Christopher Bell passed teammate Erik Jones for the lead with four laps left in the Kansas Lottery 300, withstood contact from behind by Jones and claimed his first career Xfinity Series win.
Bell, driving the No. 18 Toyota, won in his fifth career start. It comes in the opening race of the second round of the playoffs.
Bell passed Jones in Turn 3 and drifted up to the wall as they exited Turn 4, where Jones then ran into him.
“I haven’t seen it so I can’t really talk much about it,” Bell told NBC. “But I never want to wreck anyone, especially my teammate. I don’t know. My spotter said clear, I drove it in really deep. I felt like I cleared him (watches replay). I don’t know man, I was clear. It’s my first Xfinity win. I’m sorry that Erik couldn’t finish the race. But I’m just stoked. This thing was awesome.”
Jones dominated the race until the pass by Bell. Jones led 186 of 200 laps and swept the first two stages. He finished 15th, one lap down due to damage from running into the back of Bell.
“It’s not dirt racing, he (wasn’t) clear,” Jones told NBC. “I can’t just stop on the top. I didn’t expect him to drive in on the bottom so far he wouldn’t be able to hold his lane. It’s unfortunate. … I thought we were going to race for the win. Unfortunately there wasn’t much of a race. It was more of a wreck.”
Jones has not finished better than 15th in his last four Xfinity starts.
It is the first win for Joe Gibbs Racing since Denny Hamlin won at Darlington Raceway, a five-race stretch. JGR has won 11 Xfinity races this season.
Bell, 22, is a full-time driver in the Camping World Truck Series. He will race full-time for JGR in the Xfinity Series next year.
WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Elliott Sadler finished seventh after bouncing back from a spin in Turn 4 on Lap 77 and a pit penalty … Tyler Reddick gave the No. 42 Chevrolet its fourth top-two finish in the last five races … William Byron finished fourth and Matt Tifft placed eighth after both had to start from the rear for unapproved adjustments.
WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Daniel Hemric finished 18th, a lap down after receiving a penalty for pitting outside his box … Blake Koch finished 23rd, four laps down after getting into the wall with about 35 laps to go … Cole Custer finished 19th, two laps down after pitting for a bad tire with less than five laps to go.
NOTABLE: The 186 laps led by Erik Jones are his most in 75 career Xfinity starts … The cars of Matt Tifft and Ryan Blaney each had one unsecured lug nut after the race. Any penalties will be announced later in the week.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I just don’t think that’s the way to do it. I get that (Christopher Bell) was clear. He wasn’t clear for the run I was having on the top. I was in the gas. There was no way I could slow up enough to let him. It’s just unfortunate. It took me out of the race. … I just don’t really appreciate that. I don’t think many people will.’’ – Erik Jones
WHAT’S NEXT: O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway at 8:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 4 on NBCSN
In February, Casey Mears did what he had done for most of the last 14 years. He traveled to Daytona to participate in media day for NASCAR’s Speedweeks.
Then he left.
For the first time since 2003, Mears had no part in NASCAR’s on-track festivities building up to and including the Daytona 500. The “odd” circumstances were a result of Mears’ seven-year relationship with Germain Racing ending at the end of 2016.
The winner of the 2007 Coke 600 and a veteran of 488 Cup starts waited until the March 25 Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway for his first track action of 2017. Mears has since competed in 12 races for Biagi DenBeste Racing in the No. 98 Ford and will end the year with the races at Phoenix and Miami.
The schedule has provided him his most free time since his days driving Indy Lights.
“It was definitely tough at the beginning of the year to watch the races and not being a part of them,” Mears told NBC Sports. “Just out of, what do I want to say, repetitiveness. Just so many years of going every single weekend and then all of a sudden not going was definitely an adjustment for sure. The flip side of that is that it’s been a good thing. I’ve had a lot of time. … Even though I have a passion for racing and would still get right back in it at a full season opportunity again if the opportunity came around. But knowing that it hasn’t for this year, it’s been fun to take advantage of the time I do have.
