William Byron’s Meteoric NASCAR Rise Continued Saturday Night At Homestead

William Byron

William Byron’s meteoric NASCAR rise continued Saturday, as the 19-year-old added two more superlatives to an already lengthy list – 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series Champion and 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year. Byron is only the second driver to win the XFINITY Series championship in his rookie season (Chase Elliott, 2014).

Following an extraordinary rookie campaign, the NASCAR Next graduate, who finished third, outlasted his Championship 4 competitors Elliott Sadler (eighth), Justin Allgaier (12th) and Daniel Hemric (34th) in the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to capture his second NASCAR title. He also won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship in 2015. With the 2017 championship, Byron – at 19 years, 11 months and 20 days – is the second-youngest champion in series history (Elliott was 18 years, 11 months, 18 days).

This season, Byron drove the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet to four wins, 12 top fives and 22 top 10s. His victories came at Iowa, Daytona, Indianapolis and Phoenix, which helped propel him to a lofty position in the standings – from race No. 2-33, he never dropped lower than fifth in the standings.

Byron’s ascent to the top level of the sport will continue in 2018, as Hendrick Motorsports announced that he will drive the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Byron is the fourth member of the NASCAR Next program to win a NASCAR national series championship (Chase Elliott, NASCAR XFINITY Series, 2014; Erik Jones, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, 2015; Daniel Suarez, NASCAR XFINITY Series, 2016).

With its second-place finish, the No. 22 Ford won the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series Owner Championship for Team Penske, the organization’s fourth XFINITY Series owner title. This season, the No. 22 was piloted by Ryan Blaney (11 races), Brad Keselowski (nine), Joey Logano (seven), Sam Hornish Jr. (five) and Austin Cindric (one race).

Chevrolet, on the strength of 12 victories, clinched the Bill France Performance Cup – the manufacturers’ championship – in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Because Chevrolet owned a more than 40-point lead in the standings following Phoenix, the automaker clinched the title one race early. It is Chevrolet’s 18th Bill France Performance Cup win.


Elliott Sadler Angered And Saddened At Homestead

Elliott Sadler

Elliott Sadler’s despair and frustration in finishing second for the fourth time in the last seven NASCAR XFINITY Series seasons was evident on Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

It was scrawled on his face. It was patently obvious when he crawled through the window of his No. 1 Chevrolet and confronted Ryan Preece, on whom he projected his anger.

The 42-year-old veteran for JR Motorsports, his 22-year career devoid of a championship in a top-three NASCAR series, was angry that Preece had impeded his way as he attempted to catch teammate William Byron while they contested the series title with nine laps to go in Turn 3.

Tonight is the closest I’ve ever been to winning a championship,” Sadler said. “Having the lead against [Byron], the race is in my hands to win the championship, and when I dove down into Turn 1, we’d been running behind [Preece] for 10 laps. When I dove down into [Turn] 1, I thought he was going to give it to me, and I was going to slide in front of him, and he just gassed it and pinched me down, and that was it.

“That’s pretty hard to swallow.  I’ve been racing a long time; y’all know that.  But I would say tonight is the most devastating and down and out I’ve ever felt in my career.”

Held from Preece by three officials, Sadler made his point. Preece, he believed, had no business racing a title-contending driver the way he did. Trouble was, Preece was in fourth place, in his preferred line and trying to help his Joe Gibbs Racing team win an owners’ championship at the moment Sadler failed to get past quickly enough to chase after Byron, who eventually rolled away to finish third in the race and claim his first NASCAR championship at age 19.

Sadler said the circumstances leading him to finish five points behind the champion was “very devastating to me right now to have one taken away from me like that.” Sam Hornish Jr., who won the team title for Team Penske by finishing second, negated Preece’s right to battle him, he said.

“He wasn’t [racing for a championship] because the [Hornish Jr.] was a half a lap ahead of him,” Sadler reasserted. “He wasn’t racing anybody.” JR Motorsports’ No. 9 and JGR — with two cars — also entered the race eligible to win the owner championship.

Preece said he would have “laid over” or moved from Sadler’s way if ordered, so the title contenders could have right of way. Byron had passed Sadler for the final time by ducking low as Sadler ran the high line. Sadler became bottled behind and had his momentum blunted.

The incident was the final stroke in a pitched contest between Byron, who will take over the No. 24 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsport in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next year and the frustrated veteran. Sadler was hustling to overtake Byron for fourth place with 38 laps left when his car got loose in the middle line causing him to glide up the track and make contact with the rear of Byron’s car.

