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Chandler Smith Wins Stages, Finishes Third at Las Vegas

Chandler Smith battles Austin Hill at The Liuna! at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Myk Crawford | The Podium Finish)

LAS VEGAS — On a windy Saturday afternoon, the question wasn’t if a Joe Gibbs Racing car was going to win The LiUNA! NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The question was whether it would be Chandler Smith or John Hunter Nemechek.

Unfortunately for Smith, he proved to not be the answer. As his teammate took the checkered flag, the second-year driver was forced to settle for third.

The 200-lap race was a tale of two halves for the No. 81 QuickTie Toyota GR Supra. After rolling off from the front row, Smith immediately took the lead on the jump en route to an uncontested opening stage win, becoming the first driver to earn playoff points who isn’t driving for Richard Childress Racing.

Even after a rough pit stop following the stage, the Talking Rock, Georgia, product showed nothing but confidence when speaking with Joey Logano at the stage break.

That showed in the second stage, as Smith got around the likes of Austin Hill and Riley Herbst to find himself in second behind Nemechek. He appeared to be biding his time as the stage ran green before making the move for the lead in Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 90 to score a second stage win.

Chandler Smith leads the outside lane on a restart at The LIUNA! at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Myk Crawford | The Podium Finish)

After losing the lead again on pit road, Smith took it back from Nemechek on Lap 110, leading until a caution came on Lap 123 after Parker Retzlaff stalled.

Another pit stop came where Smith lost the lead. Unlike other runs, he wasn’t able to get it back.

“We over adjusted a little bit,” Smith said. “We tried to stay ahead of the race track. I feel like the track definitely freed up, and we went that same direction thinking it was going to tighten up. You live and you learn.”

After the caution for Retzlaff, the final 72 laps ran caution-free. As Nemechek began to drive away, Smith continued to battle in the top-five with Herbst and Hill.

The combination of Nemechek and Smith led 173 of 200 laps on Saturday. As Nemechek drove away to the win by 4.360 seconds, Smith was passed late by a surging Cole Custer, and settled for third. He now has three top-fives in his first three races in the 2024 NASCAR Xfinity Series season.

This isn’t Smith’s first close call at Las Vegas. After winning in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series in 2022, he appeared to be on the way to his first career race at Las Vegas last March, before getting passed by Hill coming to the white flag.

“I’m extremely proud of the effort that we brought here this weekend,” Smith said. “We were pretty dominant and we just over adjusted. I’m happy that a Joe Gibbs Racing car still won.”

The series moves onto Phoenix next week, another track that Smith has won at in the Truck series. In two starts in the desert for Kaulig Racing last year, Smith recorded a top-five and two top-10s.

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