“I’ve gotten to make a lot of my kid’s games and tournaments. My kids are involved in gymnastics and soccer and basketball and all those kind of things. Actually being home for some weekends and getting to watch some of their games and be a part of that stuff has been really enjoyable. But it’s been adjustment for sure.”
The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.
NBC Sports: How was your Global Rally Cross experience last weekend? Was that the first time you’ve done that?
Mears: I really enjoyed that. … When the series was first trying to get rolling, they did some events at Loudon and at Charlotte, kind of on the front stretch and then in the infield during our race weekends when we were racing Cup. I was exposed to it a little bit then. Years ago I entered the Race of Champions over in Spain (in 2003). I got to drive a Peugeot for a couple of laps, which is a world rally car there. … I’ve been looking at that series talking to those guys about possibly getting involved, and I just wanted to go out to California last week. It was their last race of the year. … It seems like the series really has some legs and starting to take off. … It seems like there’s a lot of IndyCar car guys, open-wheel guys that are involved that series right now. Not just drivers, but team owners. Michael Andretti, Bryan Herta. Those guys are all involved. And when I look around at a lot of the teams, they’re all guys I worked with in the past on my Indy Lights teams and IndyCar programs I drove for. … It was kind of a big reunion in a lot of ways of catching up with people I hadn’t seen in quite a while.
NBC Sports: What was the first NASCAR race you ever attended?
Mears: The very first NASCAR race, that was sanctioned by NASCAR, would have to be when my dad (Roger Mears) did the Truck Series. The very first year that Truck Series started my dad was a part of that. He ran a handful of races (four points races). I want to say the very first (exhibition) race was at Mesa Marin in Bakersfield, California, where I grew up. I was at the very first ever Truck race at Mesa Marin.
NBC Sports: What do you remember about that?
Mears: My dad was involved so a lot of my memories revolve around the team and the program that he was trying to put together. I remember helping him build the truck. I remember as a younger guy building the floorboards for the truck and the foot rests and a lot of stuff in the interior. Just because from a driver standpoint that was the stuff I was most familiar with at the time and I was pretty young. … I had to be probably 12, 13 years old.
NBC Sports: How did you go from open-wheel racing to stock cars? What prompted it?
Mears: What really drove it was the state of open-wheel racing at the time. At that moment, open-wheel racing was in a flux at best. I had done the Indy Lights thing, had won races and finished (second) one year in the championship and (third) the following year in the championship and it was really time for me to move on and go to that next level. I started dabbling in some IndyCar races. I did a race for Bobby Rahal and filled in for Alex Zanardi when he had a big accident in Germany. He lost his legs there. I ended up filling in for him for the remainder of the season. … I was sitting there trying to decide which was going to be the right way to go. I didn’t know if CART was going to be the future in IndyCar or if it was going to be IRL. Nobody really knew it. Randomly, I had a guy call me that was involved in a program in North Carolina, which was a Busch Series team at the time. It was Welliver-Jesel Racing. Welliver had been involved in the sport for quite awhile. Wayne Jesel was just getting involved and wanted to do an engine program and have a race team. A silent partner who was involved in the IndyCar side of things at that point said, ‘Hey, what are you doing next year? Would you like to come back and start stock car racing?’ The more I thought about it, my dad already moved back in 2000 and was a shop foreman for Chip Ganassi and his stock car program. He kept telling me how much was going on back east and how many teams there were and all the racing that was happening. ‘You got to get back here and check it out.’ All those things combined made me make a decision to go ahead and try it.
NBC Sports: What about stock car racing appealed to you that other forms of racing you’d been in couldn’t provide?
Mears: That’s a good question. Because I loved open-wheel racing and I still do. The cars are very fun to drive, I definitely have a passion for it based on my family’s history and the people that I knew. The stock car thing was really foreign to me. … The one thing I learned that I enjoyed about stock car racing that I didn’t know that I was going to like was the short tracks. It took me awhile to get the hang of them because they were probably the thing that was most different from anything I’d ever done before. Probably my third year in stock car racing the one thing I really enjoyed about it was how diverse all the tracks were.