Sadler finished second in the XFINITY Series final standings — by an excruciating two points last season —  as he was passed on a restart with three laps left by Daniel Suarez, who bore away to win the race and the title. Sadler, who finished third in the race, had led the standings for the previous 13 weeks, and finished second for the third time in five years.

Sadler was without his normal crew chief, Kevin Meendering, in that race because he was serving a penalty for loose lug nuts discovered in a post-race inspection at Phoenix Raceway.

This season he entered second in points and winless after claiming three victories last season, increasing his winless streak to 38 races.


William Byron Claims The 2017 NXS Championship

William Byron

As Cole Custer celebrated his first victory in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and 19-year-old William Byron reveled in the series championship, a heartbroken and angry Elliott Sadler confronted the driver he believed cost him a long-coveted NASCAR title.

Custer took the checkered flag in a different zip code, crossing the finish line 15.405 seconds ahead of second-place Sam Hornish Jr., who delivered the owners’ championship to Roger Penske. The real action, however, occurred three-quarters of a lap behind the winner.

Sadler had passed Byron, his JR Motorsports teammate on Lap 165 of 200. The 42-year-old veteran stayed out front until Lap 191, when he closed on the No. 18 Toyota of Ryan Preece and lost momentum. Byron charged past Sadler into third place—and into the lead among the four drivers battling for the title.

With four laps left, Sadler pulled up to Byron’s bumper. Byron shot past Preece’s Toyota, clearing him to the inside. Sadler tried to follow but couldn’t complete the pass, and slid up into Preece’s Camry, with the right front of Sadler’s No. 1 Chevrolet clipping the left rear of the Toyota.

Sadler hit the wall and his title hopes were gone. The disconsolate driver finished second in the NASCAR XFINITY Series standings for the fourth time, and his disappointment stood in marked contrast to the elation of his young teammate.

“I don’t know that I took a breath the last 20 laps,” Byron said. “That was incredible. I just have to thank this team. This is awesome. Elliott raced me clean, and we just raced hard for it. I just can’t believe this.

“I’ve just got to thank God for giving me this platform to perform. I can’t believe this. I’m tired, whew. I’ve never driven that hard in my life.”

Team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his share of nervous moments as his drivers fought for the championship.

“Man, that is tough watching those guys battle like that together,” Earnhardt said. “William did a great job running an awesome race. To be as young as he is, he drove like a veteran tonight. I know Elliott is probably really disappointed. It’s hard to watch any of your guys lose one, but at least we will be taking the trophy back to Mooresville tonight.

“This is great for JRM and all our employees. One thing about William winning, the over-the-wall guys I’m pretty close to a lot of them. They pit my car, too (in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series). It’s pretty cool to see these guys enjoy themselves. This really effects a lot of people.  I’m really glad to be a part of it.”

All but forgotten in the dramatic championship battle and its aftermath was Custer’s overwhelming maiden victory. Pulling away steadily after a restart on Lap 97, Custer posted the largest margin of victory in the series this season and the largest ever at the 1.5-mile track.

Custer led 182 laps and scored a perfect driver rating of 150.0, the only time a driver has accomplished that feat this year.

“We knew we were going be really good this weekend, but our Haas Automation Mustang was unreal,” Custer said. “We really wanted to have a good showing at Ford Championship Weekend.  Even though we weren’t in it (the Championship 4), we wanted to win.”

Preece was racing for the owners’ championship against the No. 22 Ford of Hornish and the No. 9 Chevrolet of Byron after Christopher Bell fell out with engine problems after 78.

“To be honest with you, if there’s a person you don’t want to cost a championship to, it’s Elliott Sadler,” said Preece. “You know, I’m just trying to do team orders here. I was racing for an owner championship. Yeah, we weren’t racing for the win right there, but we were still racing the 9 (Byron).”

“It’s not where I want to be right there. Obviously, I hate it, but I can’t take it back.”

Editor’s Notes: With only three cautions—two for planned stage breaks–the race set a speed record at 136.140 mph… Championship contender Justin Allgaier had seven-time Cup champion Chad Knaus calling the shots on his pit box in place of suspended Jason Burdett, but Allgaier’s car struggled to a 12th-place finish, third in the title race… Daniel Hemric, the fourth Championship 4 driver, and the only one not from the JRM stable, lost 12 laps with electrical problems early in the race and came home 34th.


