It was undoubtedly another great race in the NXS Service King 300 on Saturday. The bumpy Auto Club Speedway in Fontana led to incredible battles and jaw dropping skill being displayed as drivers fought to earn crucial points for the Championship.
The Cup Series drivers might have showed early domination, but right on their coat tails were the Xfinity Series regulars who were putting up a good fight for crucial points. The no.18 for Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch started way back in 16th. However, following a strong start he had barged his way up to 9th – By lap 20 he was 4th. Ahead of him, the no.22 for Team Penske Joey Logano led by 2.78 seconds, with Hemric and Custer in 2nd and 3rd. A mere two laps later, Kyle Busch was 2nd and his team mate in the no.19 car Erik Jones followed suit in getting past Hemric for the 3rd spot.
Just when fans were resigning themselves to a Cup Series led race, the no.9 of Matt Tifft span out after getting loose whilst trying to pass the no.6 car of Bubba Wallace for 17th position. With only 6 laps to go in Stage 1, the yellow caution flag was out and teams had an important decision – to pit, or not to pit. Crew chiefs made the crucial call that saw all the leaders head down the pit road with only 4 laps of Stage 1 to go.
Logano’s win out of pits was short-lived though, as NASCAR issued a penalty for his speeding in all of the segments. Logano was adamant that he had stayed under and it ended up being a collaboration issue with his car and the speed shown on his dash. Either way, he was restarting from the back and the no.44 for TriStar Motorsports, Yeley would be on the pole after deciding not to pit. Upon the restart with just one lap to go for Stage 1, Yeley’s old tyres showed their age as he dropped right back to 24th. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch won Stage 1 with Elliott Sadler in 2nd along with four other Xfinity Series regulars behind him within the top 10.
The beginning of Stage 2 saw the majority of cars stay out following their recent trip down pit road. Back to green on lap 7 of 35, the restart was incredibly aggressive and no.42 for Chip Ganassi Racing Kyle Larson shoved past Sadler and Kyle Busch to take the lead. Meanwhile, Logano was working his way up the field at a devastating pace – taking him from 35th to 7th in just four laps. It was interesting to see him do this whilst using the bottom of the track, compared to everyone else who were opting to run high.
Back at the front of the field and the two Kyle’s were putting on a good show in their quest to lead the race. On lap 13, Kyle Busch came out as top dog over Kyle Larson and pushed ahead with a 1 second lead. Logano continued to weave his way towards the front, and by lap 20, he was 2nd. Kyle Busch persevered through the rest of Stage 2 and ended up victorious. Just behind him was Logano, followed by Erik Jones, Larson, Sadler, Ty Dillon, Menard, Custer, Poole, and Byron. That totalled four Xfinity Series regulars in the top 10 – earning them Stage points.
The start of Stage 3 restarted with 78 laps to go. Larson had been sent to the rear for speeding on the pit road and the no.2 for Richard Childress Racing Paul Menard followed suit due to too many pit crew members being over the wall for the stop. There was some astonishing racing following the restart, with drivers daring to race five wide on the precarious Fontana track. It was chaos. Logano took the lead with Kyle Busch following and the no. 9 for JR Motorsports William Bryon taking 3rd place. It wasn’t for long though, as the caution flag came out with 69 laps to go due to the no.4 of Ross Chastain receiving some contact.
Back to green and Logano and Busch – known for their recent pit road scuffle in Las Vegas – both engaged in a nail-biting battle for first, which eventually saw Logano come out on top. Only 6 laps after the restart however, Menard was in 4th position when Erik Jones caught the back-right hand side of his car in error, not realising Menard was crossing up to the top of the track. We heard Jones say on the radio “it was my bad I guess” showing that it was clearly not intentional. Menard’s car caught fire and the 5th caution of the day came into force. Once he was released from the Infield Care Centre, Menard was interviewed by Jamie Little about the incident and he left us with this gem: “He had a brain fart.”
Meanwhile, everyone decided to take to the pits. This visit was a disaster for Logano. His car fell off the jack and the team were unable to get it back under the car. With a nod from NASCAR officials, his pit crew were permitted to bring in a second jack to get his car lifted up again. The whole incident was costly for Logano and he ended up rejoining back in 26th, barely staying on the lead lap. This clearly wasn’t an issue for Logano though because two laps into the restart with 44 laps to go, he had galloped back into the top 10.
The no.00 car for Stewart-Haas Racing Cole Custer was the cause for the next caution flag to come out a little while later. Drivers took the opportunity to pit once more. Kyle Busch stayed out, Logano restarted 3rd and the remaining eight drivers in the top 10 were Series regulars. With 36 to go, Busch led for four laps until Logano snatched it off him again. Behind them, Larson was now 3rd. Busch dropped back a couple of spots, which briefly put Larson in 2nd until he took control of the lead position with only 17 laps left.
The final caution of the day was brought out with only 9 laps to go. No.33 for Richard Childress Racing Brandon Jones was 12th when his tires went down. It was going to be a shootout to the finish. Anything could happen.
Drivers took this last caution as a chance to pit and Larson managed to keep hold of the precious top spot with Logano and Busch close behind. The battles going on on the track were jaw dropping, and it really was every driver for himself following the restart. With an undoubtedly fast car and great skill though, Kyle Larson prevailed in holding off Logano and so the Californian native won the NXS Service King 300 race in Fontana, California.
Speaking after the race, Larson said:
“I wish that last caution wouldn’t have come out, because it would have been easier for me to win, I think. But a heck of a race. I honestly didn’t think we would be here yesterday. I was struggling bad in practice.”
– Kyle Larson
Not only that, but he had to fight through adversity after struggles in practice and come back from the in-race speeding penalty.
The final top ten ended up as: Larson, Logano, Busch, Erik Jones, Byron, Bubba, Sadler, Poole, Allagaier and Ty Dillon. So whilst the cup guys put on a good show of dominance again in this Xfinity race, it can’t be denied that those Xfinity Series regulars are definitely a force to be reckoned with, as five of them made up the final top ten. It’s great to see, and they continue to show real talent and real promise.