Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Chase Elliott Wins Charlotte as Austin Hill Loses His Cool Again

Another week of a NASCAR Cup Series double dipper spoiling the party for the NASCAR Xfinity Series regulars.

While that’s true, it didn’t happen exactly the way you might think.

Chase Elliott took the win in the BetMGM 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway after some late cautions took out some of the leaders out of contention. A good pit strategy by Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Greg Ives allowed Elliott to use sticker tires while the majority of the field were stuck on older tires. He held off late advances from Brandon Jones to claim his sixth Xfinity victory and first since 2016.

Jones took second, while fellow JR Motorsports drivers Sammy Smith and Sam Mayer finished third and fourth, respectively. AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.

See also
Chase Elliott Charges to Xfinity Win at Charlotte

Winners

The 2020 Cup champion started 30th and eventually got near the front, going off a different pit strategy than the leaders. However, drivers like Kyle Busch, Ty Gibbs and Justin Allgaier all made their way to the front on fresher tires than Elliott had at the time.

All was not lost for Elliott, though, as veteran crew chief Ives played a good game and saved a set of tires, banking on late cautions. With how hot and slick the track has been the last couple of days, the spins and troubles in qualifying appeared to continue through Saturday (May 25). Sure enough, a few cautions within the final 30 laps of the 200-lap race allowed the No. 17 crew to put on fresh, sticker tires.

That’s what set Elliott above the rest by the end of the race. Well, that and clean air.

It also helped that some of his stronger competitors ran into trouble, but Elliott still showed the grit that those who started at the front may not have had. It’s not easy to drive through traffic, but when you have a good team like Hendrick, you can be confident in your equipment, your spotter and your crew. Of course, a Cup win in Elliott’s book this season also helped his own confidence.

It could’ve been a near-perfect day for JRM had Allgaier not made a mistake late. But the team does have a lot to be thankful for this weekend, with three of its drivers taking positions second through fourth.

Jones has had a good couple of races, earning two straight top 10s at Darlington Raceway and Charlotte. It’s a huge confidence booster for the Atlanta, Ga., native, who finished outside the top 10 from Circuit of the Americas through Dover Motor Speedway. His best finish during that span was a 13th at Texas Motor Speedway.

Smith is in a similar boat as Jones, as he had three consecutive results of 21st or worst entering Charlotte. The young Iowa native is still searching for his first win of the season but this third-place finish shows he’s on the right track.

Mayer’s first part of the season is either really strong, or he crashes. But lately, he’s been on a better run, earning a win and five top fives in the last six races. At Texas, he edged out Ryan Sieg in one of the closest finishes in Xfinity history. Then Saturday (May 25), at another 1.5-mile track, he leads the majority of laps before ultimately coming home fourth.

The Wisconsinite has quietly been one of the drivers who’s shown he could contend in the playoffs, based on his finishes. If Mayer can rack up stage points more, that will help him be able to move through the first two rounds and give him a better chance to be one of the Championship 4 drivers.

Allmendinger’s top five was good, but I’d like to highlight his Kaulig Racing teammate Josh Williams, who earned his second top 10 of the season. He qualified 36th, so to finish in eighth place is quite an accomplishment and much-needed for the 30-year-old driver from Florida. After finishing in the 20s for the previous three weeks, Williams’ run at Charlotte could spark a fire inside him to perform well in future races.

Some other drivers worthy of a shoutout are Sieg (who finished seventh), Kyle Weatherman (11th), Jeremy Clements (13th), Parker Retlaff (14th) and Shane van Gisbergen (15th).

Lastly, one of the unconventional winners this week is the Driver’s Only broadcast, which had its last run in the Xfinity Series (for the next several years on FOX Sports, at least). The Cup drivers consisted of Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones (announcers), Carson Hocevar, Josh Berry (pit reporters), Brad Keselowski and Austin Cindric (studio).

While I do think Logano was more of a color commentator than a play-by-play, they all did really well. Hocevar and Berry were great on pit road for their Driver’s Only debut. The former, in particular, really impressed me. Hocevar was very professional when reporting the crews on pit road and had some good vocal projection that was steady.

The broadcast, which featured drivers since 2017, will be missed. I hope it is picked up or continued for at least the Truck races in the future, as that was one of the highlights of the season for me. I still remember Blaney interviewing Keselowski after he won the Xfinity race at Pocono Raceway, and Keselowski doing the same in victory lane the next day when Blaney won his first Cup race.