JR Motorsports Teammates Promise Hard Clean Racing At Homestead

Ty Dillon, William Byron and Justin Allgaier

They’re not exactly the Three Musketeers.

It won’t be “one for all, and all for one” when three JR Motorsports teammates—Elliott Sadler, William Byron and Justin Allgaier—take the green flag in Saturday’s Ford Eco-Boost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In fact, all three drivers, along with Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric, will be competing for the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship trophy, and there’s only one of those to go around.

That doesn’t mean the teammates won’t race each other—or Hemric, for that matter—with respect.

“We have four race teams that were successful all season, and we race each other with the utmost respect,” said Allgaier, who will compete on Saturday without crew chief Jason Burdett, under suspension for a inspection violation last weekend at Phoenix.

“We race each other hard, we race each other clean, and Daniel fits right in on that. Daniel is an extremely clean race car driver. So I feel like, even though we’re teammates, and even though we race each other differently than we would other competitors, I feel like the four guys that we have going for the championship have an equal and mutual respect for each other.

“It’s going to be a clean and hard battle all the way until the checkered flag.”

Until the checkered flag, or until the final lap?

“Even in that circumstance—we can all talk a big game, right?—knowing my teammates and knowing Daniel, it’s going to be a hard battle,” Allgaier said. “If we’re running 1-2-3-4 coming to the checkered, it’s going to be a dogfight.

“But I think it’s going to be the cleanest dogfight you’ve seen in a number of years.”

Sadler sees it the same way, although, for the 41-year-old veteran, this is the only race of the season that really matters.

“I know who I’m racing against and what I’m racing against,” said Sadler, who is seeking his first NASCAR championship. “My guys … they’ve all been sharing information this week. The crew chiefs and all are still doing the same protocol they’ve always done. I think Justin, William and myself understand that it’s one race for one championship.

“We’re going to race each other hard. We understand that all the chips are on the table, and we all klnow what each other’s got, which is a little bit different from racing people from other teams. I know William’s setup, and I know Justin’s, and we’re all going to know what each other’s fighting. So there’s a lot more information on the table.

“But I think we’re going to race each other hard. You don’t get this opportunity all the time, and you’ve got to take advantage of it when you get it.”

Unlike Sadler and Allgaier, Byron will be moving on after this season as he steps up to a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride with Hendrick Motorsports. So does Byron perhaps stop being a teammate one race early?

“I don’t think (you) ever (stop),” Byron said. “You’re out there for yourself, though. You’re there to try and win for your team. You want the other guys on your team to win if you can’t, but you’re going out there to compete for a championship.

“That’s our goal, and we’re going to race those guys just like we have all year—race them clean, and we’re not going to have any issues.”

The three JRM drivers, however, can’t afford to ignore Hemric, who qualified for the Championship 4 race on points last Saturday at Phoenix. Hemric is driving a brand new car in the all-Chevrolet matchup at Homestead, and he doesn’t feel challenged in the speed department.

“The hardest part is to get to this point,” Hemric said. “Everybody’s even going into a one-race match, and that’s pretty exciting to be a part of. Those guys have three cars to worry about. We’ve got one.”


Wiliiam Byron Leads The JR Motorsports Parade Into Homestead

William Byrin
With a pickup pit crew, at the track that cost him a shot at the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title last year, William Byron won Saturday’s Ticket Galaxy 200 to advance to the Championship 4 race in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.

Behind him, JR Motorsports teammates Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler also qualified for the title race with finishes of 10th and 18th respectively. The JRM trio will join Daniel Hemric in an all-Chevrolet finale, after Hemric ran fifth and held off a valiant bid from Cole Custer after a restart with 13 laps left.

Byron took the lead off pit road after taking right-side tires only during a stop under caution on Lap 183 of 200. As Hemric, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Custer battled behind him, Byron pulled away to beat Blaney to the finish line by .960 seconds.

“The second-to-last run of the race it took off on the long run,” said Byron, who was knocked out of the Truck Series Playoff last year when his engine blew at Phoenix. “I got up to third, and we got the two tires on it, and we were able to stay up there.

“I felt like clean air was pretty important. The 20 (Jones), the 22 (Blaney) and us were really similar. Whoever was in third would lose distance to the front two after probably 20 or 30 laps. We just had to adjust on it and make sure we got it right for the last pit stop.”

