The NASCAR XFINITY Series is closing in on the beginning of its playoffs, and the pressure is on to win. At Darlington Raceway, that pressure reached a new level.
Daniel Hemric’s day was over just as soon as it began after a wreck wiped him out on lap two. (Photo by Chris Keane/Getty Images)
Chaos Erupts Early at Darlington
The event started with a bang, when, on lap two, a wreck erupted on the backstretch. The wreck started when Anthony Alfredo got up the track exiting turn two, pinching Daniel Hemric into the wall. Hemric bounced off the wall and into Ryan Sieg, who Brandon Brown was closely trailing. Brown hit Sieg and the outside wall, while Hemric slid into the inside wall. The multiple hits ended Hemric’s day, while the other three continued.
Brandon Brown rebounded to a strong 17th-place finish, an improbable result after a day spent mostly running a lap down, with major right-front damage. This run, combined with a poor run by Jeremy Clements, who fought mechanical issues, allowed Brown to expand his cushion to 45 points over Clements. Brown is the last driver in the playoffs, while Clements is the first one out.
Kaulig Racing teammates Ross Chastain (left) and Justin Haley (right) converse before the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kaulig Strong Early On…
The playoff battle wasn’t the only hotly-contested one during the race, though. After all, there was a race for the lead going on. Early on, the Kaulig Racing teammates of Justin Haley and Ross Chastain battled it out, but Haley’s fortunes went south after contact with Justin Allgaier gave him significant right-front damage in stage one. Haley, however, would recover to finish 13th.
But Hamlin Sweeps the Stages!
Taking Haley’s place in the battle would be Chase Briscoe, who led 55 laps versus Chastain’s 43. A third player, though, would enter as the laps wound down in stage one. Denny Hamlin, who started from the rear, grabbed the lead after just over 30 laps. However, Hamlin, a Darlington veteran, would consistently lose positions on pit road, but this didn’t keep him from charging once again to win stage two.
After a pair of cautions in the final stage continued to hamper Hamlin’s progress, it was Chase Briscoe and Ryan Sieg up front for a restart with just over 30 laps remaining. Things turned upside down in a flash, though, when Riley Herbst got into Brett Moffitt on the frontstretch. Smoke started trailing from Brett Moffitt’s machine, and it was soon realized that there was fluid being put down on track. By the time this was apparent, though, it was too late, as Matt Mills, Anthony Alfredo, and leader Chase Briscoe all spun out and wrecked separately. A bevy of cars hit the wall but avoided spins. This hectic lap turned the race upside down, handing the lead to Ryan Sieg, who had pace, but was running on older tires compared to some of his competitors.
This wouldn’t be the only time Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin made contact… (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
The Thrilling Conclusion!
On the ensuing restart, Sieg led a few laps before falling to third behind Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin. Chastain held his lead even as Hamlin ran quicker to catch him. Hamlin clearly had more speed, but struggled to pass Chastain. Each made mistakes as the laps wound down and the urgency increased, but it was still Chastain-Hamlin 1-2 as they took two to go. However, these mistakes allowed third-place Brandon Jones to close in on the leaders. As the top rounded turns three and four to take the white flag, they both pushed too hard, smacking the wall and collecting each other, allowing Jones to fly by.
The win is Jones’ third of the season, and the fourth of his career. He led only the final two laps of the event, matching a pattern of leading very few laps in his wins. In his four career wins, Jones has only led 46 laps total of a possible 722. Despite his three wins, though, Jones is eighth in points, worst of the XFINITY Series winners. This probably resulted from Jones’ five DNFs this season, including two lap-one wrecks. Not only did these result in poor finishes, but the two early wrecks robbed Jones of stage points as well, hence his poor points position. If he can smooth out his inconsistency, however, he may be able to make a run in the playoffs.
Brandon Jones performs a well-deserved burnout after taking victory at Darlington Raceway! (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Up Next for XFINITY
Next up, the XFINITY Series heads to Richmond Raceway, for a Friday-Saturday doubleheader. With three races remaining before the playoffs, the pressure is on for those outside the top 12 to take victory to get into the postseason!