Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Chandler Smith Stays Hot at Richmond, Joey Gase Loses His Cool

Chandler Smith led a Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota brigade to claim his second NASCAR Xfinity Series victory of the season at Richmond Raceway.

Smith took the lead over Cole Custer after pitting for fresh tires several laps earlier during the final caution of the day. He never looked back, lapping cars through 10th place by the end of the race.

Fellow JGR teammates Aric Almirola and Taylor Gray came home second and third, respectively. Corey Heim was fourth and Jesse Love rounded out the top five.

See also
Chandler Smith Scores 2nd Xfinity Win of 2024 at Richmond

Winners

Toyota as a whole performed a feat that it hadn’t done since 2012 at Dover Motor Speedway: sweeping the top four positions. Its drivers dominated the event, leading 186 of the 250 laps.

Smith and Almirola led the most laps, staying out front for 76 and 95 circuits, respectively.

The victor scored his second consecutive win at the Action Track after earning his first career win there in 2023. He’s now atop the points standings, edging Austin Hill by just 10 points. In fact, Smith and Hill are pretty much dead even statistically in the first six events, with each earning two wins, five top fives and six top 10s. Both also have an average finish of 3.3. It’s rather interesting, considering they compete for two different teams and manufacturers. Hill finished eighth at Richmond.

While the performance by JGR and Toyota is quite remarkable, what’s perhaps even more impressive is the talent of TRICON Garage’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regular Gray. He came home with a podium finish in his first Xfinity race after qualifying 27th. If Gray can battle with other Xfinity regulars and finish third, then he could actually visit victory lane in one of his next NXS starts.

Speaking of debuts, how about Bubba Pollard, running for JR Motorsports for the first time in Xfinity at 37 years old? The late model racer started in the back after a rough qualifying round. Though it took him a bit to get the hang of things, he was able to finally get in a groove and move forward, eventually finishing sixth. Gray and Pollard show that no matter how young or young at heart you are, you can still get a good result in your first race.

I don’t normally discuss drivers in the teens in this section, but I have to shout out Matt DiBenedetto. In his first Xfinity start since 2019, he earned an 18th after starting 31st. The Viking Motorsports driver appeared to stay out of trouble and keep his racecar clean, which is exactly what he needed to do for a team that isn’t quite on the same page as JGR or JR Motorsports. It will be interesting to see how he’ll do driving the No. 38 RSS Racing Ford in future races.

See also
Bubba Pollard Overcomes Qualifying Woes, Finishes 6th in Xfinity Debut

Losers

JR Motorsports drivers Brandon Jones and Sam Mayer seem to have the bad luck bug to start this season. First, around lap 44, Jones’ engine let go and left some fluid on the track, causing both him and Ryan Sieg to spin.

Then, around lap 155, Sam Mayer had a good pit stop and was about to battle for the lead after the restart. However, Gray made contact with the No. 1 coming out of his pit box, causing a major tire rub on Mayer’s car. As they went up to speed on the restart, the rub got worse and eventually cut Mayer’s tire down. He had to return to pit road for new tires, and instead of getting to battle the Toyotas for first, he wound up several laps down in 30th.

Mayer has just one top 10 so far this year, at Circuit of the Americas, and has an average finish of about 26th. He’s also ranked 20th in the standings.

Jones’ year is going a little better, as he’s 10th in points and has three top 10s. But it still isn’t the ideal start to their seasons, as well as JRM as a whole.

Sheldon Creed is in a similar boat, though he’s earned three top fives. His average finish is about 17th, and today’s issue of a possible brake dragging didn’t help that at all. When he’s on point and has good luck, he runs well, but when it rains, it pours for the No. 18 JGR driver. Today was the latter for Creed. JGR is strong enough as an organization to try to get better finishes, and I’m sure once the gremlins go away, they’ll be back on track.

See also
Waid's World: Richmond 1986: Wild Finish Leads to Separate Paths for 2 Drivers

Fuel for Thought

I’ve been pondering this one for a while, and it may not be a popular opinion.

Joey Gase became the latest driver to throw something at a car, displaying his frustration with the driver (in this case, Dawson Cram). After he crashed due to contact from Cram, he got out of the car, tore off the rear bumper cover and threw it at Cram’s car.

Now, I’m not saying his frustration wasn’t merited; I would be frustrated too if someone spun me and ended my day. But Gase’s actions weren’t exactly the right way to show his anger.

NASCAR’s rules are clear about a driver approaching a car on the racetrack. In Xfinity Rulebook Section 8.3.5., it says “At no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach another moving vehicle.”

Gase did that, and NASCAR will speak to him about it and likely penalize him for his actions.

I know it was probably the most popular clip on social after the race, and I know it could help bring more viewers to the Xfinity Series, but it still doesn’t sit well with me.

What if the cover ended up getting stuck under his tire? Or what if it cracked Cram’s windshield? I’m not quite sure how heavy those bumper panels are, but they certainly are very large and could do a lot of damage. And what if something went wrong, and the cover bounced back toward Gase? He could’ve gotten hurt as well.

Also, approaching a racecar, even while under slow conditions, isn’t a good idea. If something was to suddenly break on Cram’s car, causing it to move at that exact moment, Gase could’ve been hit. Or what if he got hit by someone coming around the curve behind Cram?

Yes, these are good drivers, otherwise they wouldn’t have a NASCAR license to compete in Xfinity. It still doesn’t matter to me.

And I know we’ve had other drivers do similar things in the past, like when Denny Hamlin threw his HANS device at another car, or when Tony Stewart chucked his helmet at Matt Kenseth on pit road. Neither driver received penalties for their actions. Doesn’t make it right for them to do these things.

If Gase is not penalized this week, it would shock me, because NASCAR has been emphasizing safety quite a bit.

How should drivers release their anger after getting wrecked by another driver? They can yell while in their car, show their fist at the other car or even approach the driver after the race and yell at them. A fight would be just as popular.

I mean, look at what happened to Kyle Busch after he got spun by Christopher Bell last week at COTA. He talked with Bell after the race, albeit very angrily.

Drivers, use your head and keep safety in mind.

Where to Next

The Xfinity Series remains in Virginia at another short track, Martinsville Speedway. The DUDE Wipes 250 is scheduled to run on Saturday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m. ET and will air 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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Ted

If they punish Joey Gase,.. they would have to also punish Dawson Cram for causing the issue to begin with.

old fan

I thought the windshields were like bullet-proof glass. I doubt a plastic bumper cover would shatter it.

Carl D.

Even though it wasn’t NASCAR, Kevin Ward is why drivers should never approach a moving car on the racetrack. Even on the apron. Even under caution. There is no excuse, especially anger.

Last edited 19 days ago by Carl D.
Shayne

I wouldn’t stand on a ledge touting NASCAR and safety in the same sentence.

Joshua

What if the cover ended up getting stuck under his tire? Or what if it cracked Cram’s windshield? I’m not quite sure how heavy those bumper panels are, but they certainly are very large and could do a lot of damage. And what if something went wrong, and the cover bounced back toward Gase? He could’ve gotten hurt as well.

LOL a 25-35 lb carbon fiber piece of car isn’t going to “crack a windshield.” My real question is, does the author even FOLLOW Nascar? The point of throwing it was akin to using the middle finger.

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