Jones ran fourth, followed by Bell and Hemric, who passed Custer on the final lap to claim the final spot in the Championship 4 by four points. Blake Koch also got past Custer on the way to the stripe to grab sixth place, and Custer rolled home seventh.

The JRM teams found out Saturday morning that their pit crews wouldn’t make it to Phoenix in time for the race because their plane had been diverted to Little Rock, Ark., with a mechanical problem. That led to a scramble for crew members pieced together from Hendrick Motorsports development crews.

In Byron’s case, the put-together crew proved up to the task. They got his No. 9 Chevrolet off pit road first after the final pit stop, though crew chief Dave Elenz said the two-tire call was dictated by the team’s inability to jack the left side of car, a problem that had recurred throughout the race.

“The guys on the pit crew did an awesome job, to step in cold-turkey like that, not knowing that you’re going to do it this morning,” Byron said. “And then showing up and pitting the car in the Playoffs—that’s pretty insane.”

If Byron was relatively unconcerned with a makeshift crew, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was more than mildly surprised.

“I freaked out when I heard it,” Earnhardt said. “I was real surprised by that news, but I was assured that we had people here who could get in there and do the job, and to be honest with you, they did. Give those guys a lot of credit…

“I’m equally glad that our guys who had to land in Arkansas are safe, and we’ll see them next weekend.”

The major casualty of the race was Brennan Poole, who came to Phoenix fourth in the standings with a good chance to make the Championship 4. But Poole wrecked on Lap 22 while trying to drive to the inside of the lapped car of Caesar Bacarella, who was making his first XFINITY start.

“I saw (Bacarella) go in (to Turn 1), and we were going to kind of go to the top to go around him, and he slid up so I tried to go to the bottom,” Poole said. “Bad luck, bad circumstances.

“I guess I could have been a little more cautious there, but just trying to get up there to get some stage points and keep moving forward.”

None of the four drivers competing for the title next Saturday drives a car eligible for the owners’ championship. The four cars running for the latter title are the No. 22 Ford of Team Penske, the Nos. 18 and 20 Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and No. 42 Chevrolet of Chip Ganassi Racing.

All four cars have been driven by multiple drivers this season.

Editor’s Note: The No. 7 Chevrolet of Allgaier was found to have an unattached brake cooling hose in post-race inspection, resulting in an L1 penalty. The infraction did not affect the composition of the Championship 4, but Allgaier will lose the services of crew chief Jason Burdett for the season finale!


Jimmie Johnson Needs Another Miracle!

Jimmie Johnson & David Ragan
Last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Jimmie Johnson won his seventh Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship with a serendipitous victory in the Championship 4 race.

This year, Johnson will need more than serendipity. He’ll need what amounts to a miracle just to earn a shot at a record eighth title.

Johnson comes to Phoenix Raceway eighth in the series standings, last among the drivers trying to survive the Playoff’s Round of 8. With one berth available in the Championship 4, the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is 51 points behind fourth-place Brad Keselowski with no realistic chance to qualify for the finale on points.

Complicating Johnson’s problem are a year-long search for speed. During a season that has produced a career-low four top-five finishes, Johnson’s current winless streak has reached 21 races. That said, it’s hardly surprising that Johnson isn’t brimming with optimism about his chances at the one-mile flat track in the Sonoran Desert.

“We’re in a must-win-situation,” Johnson said on Friday morning before opening practice at Phoenix. “We wish we were in a better points scenario, but that’s not the case. This team thrives on pressure and adversity, and we’re certainly in the position right now. When we look at the last two or three races here, we’ve had very competitive cars.

“The effort was made this week to make sure we brought the best bullet—second to none—and I’m really proud of my team and the way that all of Hendrick Motorsports is working together to make sure that the No. 24 car (of teammate Chase Elliott) and the No. 48 car have their best chances to win here and move on and stay alive for the championship. We’ll find out Sunday afternoon.”

Johnson has a formidable streak on the line in this year’s Playoff. Since NASCAR adopted a postseason format in 2004, Johnson has won at least one race in the final 10 each year. He has two races left to keep the string going.


Custer Is Ready To Race For A Final Four Berth

Cole Custer
Cole Custer might be 13 points behind Brennan Poole for the final berth in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship 4, but he doesn’t lack confidence heading into Saturday’s Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix Raceway.