If it’s not continued, that would be a shame. Hopefully it will.

Losers

On the other end of the results (the very far end), we have a driver who just can’t seem to have any luck.

Is it Allgaier? Well, yes, but more on him later.

I’m talking about Riley Herbst. He only ran 29 laps before getting crashed after contact with AJ Allmendinger.

“He just got in my left-rear and hooked me,” Herbst said after the race.

Aside from a second at Talladega Superspeedway and a seventh at Darlington, the No. 98 has been lucky to even finish in the top 15 in the races since Phoenix Raceway. I mean, it’s not that his team hasn’t had pace, as he’s started in the top 10 in four of the past five events. It’s just that he seems to get in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s not Herbst’s fault, but it definitely is a slump he wants to get out of.

Parker Kligerman is another driver who hasn’t had good runs recently, with Charlotte being the worst. This accident didn’t actually appear as bad on camera, but perhaps the way he hit the wall and slid caused something to break.

“Tough day,” Kligerman said on X. “Car was a handful and I lost it in 3&4. Haven’t done that in a long time – very angry with myself. But mistakes are a part of life & racing.

“Met a lot of great fans this weekend, who were really kind. Thanks for your support – we’ll bounce back stronger.”

A handful is probably the common word for this weekend at Charlotte. Several cars spun out in qualifying and more in the race itself. Unfortunately, Kligerman’s spin left him with a 37th. He’ll look to bounce back on some road courses in the next few races.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Sheldon Creed was frustrated after getting out of the race due to a possible broken brake rotor. The results stated he had an oil cooler issue, so I’m not sure exactly what happened to the No. 18. Either way, it was a damper to his good runs he had since Martinsville Speedway. Still, Creed has earned four top 10s in the past six races and sits eighth in the standings. He has a lot to look forward to as he heads to the middle portion of the season.

Man, just when I think the bad luck left Allgaier after he won Darlington, it rears its head again. I mean, this time he made a bad judgement call — he wasn’t clear when he tried to slide up in front of Ty Gibbs — but still, it’s his second result in the 30s in the last four events.

My colleague Steve Leffew wrote a column detailing how Allgaier’s Lady Luck in the early part of the season caused him to lose 100 points.

The speed is there, the strength of the veteran driver is there. Now all Allgaier needs is to just finish and avoid problems. Easier said than done.

See also
'He Tried to Kill Me on the Backstretch': Cole Custer Furious After Austin Hill Dumps Him

Now, about the elephant in the room. What is up with Austin Hill lately? I mean, he kept giving the finger to Smith during a battle in the teens, and then later, he shoved and turned Cole Custer, causing him to crash in the wall. Both drivers are definitely losers in this battle, which leads me to…

Fuel for Thought

… just what is NASCAR doing?

A week after penalizing Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and two crewmembers (and his dad) for the fracas at North Wilkesboro Speedway, NASCAR doesn’t penalize Hill.

Not only that, they don’t even call him to the hauler.

He used his car as a weapon when he rammed and continued ramming into the No. 00 until Custer spun and crashed. This also brought out the caution, which (for some odd reason) NASCAR held while the two were still slow and stuck against the wall together.

Will Hill be issued a penalty this week?

Honestly, I don’t know. NASCAR seems to do things inconsistently.

But for something like this, there needed to be a penalty, especially in the race. He should’ve been held a lap (if he was, the TV didn’t mention).

Yes, Hill apologized, but that doesn’t mean that Custer doesn’t have a wrecked racecar that his team needs to work on at the shop.

If Hill isn’t on the penalty report this week, then NASCAR needs to take another long, hard look at their policies and procedures.

Where to Next

Next week the Xfinity drivers head to the West Coast for some road course racing at Portland International Raceway. Allmendinger won the inaugural race in 2022, while Custer took the win last season.

Coverage begins on Saturday, June 1 at 4:30 p.m. ET and airs on FOX Sports 1 and the Motor Racing Network.

About the author

Joy Tomlinson

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 watching motorsports 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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sb

Austin Hill has exhibited behavior that I find less than appealing. The way he treated Sheldon Creed, the things he said…he’s nota very nice person.

Carl D.

Austin Hill is a talented driver. Unfortunately he’s a bit of a jerk. I’m not a fan.

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