BRISTOL, TN- Erik Jones kept his cool after receiving a penalty for speeding on pit road in Saturday’s Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 but didn’t hold back when given the opportunity to take the lead 21 laps from the finish.
Jones bumped past Ryan Blaney then held off the competition after a restart three laps from the finish to repeat as winner of the spring NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“To come back from the pit road penalty like that, especially with not much green flag racing, was a lot of fun,” said Jones, who has now won the past two XFINITY Series races this season. “It’s a race I won’t forget for a long time.”
Blaney finished second for the third time this season in the No. 22 Ford. Daniel Suarez, Elliott Sadler and rookie Daniel Hemric also finished in the top five.
Saturday’s race was the second Dash 4 Cash race of the season, and Hemric collected the $100,000 bonus with a fifth place finish in the No. 21 Chevrolet.
The three other XFINITY Series regulars who earned a chance at the bonus through their finishes in Stages 1 and 2 were caught up in incidents that contributed to a messy final stage.
Justin Allgaier finished 14th, Cole Custer finished 32nd, and Brendan Gaughan finished 35th.
“When the 00 (Custer) and the 7 (Allgaier) fell back and the 62 (Gaughan) had his problems, it put us in a really good spot,” said Hemric, who was looking for his first career XFINITY Series victory. “At that point, it was being aware of the situation I was in but obviously we were running second and third there at times and had a shot to win the race. I can promise if you win the race you’ll definitely win the Dash 4 Cash. That’s what our ultimate goal was. I hate that we came up short of that but (Jones) had an incredible run from his penalty to come back to win.”
The race was slowed by nine cautions, including five in the final stage, and two red flags. Weather caused the first stoppage of 1 hour, 38 minutes with 162 laps complete.
Kyle Larson started from the pole, won the first stage under caution and his 180 laps led were the most of any driver. He lined up third on a restart with 34 laps remaining but faded due to a problem with his right rear tire and wound up seventh.
Jones was penalized for speeding on pit road and restarted 15th with 65 laps remaining.
“If you would have told me that we were going to win the race, I would have told you you were crazy,” said Chris Gabehart, crew chief for Jones and the No. 20 Toyota team.
Added Jones: “We had an okay car all day. I felt like if we would have got out front and got some clean air maybe we could hold those guys off. The 42 (Larson) was really fast all day. But other than that, getting the speeding penalty, I didn’t really think we had any shot of winning. We just kept getting restarts in the right spot. We kept restarting up top and got a quick caution right after we got sent to the tail end for the penalty. It got us lined back up in our running order. Two quick cautions got us up to eighth and all of a sudden we were fourth.”
Jones lined up fourth on a restart with 23 laps remaining and quickly closed on Blaney. The decisive pass occurred as both drove into Turn 1.
“I pinched him a little bit the corner before that,” Blaney said. “We were kind of messed up on momentum there. It was close getting into Turn 1 and I tried to get in pretty deep and clear myself to try to regain our composure and go back again. He got in there hard as well and we made contact. That’s hard racing. I pushed the issue. You take a chance of trying to clear somebody right there and sometimes it just doesn’t work out for you.”
Jones nudged the left rear bumper of Blaney’s car and the contact upset Blaney’s handling and he drifted out of racing groove, allowing Jones to take the lead.
A caution on Lap 292 of 300 set up the final restart. Jones chose the high lane with Suarez next to him in the low lane. Jones executed a flawless restart and earned the victory by 0.344 of a second over Blaney.
Larson won the opening stage and Hemric won the second stage.
Hemric was in position to qualify for the Dash 4 Cash bonus in the final stage when weather brought out the first red flag. It was lifted 98 minutes later and all but five drivers made pit stops under caution. The strategy: stay out for a chance at the two remaining Dash 4 Cash spots. Hemric led the final two laps of the stage followed by Blaney. As the next highest XFINITY regular, Gaughan grabbed the fourth and final Dash 4 Cash spot.
In all, seven different drivers led Saturday and there were 15 lead changes.
Courtesy: Bristol Motor Speedway