“I think there’s no reason why we can’t go to Phoenix and have a good run,” Custer said. “It’s a place I’m confident at and our short-track program is starting to be where we want it. If we keep running like we have been and don’t run into bad luck, we’ll be locked into the (Championship 4).”

Custer finished 21st in the XFINITY Series’ March visit to Phoenix this season, but does have a win at the one-mile track in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.

The No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing driver enters Saturday’s race in good form, finishing in the top 10 in seven of his last nine races. He placed fifth at Texas last weekend.

“I think anything is possible for us and there’s no reason why we don’t belong in the Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead,” Custer said.


Erik Jones Sweeps The 2017 Texas NXS Races

Erik Jones

There was no keeping up with Erik Jones on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway – though Ryan Blaney tried his level best over the closing laps of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.

Jones, the pole winner, swept the first and second stages of the event, led 142-of-200 laps and completed the season sweep of NASCAR XFINITY Series races at the 1.5-mile track – the first time that’s happened since Kyle Busch won both races in 2009.

The victory was Jones’ third of the season, his third in six starts at TMS and the ninth of his career. Though the race was decisive in Jones’ favor, it settled little with regard to the XFINITY Series Playoff, with no driver clinching a spot in the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Regaining the lead after a cycle of green-flag pit stops, when Ty Dillon pulled onto pit road on Lap 192, Jones kept Blaney behind him the rest of the way and powered his No. 20 Joes Gibbs racing Toyota across the finish line 1.018 seconds ahead of Blaney’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford.

After last year’s fall race, the track was repaved. If anything, the new configuration made Jones even faster.

“It’s sure been a good race track to me,” Jones said. “On the old track and the repave now. It’s just been a place I’ve enjoyed coming to. The first time I came here in a truck, I’ll never forget, I never thought I’d like the place, and ever since then it’s just kind of clicked for me.

“Just excited to get back to Victory Lane. It’s been a few months since I’ve grabbed a win and the 20 guys have got a win, so happy to get them back here. They’ve brought fast cars for the last month, and we just haven’t found Victory Lane, so cool to get back here again and just happy for these guys.”

After Blaney made his last stop for fuel on Lap 185, and Jones pitted a lap later, Blaney trailed the race winner by less than a car length when they both regained top speed. Passing was another matter.

“It just stinks we couldn’t get around him,” said Blaney, who is in the thick of the battle for a Championship 4 spot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. “I thought we had a shot after the green-flag stop. I thought we were way better, but we got held up a couple times by traffic.

“I thought we had the car to win – just a matter of trying to get in front of him, and I couldn’t pass anybody. I tried to get him loose a couple times and couldn’t do it. I about wrecked myself trying to get him loose. It’s really hard to get around anybody. Hopefully, that gets a little better for tomorrow.”

Kyle Larson came home third after two snafus on pit road cost him a chance to win. Under caution on Lap 92, after the end of the second stage, Larson came to pit road before it was open. Though he didn’t stop for service, Larson lost positions when he blended back in line.

And after a stop on Lap 127, Larson had to return to pit road to allow his crew to tighten a loose lug nut. With the race going green to the finish after the subsequent restart on Lap 131, Larson ran out of time in his pursuit of the winner and runner-up.

Elliott Sadler ran fourth and took the series lead by five points over JR Motorsports teammate William Byron, who ran ninth. Justin Allgaier, the third JR Motorsports Playoff driver, is nine points behind Sadler after an 11th-place finish.

“My car was really good tonight,” Sadler said. “Erik and Blaney were so much better into (Turns) 1 and 2. They had it figured out. I’ve got to go to work before we come back here in the spring. But all in all, it was a great night for us.”

Cole Custer finished fifth, recovering from a punctured tire that dropped him rapidly from his front-row starting position but the driver of the No. 00 Ford leaves Texas in sixth place, 13 points behind fourth-place Brennan Poole, with the Playoff field to be cut to the top four after next Saturday’s race at Phoenix.

Matt Tifft ran eighth and is fifth in the standings, five points behind Poole.

Check out the unofficial results of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.


Another Andretti In NASCAR?

Marco Andretti

Another Andretti in NASCAR racing? It’s not that far-fetched.

IndyCar legend Mario Andretti ran 14 races in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, winning the 1967 Daytona 500. John Andretti, Mario’s nephew, competed in 393 Cup races, winning at Daytona and Martinsville.