NBC Sports: Where is your Coke 600 trophy? Where does it sit now?
Mears: Right now it’s in my office in my house.
NBC Sports: How often do you stop and look at that?
Mears: You know you get used to it being there and not often. I think that’s what trophies are kind of cool for, right? You get used to having them and over time and it’s another piece of equipment in your house. But what’s cool about having a couple of them on display is that every now and then somebody sees it and wants to ask about it. It helps you relive those cool moments from your life. Every now and then a friend comes over or somebody new comes to the house and asks about em’. It’s sitting right next to the (2006) 24 Hours of Daytona win (trophy) and a win I had in Houston in Indy Lights. It’s just cool to have. It was a very special moment in my life. I think in my long career in NASCAR I obviously didn’t accumulate a lot of wins. I have the one for winning in Charlotte, so it’s definitely a special moment.
NBC Sports: What’s your dream car?
Mears: I lived my dream for a little while. I can tell you that. I had a sand car, I know it’s not a vehicle you drive on a road. I had a sand car that had about 1,300 horsepower. Out of anything I’ve driven outside of motorsports, it’s the most fun thing I’ve ever driven. Horsepower-wise, handling, the whole scene of going out to the sand dunes and ripping around the sand dunes and a camp fire at night. That whole thing. That’s probably the most fun car I’ve ever had.
NBC Sports: If you could have a one-on-one matchup with any driver past or present on any track in any form of car, what would the arrangement be?
Mears: I would love to go head-to-head with my dad in an off-road event. Like the stadium trucks we used to race in the Mickey Thompson off-road stuff. About the time I was old enough to start moving up into the Truck Series was about the time the Mickey Thompson series kind of fell apart and I ended up going open-wheel racing. My brother and my dad raced against each other for years doing that stuff. He’s one of the guys I respect the most in the sport and it would just be a blast. It would probably never happen at this point in our careers, in our lives. But that’s something I would love to do.
NBC Sports: With Halloween coming up, what’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever had?
Mears: Last year or the year before my wife (Trisha) and I dressed up. I dressed up as Clark Griswold and she dressed up as Christie Brinkley from the Vacation movie. That was pretty fun.
NASCAR penalized an Xfinity Series playoff team Wednesday, but it won’t affect its points position entering the Round of 8 that begins next week at Kansas Speedway.
Matt Tifft’s No. 19 Toyota was docked 10 drivers and owners points for being found too low after finishing ninth Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The deduction is applied after the Round of 12 cutoff race and before the points were reset for the next round. Tifft still advances because he was 16 points ahead of the cutoff line, though the Joe Gibbs Racing driver will be without crew chief Matt Beckman, who was suspended from the next race.
Tifft will begin the next round in eighth place with 3,004 points, 22 behind leader William Byron.
The No. 11 Chevrolet of Blake Koch also was found to be too low, earning a 10-point deduction and one-race suspension for crew chief Chris Rice. Koch already was eliminated from the playoffs after the three-race Round of 12.
Rice and Beckman also were fined $10,000 apiece.
In the Monster Energy Cup Series, NASCAR issued a $10,000 fine to Scott Graves, crew chief for Daniel Suarez, for an unsecure lug nut after Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
NASCAR also announced the indefinite suspension of Dennis O’Connor for violating the substance abuse policy. Crew member Reid T. Ferguson was reinstated from indefinite suspension after completing the Road to Recovery program.
Ryan Reed advances in Xfinity playoffs after intense battle with Brendan Gaughan
CONCORD, North Carolina — Brendan Gaughan could see his playoff stakes in his rear-view mirror and on the scoring pylon.
“I’m a driver that pays attention to things,” Gaughan said. “It’s not like it’s not sitting there in front of my face.”
Ryan Reed was one spot behind him on the track, but one spot ahead of Gaughan in the playoff standings.
