Cole Custer dominated to win Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, earning his first Xfinity Series victory, as William Byron finished third to clinch his first Xfinity championship.
Byron, 19, clinched the championship and the Rookie of the Year award by finishing ahead of teammates Elliott Sadler (eighth) and Justin Allgaier (12th).
Byron passed Sadler for good with six laps to go after the drivers battled closely for the top spot among the Championship 4 contenders for much of the last 50 laps.
“I don’t think I breathed for the last 20 laps, that was incredible,” Byron told NBCSN. “(Sadler) raced me clean. We raced hard for it. I can’t believe this. I just got to thank God for giving me this platform to perform. I can’t believe this. I’m tired.”
Sadler’s chances of getting back by his teammate were ruined when he made contact with the left rear of Ryan Preece soon after he had been passed by Byron. The contact got Preece sideways and caused Sadler to get into the wall.
Byron’s title is the first championship for JR Motorsports since Chase Elliott‘s in 2014.
Daniel Hemric‘s chances at a title disappeared on Lap 61 when he visited pit road for a battery problem. The Richard Childress Racing driver returned to the track 12 laps later. Until he was passed by Byron on Lap 54, he was the highest running championship driver. Hemric finished 34th.
Custer’s victory comes in his 38th series start. The win is also the first Xfinity victory for Stewart-Haas Racing.
The 19-year-old driver led 182 of the 200 laps, a series-high at the track.
“I haven’t done that in a while,” Custer told NBCSN in Victory Lane. “We definitely had something to prove this weekend. We were so close to making (the Championship 4) last weekend. … Our Haas Automation Ford was unreal. We really wanted to have a good showing on Ford Championship weekend, even though we weren’t in it.”
WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Sam Hornish Jr. finished second for his third top five in six starts this season … Pole-sitter Tyler Reddick finished fourth in his last start with Chip Ganassi Racing … Ryan Preece finished fifth in his fourth start of the year. He placed in the top five in all four races … Ty Majeski finished 10th in his third start of the year for Roush Fenway Racing. It’s his first top 10.
WHO HAD A BAD DAY: A day after winning the Truck Series title, Christopher Bell finished 36th after losing his engine on Lap 78 … Ryan Reed finished 20th after being issued a penalty on the initial start of the race.
NOTABLE: Sam Hornish Jr.’s runner-up finish helped Team Penske clinch the owner’s championship … William Byron finished his rookie season tied with Erik Jones (2016) for the second most wins by a rookie with four.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “To be honest with you, if there’s a person you don’t want to cost a championship to it’s Elliott Sadler.” – Ryan Preece
Justin Allgaier ‘in the best place mentally’ a year after disappointing title finish
The biggest disappointment of Justin Allgaier‘s NASCAR career has turned into “the best thing that’s ever happened” to it.
It only took “about a week” for the 31-year-old driver to accept that.
The JR Motorsports’ driver is one of the four competing for the Xfinity Series title in today’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
It was in this race a year ago that Allgaier was within arm’s reach of a possible championship, his first in NASCAR.
But it was snatched away on the final restart.
With three laps to go, Allgaier restarted in the third row on the outside. In front of him was fellow championship driver Erik Jones. In front of Jones was Cole Whitt in a car normally found toward the back of the pack. Whitt had not pit under the caution because his team had used up its tire allotment.
At the green flag, Whitt spun his tires and backed-up the outside lane. That allowed Elliott Sadler and Daniel Suarez to get separation from Allgaier and Jones and race each other for the win and championship, which Suarez claimed.
Before Allgaier could come to terms with anything positive from the experience, he spent the following week just wanting to be left alone.
“If I could have locked myself in a dark room and not talk(ed) to anyone, I’d have been perfectly okay with that,” Allgaier said Thursday during the NASCAR championship media day in Miami Beach, Florida.
Allgaier got back in touch with those year-old feelings this week when he watched a replay of the race while flying to Florida.
“It still bugs me that we didn’t have a shot because of somebody else’s decision,” Allgaier said.
But Allgaier views the end of the 2016 race through a wiser lens. One where he accepts there’s only so much he can do in a 200-lap race against 39 other drivers.
“What if I had broken a transmission or run into the wall a little bit too hard on one of those times that I got (into) the wall like 37 times in the race last year and cut a tire?” Allgaier said. “What if a meteor fell out of the sky? … There’s so many things that, when you have 40 competitors on the racetrack every week, there’s so many things that can happen that are out of your control.”
His attitude has been helped by the best year of his career. Allgaier enters the championship race with a career-best two wins – including at his home track Chicagoland Speedway.
Allgaier also leads all Xfinity regulars with 497 laps led.
“I look at 2017 as we have done everything we can do up to this point,” Allgaier said. “We’ve had the best race cars I’ve ever had. We’ve had great pit stops. We’ve got guys that work together on the race team that are incredible. I feel like for me personally I’m in the best shape of my life, on and off the track. I’m in the best place mentally.
“And at the end of the day, no matter what happens on Saturday night, I know that we have the best product on the racetrack and we’re in the best position we can be. And if it doesn’t work, it’s not because we weren’t in the right spot or because we didn’t do things right. It’s because circumstances are out of our control. And that’s taken so much pressure off of me this year.”
All three JRM drivers will be seeking their first NASCAR title. Sadler is looking for redemption after finishing second in the standings last year, the third time he’s been runner-up in his career.
Sadler spoke with Marty Snider at NASCAR championship media day.
Sadler said what worries him the most about the race that he can’t control drivers in the race that are not a regular presence in the series.
“There’s a lot of new guys in the race this weekend that don’t really have a lot to race for,” Sadler said. “What I mean by that is they’re not really racing for a championship. They’re just racing to get noticed, they’re racing to get their name out. So I have to know whose in those particular cars. A lot of them are in fast cars. So they’re going to be up in the middle of everything.”
Sadler said he think he’ll win the title because his team is the most prepared.
Watch the above video for the full interview and watch interviews with Byron and Allgaier below.
Justin Allgaier’s car fails post-race inspection, expected to lose crew chief for title race
Justin Allgaier‘s No. 7 Chevrolet failed post-race inspection after he finished 10th at Phoenix Raceway and clinched a spot in next week’s championship race.
Allgaier’s car was found to have a brake cooling hose unattached. That is a L1 infraction. The minimum penalty for it would be a 10-point deduction and a one-race suspension for crew chief Jason Burdett. The points deduction would not impact Allgaier’s placement in the championship race.
NASCAR announced after the race that the No. 7 team would be given a L1 penalty and it is likely to be those minimum standards.