The NASCAR Xfinity Series crowns a new Champion today at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Championship contenders Cole Custer(00) and Christopher Bell(20) start on the front row. The other 2 drivers racing for the title, Tyler Reddick(9) and Daniel Hemric(21) start 4th and 10th respectively.
Custer won this race last year in dominating fashion, leading 182 of the 200 laps. However, last year he was not in the Championship 4. Every other driver here knows he is the car to beat.
In a sideline to the main story this weekend, Elliott Sadler is making his final NASCAR start. The veteran driver has won in all 3 of NASCAR’s premier series. Sadler announced his retirement earlier this year. He starts today in the 7th position and is the sentimental favorite to end his career with a win.
Bell spun his tires on the drop of the green flag, holding up the bottom row as they crossed the start-finish line. That allowed Custer to drive off into Turn 1 with the lead. With 10 laps to go in Stage 1, Custer held a 1.6-second lead, Reddick ran 2nd and Hemric 3rd. Bell, struggling after the poor start, ran back in 6th place.
Stage 1 ended with Custer out front and Hemric passing Reddick for the 2nd spot. Custer put half of the 40 car field a lap down after the first segment of the race.
Christopher Bell’s crew took a big swing with the car setup during the Stage ending caution flag. Tire pressure and wedge adjustments hoped to bring Bell back to the front. The changes worked, as Bell battled John Hunter Nemechek(42) for the 2nd spot through most of Stage 2.
Custer led all 45 laps of Stage 2. Nemechek finished 2nd, just ahead of Bell and Hemric. The question now becomes, can anyone break Custer’s stranglehold on the top spot?
The Final Stage
Nemechek and Bell both beat Custer off pit road. For the first time today there is a new leader. Hemric lines up in 4th. The restart could be a defining moment in this race. Nemechek led on the restart, Custer moved to second before the field raced back to the start/finish line.
Custer does not need to win the race to win the Championship. So, trailing Nemechek is not a major concern. All 4 Championship contenders line up 2nd through 5th as the race to the checkered flag commences. Elliott Sadler remains in the top 10 but does not appear to have the speed to produce a magical moment to top off his final race.
Will it be a caution flag or green flag pit stops that determine the outcome of the Championship race?
Green Flag Pit Stops
Christopher Bell was the first Championship contender to pit. His stop on Lap 141 brought Tyler Reddick in one lap later. Race leader Nemechek pitted on Lap 146, as did Hemric. Custer finally pitted on Lap 147.
When all the Championship contenders returned to the track Reddick was the leader. Bell ran 2nd, Custer ran 4th just behind Nemechek, and Hemric sat back in 8th. Pitting 5 laps later than Reddick cost Custer dearly. With 50 laps to go, he was 8 seconds down to the leader Reddick.
Another New Leader
Christopher Bell took the lead on Lap 155. With 45 laps to go Custer had cut the lead to under 3 seconds. With 40 to go Custer passed Nemechek for 3rd. At the front Reddick battled with Bell for the top spot. With 37 to go Reddick took the lead.
As the challenge for the lead went back and forth Custer closed on the front 2. He passed Bell with 36 to go and set his sights on the #9 car. With 25 laps to go Reddick had put Custer back to 3 seconds down. Reddick, rim-riding inches from the wall all the way around the track, was in a groove. Could he hold on to the finish? Would a pit miscue cost Custer, the dominant car all day, a Championship?
With 15 laps to go Reddick had built the lead to over 5 seconds. With 10 laps to go Christopher Bell saw his Championship hopes disappear as he had a tire go down and was forced to pit. A bump with the wall led to Bell’s misfortune. Reddick had brushed the wall several times over his closing run. He had to be wondering if the same fate would befall his race car.
Flawless to the checkered flag, Reddick continued the underdog upset theme of the Championship weekend. His margin of victory, almost 7 seconds. The time that Cole Custer’s team let slip away by pitting 5 laps after Reddick.
Celebrating the Victory
Reddick’s crew handed him the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship flag for his burnout. The positioning of the flagpole allowed the flag to droop over the left rear quarter panel. It got caught up in the right rear wheel, wrapped around the tire and destroyed the composite quarter panel.
That was not the only damage to the car as pictures from victory lane showed the evidence of how close Reddick was running to the outside wall of the track.
In the Media Center after the race, winning team owners Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelly Earnhardt Miller credited crew chief Dave Elenz with formulating the winning pit stop strategy. They also praised Elliott Sadler for his contributions to the organization. Elliott finished 14th, 1 lap down.
Results of the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway
|3||42||John Hunter Nemechek||12.859||200|
|26||8||Tommy Joe Martins||-5||195|