Behind Reed was Brandon Jones, Gaughan’s teammate at Richard Childress Racing and his last, best chance to advance to the second round of the Xfinity playoffs. If Jones passed Reed, Gaughan was in.
Those were the stakes for the last 10 laps of Saturday’s rain-delayed race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“I knew (Jones) wanted that spot as bad as I wanted him to not have the spot,” Reed said. “I know him and Brendan are friends. He wanted to give him that gift. But obviously, I raced my guts out. That’s probably the hardest five laps I’ve ever driven in a race car.”
But the gift never arrived.
When the checkered flag fell on the Drive for the Cure 300, Gaughan finished 11th and was eliminated. Reed placed 12th and advanced to the second round for the second time.
Almost 50 laps earlier, Reed thought his night was over.
After a long night of battling Gaughan, Reed’s No. 16 Ford was running 22nd after becoming extremely loose and falling through the field. Gaughan sat 14th.
“Our setup, we would go really free on the long run,” said Reed, who thought he had a top-12 car on short runs. “It’s kind of like a light switch, once we seemed like we got that right rear (tire) at a certain temperature it was just gone.”
Reed was saved by a caution, courtesy of oil left on the track by the No. 52 of Joey Gase with 40 laps to go.
“There’s our gift,” Reed told his team over the radio.
A two-time Daytona winner, the 24-year-old Reed believes playoff races come down to “one or two moments where you’ve got to lay it all out on the line.”
The moment that ensured Reed would advance to the Round of 8 came with 17 to go. Reed was chasing Gaughan in 12th when they both came upon William Byron, who was dropping through the field on older tires after staying out the previous caution.
Exiting Turn 2, Gaughan dove beneath Byron. He left just enough room for Reed to squeeze between them.
“That was my best shot, and I honestly thought I cleared them both,” Reed said. “(Gaughan) did a real gnarly slide job down into (Turn) 3 and he did a heck of a job driving that thing to keep him in front of me.”
But Gaughan couldn’t track down Elliott Sadler for 10th and Jones couldn’t get to Reed.
“Would have loved to have a caution,” Gaughan said. “That would have been awesome to have a late-race restart on that one. I’d have paid money for that.”
A “relieved” Reed and the remaining playoff drivers kick off the Round of 8 on Oct. 21 at Kansas Speedway.
“I’m going to enjoy this off week,” Reed said. “It’s kind of rude what they do honestly the way they schedule an off week. Because if you don’t advance, you’ve got a long time to think about it. So I’m glad I can think about going into Kansas and competing for a championship and having fun.”
Who else had a good race: Sam Hornish Jr. started 31st in just his fifth start of the season. He was up to second at the beginning of the final stage and ran in the top five most of the rest of the night, finishing second. … Brennan Poole placed fifth, ranking as the highest-finishing playoff driver. It marked his third consecutive top-five finish.
Who had a bad race: Blake Koch battled power steering issues, losing a lap before the opening stage ended. He fell a second lap down and never recovered, finishing 25th.… Angela Ruch brought out the first two cautions for incidents and finished 36th. … Justin Allgaier hit a battery from Ruch’s car after her crash and that caused cooling issues. His engine later expired and he finished 33rd. … Spencer Gallagher had a tire go down and it caused too much damage to repair. He finished 34th. … A slow pit stop and then a penalty for an uncontrolled tire in the final 40 laps cost Daniel Suarez a chance for the win. He finished eighth.
Notable: The cars of Matt Tifft and Blake Koch failed inspection after the race. Both cars were too low. The infraction is likely an L1 penalty. A similar infraction earlier this year in the series was a 10-point penalty. Tifft advances to the next round by 16 points, so a 10-p0int penalty wouldn’t alter the eight playoff contenders if that’s the penalty.
Quote of the night: “That’s what you do in playoffs, that’s what the best playoff teams do in any sport no matter who much you’re down, no matter how much you need, you just find a way,’’ Ryan Reed on advancing by one point to the next round of the playoffs.
What’s next: The series is off until Oct. 21 at Kansas Speedway.