Jeff Andretti, Mario’s youngest son, tried his luck in three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races in 1999, all ending as DNFs because of mechanical issues.

And on Saturday morning at Martinsville Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. acknowledged discussing the possibility of providing a NASCAR XFINITY Series ride for Marco Andretti, Mario’s grandson.

Only one problem: with four Chevrolets set to compete full-time for the XFINITY title next year – with drivers Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett and Tyler Reddick – Earnhardt doesn’t have an “all-star car” to make occasional starts with a variety of drivers.

“We’ve got four teams and they are all full,” Earnhardt said. “So it’s probably not got any life, but we are friends and we’ve talked about it for two to three years. He has some interest in coming over and running some road courses and so does (Graham) Rahal and a bunch of other guys.

“If I had a field full of race cars, we would have a blast, all our buddies racing, but it’s just hard to do. We’re really thankful to be in the position we are in to have four full cars racing for a championship. As fun as the all-star idea and car is, and as many races as we won with (Kevin) Harvick, the real goal is to have a team running for the championship.”

Though he’s leaving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at the end of the season, Earnhardt is committed contractually to run at least one XFINITY Series race next season at a track still to be determined.

When that happens, he’ll have to field a fifth car, but that situation likely won’t be available to other drivers, even if their names are Andretti or Rahal.

“If we did have those opportunities, we certainly would entertain it, and I think it would be great for the sport to have an Andretti out there running in stock car,” Earnhardt said. “No matter where it is at, it would be awesome.”


Christopher Bell Grabs First NXS Victory At Kansas

Christopher Bell

Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 may have been the opening race in the Round of 8 of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoff, but the real drama involved two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates outside the championship battle.

On Lap 197 of 200 at Kansas Speedway, Christopher Bell caught and passed Erik Jones for the lead, clearing Jones’ No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with a slide job and drifting up to the outside wall right in front of his JGR teammate.

Under a full head of steam, Jones plowed into the back of Bell’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, wrecking the No. 20 Camry, which slowed markedly and finished 15th, a lap down.

Bell took the checkered flag with polesitter Tyler Reddick and some hard feelings on Jones’ part in his wake.

“It’s not dirt racing,” Jones complained, referencing Bell’s dirt-track background. “He’s not clear. I can’t just stop on the top. I didn’t expect him to drive in on the bottom so hard he wouldn’t be able to hold his lane.

“It’s unfortunate. I thought we were going to race for the win, and unfortunately, it wasn’t much of a race—it was more of a wreck. We’ll just have to move on.”

Jones had led four times for 186 laps before Bell ran him down from more than two seconds back in the closing laps. The series leader in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Bell got the victory in his fifth start, becoming the first driver to get his maiden XFINITY win at the 1.5-mile track.

Bell also is the 10th straight different winner in the series.

“I never want to wreck anyone, especially my teammate,” Bell said. “I don’t know. My spotter said ‘Clear.’ I drove it in really deep. I felt like I cleared him – I don’t know.

“It’s my first XFINITY win. I’m sorry that Erik didn’t finish the race, but, man, I’m just stoked. This thing was awesome. To be able to win in the XFINITY Series is something I dreamed of as a kid. We were both on old tires. We were sliding around…

“Bummed for the way it finished, but I’m glad it held on, man. I was getting tire smoke in the car there those last couple of laps, and I was worried we weren’t going to make it.”

Ryan Blaney ran third, followed by playoff drivers and JR Motorsports teammates William Byron and Justin Allgaier, the latter of whom collected 11 stage points and took over the top spot in the standings by two points over Byron, who had to start from the rear of the field because of unapproved pre-race adjustments to his No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

Elliott Sadler, another JRM entry, recovered from a spin in Turn 4 on Lap 76 to finish seventh and is third in the Playoff standings, 11 points behind Allgaier.

“A tire came apart—I don’t know whether I ran over something or not,” said Sadler, who turned sideways in the path of oncoming traffic. Eventual sixth-place finisher Austin Dillon did a masterful job of avoiding Sadler’s spinning car.

“I gave ‘em a big target, but nobody hit us,” a relieved Sadler said after the race.

Beyond the top three Playoff positions, little was decided. With two races left in the Round of 8, there’s an eight-point gap between fourth-place Brennan Poole, who ran 12th on Saturday, and eighth-place Cole Custer, who brought his No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to pit road with two laps left because of a cut tire and finished 19th, two laps down.

Check out the unofficial results of the Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway.