The NASCAR Xfinity Series returned to Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday with renewed vigour for another short track race after a couple of weekends off. The Dash for Cash was back on the table and Justin Allgaier would be the man to watch as he raced for the chance to win $1,000,000. With the potential for rain looming over Bristol Motor Speedway’s head, it was looking uncertain as to whether the Fitzgerald Glider Kit 300 race would be completed in full.
Stage 1 took off with Larson, Austin Dillon, Custer, Erik Jones and Allgaier as the top 5, however it was Dillon who took the lead away from Larson for 3 laps, just ahead of Erik Jones. Larson – known for his preference for running the top grooves, was exploring the track early as he shuffled up and off the bottom and it was working. Behind them and the no. 22 of Blaney was nudging the back of the no.7 Allgaier in a display of aggression, before he overtook for 7th on lap 10.
A couple of laps later and Larson was still leading ahead of Jones and Ty Dillon. Family feuds were going on though as the Dillon brothers raced one another for 3rd. The top 5 remained very interchangeable as many drivers were giving it their all. Jones briefly took the lead on lap 20, before Larson got back to the point soon after, with Blaney in 3rd on lap 36.
Determined to hold onto that lead, Larson was doing an amazing job of manoeuvring around lap traffic. Behind him and drivers were making good use of all the track as they were running all sorts of different grooves in order to make their passes.
However, just as we reached a point where it was officially the longest green flag racing this far into the race for 5 years, the no. 14 Ryan Reed brought out the caution. There were a mere 6 laps of the stage left and Reed had completely lost his right front tyre. Hemric obtained the free pass and it didn’t look like green racing would resume before the end of the stage. So, Larson ended up winning the Stage under a yellow flag, and behind him in the top 10 were: Blaney, E Jones, T Dillon Suarez, Custer, A Dillon, Allgaier, Hemric and Sadler. In terms of Xfinity Series regulars and eligible drivers for the Dash For Cash, it was Custer, Allgaier, Hemric and Sadler who all received points and a look in for the money prize.
We were back to green on lap 96 and Larson started from the outside. He steamed ahead, whilst Suarez got up to 2nd on lap 15. Suarez was catching up with Larson on lap 26, as Larson seemed to be a little bit loose. Larson then got really lose with 51 to go in the stage and it looked promising for Suarez, until the caution came out when the no. 07 of Ray Black Jr got up into the wall, and Suarez missed the chance.
We were back to green with 41 to go and Larson rushed ahead of Suarez and Blaney on the restart. Suarez was doing a great job of keeping within just a few tenths of a second behind Larson, whereas Blaney was well over a second behind with 30 to go. Suarez was heard over his radio saying: “I am killing Larson down in 1 and 2.”
However, with only 18 laps left in the Stage, rain started. In a desperate bid to be granted the free pass, Darrell Wallace Jr showed some mean aggression as he plucked the no.48 of Poole out of the way – costing Poole his back bumper. A few laps later and the caution came out for rain 11 to go. Despite what happened between Bubba and Poole it ended up being the no. 46 Quin Houff who got the free pass and Bubba ended up going a lap down.
About 90 minutes later, the race restarted with a newly dried track with 7 laps to go in Stage 2 and everyone started to pit. Some drivers – namely Hemric, Koch, Brandon Jones, Gaughan and Sadler – made the tactical decision not to pit.
We were back to green 2 laps to go in the Stage and Hemric took the lead and ended up winning Stage 2 ahead of Blaney, Gaughan, Suarez, Koch, Larson, Austin Dillon, Brandon Jones and Custer. Evidently, strategy and a good call by their teams meant that staying out worked a treat for Hemric and Gaughan.
The start of stage 3 saw Blaney, Suarez, Larson, A Dillon and Custer cycle to the front whilst everyone else pitted at the end of Stage 2 and we were back racing on lap 178. It was Blaney who jumped into the lead. Behind them, there was some great side by side racing by Hemric next to rookie Custer and Allgaier, with Sadler getting a look in behind.
A few laps later and Suarez took 1st with 113 to go after some aggressive and close driving. Blaney was getting super loose. Despite this, he was doing a good job of blocking Larson who was running in third. Meanwhile, Suarez was establishing a strong lead ahead by over half a second with 108 laps left.
They hit lap traffic with 104 to go and Larson ran up high, whilst the lap traffic was running down low, causing Suarez to lose a little bit of ground. Further back and Clements and Quin had a little bit of contact, but fortunately Quin was able to get ahead and narrowly miss what could have been a disastrous wreck with 100 laps to go.
Larson took the lead back with 96 laps to go, and it seemed like Suarez would have to search around because the bottom groove just wasn’t working for him. Blaney then took 2nd with 93 to go. With 79 laps to go, the caution came out for the no.07 of Ray Black Jr and the no.99 of David Starr. Black Jr got loose on entry and Starr smashed into his front end, leaving fluid on the track. All the leaders took this chance to head down pit road and Erik Jones received a speeding penalty, so he went to the rear.
As the race was beginning to wind down with only 56 laps left to go, the caution came out for Gaughan in the no.62 car. He was running 12th when the no.6 of Darrell Wallace Jr just caught his back left a little bit. This put Gaughan out of the race and ended his chance at winning the Dash for Cash. Speaking over the radio, Bubba merely said “it was 100% my fault.”
The race restarted with 41 to go and Blaney took the outside lane ahead of Suarez and Custer as he hurried away with the lead. Further back, Custer and Brandon Jones made contact but stayed off the wall and didn’t wreck. Behind them, Brandon Jones then did get into the wall after a bit of contact from Larson. Brandon then went down into Custer, which caused a chain reaction resulting in another caution to come out with 40 laps to go. This time it was between Bubba and Garett Smithley in the 0 car. This was also the end of Custer’s day.
The green flag waved with 34 to go and Blaney dominated the restart ahead of Suarez and Hemric. In 4th, Larson seemed to have a right rear tyre rub. Only 4 laps later and another caution came out for the no.4 of Ross Chastain. Larson was probably thanking his lucky stars for the chance to use this caution to get new tyres. Ironically though, he was penalised on pit road and was sent to the rear for the restart which happened with 23 laps of the race left.
This time it was Erik Jones who took 2nd place behind an undeniably quick Blaney. The two then made contact before Erik barged past with an impressive amount of aggression with 21 laps to go. Behind them, Suarez and Hemric were locked in battle with some side by side racing and Suarez took 2nd with 19 to go. Blaney had dropped to 4th.
With only 9 laps left, the caution was to make a reappearance for the no.9 of William Byron. It was his team mate – Justin Allgaier – who had come down into him and span him out. Back to green with 3 laps to go and in a last-ditch attempt, Blaney nudged Erik on the restart, but Erik still managed to jump out in front. Instead, it turned into a battle for 2nd between Blaney and Suarez who went to 3rd. Eventually though, it was Erik Jones who crossed the finish line 1st and won the Fitzgerald Glider Kit 300 race. Behind him was: Blaney, Suarez, Hemric, T Dillon, Larson, Poole, Koch, Annett. As the highest placed Xfinity Series regular, it was Hemric who won the $100,000 Dash for Cash prize.
Speaking afterwards, Erik Jones said:
“It was a day kind of like last year. We didn’t really know if we had a winning car or not and to come back from a penalty like that, especially without much green-flag racing, was a lot of fun and it’s a race I won’t forget for a long time.”