’s fifth straight top five of the season, helping him to maintain his points lead.

Nemechek had a day similar to Connor Zilisch‘s in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race earlier in the afternoon, as he also had some penalties and issues. Like Larson, he too began the race from the rear. Early on in stage 1, he had to serve a pass-through penalty after he shortcut turn 4. Then, with about three laps left in stage 2, the No. 20 of Joe Gibbs Racing was caught speeding on pit road and was penalized for that as well.

Yet somehow, Nemechek still landed on the podium at the end of the race. It’s a testament to just how strong his JGR Toyota was in the race.

I’d like to give a shoutout to Austin Green, who made his Xfinity debut Saturday. The son of 1994 Xfinity champion David Green, Austin overcame a speeding penalty early on to finish seventh. 

And how about Allmendinger, rallying back for a 10th after being penalized on the next-to-last restart for cutting the course? Even after receiving a bump under the last caution from a displeased Ty Gibbs, Allmendinger kept going on the course after restarting in the back.

Losers

I hate to even put him in as a loser, but van Gisbergen wound up 27th instead of where he crossed the finish line in second. NASCAR gave him a 30-second penalty for cutting the course on the last lap.

The No. 97 had plenty of pace to duel with Hill for the top spot; perhaps he made some unnecessary moves in order to get past him. The last move he made on Hill in turn 15 allowed Larson to sneak by and steal the victory.

It also put a dent in van Gisbergen’s front end. 

The finishing position isn’t reflective of just how good van Gisbergen was in just his fifth Xfinity race. Though he’s last year’s Chicago street course NASCAR Cup Series winner, the Next Gen cars are vastly different from Xfinity cars, so it’s a whole learning process for the New Zealander. He’ll have more chances to win, though, with the next road course in June at Portland International Raceway.

Brandon Jones won stage 2 … until he was penalized for cutting the course. The clarity on the penalty seemed to waver, but ultimately it stood and Riley Herbst won the stage. A promising run went sour for the No. 9 team and once he was mired back in traffic, he couldn’t find his way back to the top 10 by the end. He finished 16th.

Gibbs was also one who ran up front with van Gisbergen, Larson and Allmendinger. However, when the caution came out for Ed Jones, Gibbs fought for the lead on the ensuing restart. Van Gisbergen went wide against Allmendinger and Gibbs, forcing both drivers back in the pack. Gibbs showed his frustration with Allmendinger (even though it wasn’t his fault) under yellow. He then pitted and finished 24th, just a few spots ahead of van Gisbergen.

See also
Shane van Gisbergen, Austin Hill Duke It Out Down the Stretch at COTA

Other drivers who had poor finishes were Ryan Ellis and Herbst, who were caught up in one of the last accidents in the first overtime. Ellis had nowhere to go, as Herbst spun and appeared right in front of the Alpha Prime Racing driver.

Josh Williams‘ first season with Kaulig Racing certainly isn’t going to plan, with an overheating issue sending him out of the race in last place. On the bright side, he gets to be with his family and newborn baby after a rough day.

Fuel for Thought

One of the biggest storylines coming out of this event was the amount of penalties for cutting the course. There were 17 track limit penalties in just the Xfinity race. Should something be done to help avoid this many infractions in the future?

Well, NASCAR could put curbs back in the esses; that could help prevent drivers from wanting to cut the course. However, more crashes could incur if a car bounces off the curb and into oncoming traffic. I mean, we’ve seen what happened at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course when the curb started breaking (although those were a bit bigger).

The way NASCAR has it now is probably the best way to go; while it does create drama in the race, it also shows drivers that NASCAR will enforce these rules for anyone. And hey, who says drama isn’t a good thing? 

Besides, if one is out to a large lead and cuts the course, all it is is a pass-through penalty (unless the caution comes out right after). If the car is several seconds ahead of the field, they’ll only lose a few spots.

Where to Next

Next week, Xfinity drivers head to Richmond Raceway for the ToyotaCare 250. Coverage for the race starts at 1:30 p.m. ET 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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Christopher

Hill is a jerk who dishes it out and then whines when he gets it back.

Last edited 23 days ago by Christopher
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