Alex Bowman rolled to his first NASCAR national-series victory in the XFINITY Series on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, prevailing in a rain-delayed primetime race that whittled the postseason field to eight drivers.
Bowman, making just his first XFINITY start of the year, led 32 of the 200 laps in the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet to win the Drive for The Cure 300 Presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. He’ll be making the transition to full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing next year, replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Bowman, who admitted to being slightly rusty in his return to competition. “I’ve got to thank Mr. Hendrick and Chip and everybody that made this possible. It’s been a long time since I’ve raced, so to come here and be as competitive as we were all night, even until that last restart, I was really pleased with how competitive we were.”
Sam Hornish Jr. came home in second place in the Team Penske No. 12 Ford, making just his fifth XFINITY start of the season. Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Brennan Poole completed the top five in the third of seven races of the XFINITY Playoffs and the finale to the Round of 12 elimination phase.
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Five drivers had clinched spots in the Round of 8 after points were awarded in the race’s opening two stages. William Byron, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier all advanced easily in the standings despite some setbacks in Saturday’s race.
Poole, Matt Tifft and Ryan Reed also moved on, with Reed clinching his spot by a single point over Brendan Gaughan. Michael Annett, Blake Koch and Jeremy Clements joined Gaughan among those eliminated from championship contention as the bottom four drivers in the XFINITY postseason field.
Byron recovered from a pit-road speeding penalty during the second stage intermission to finish 16th. His JR Motorsports teammate Allgaier was less fortunate, retiring with engine failure — caused by running over debris from a pair of earlier wrecks by Angela Ruch — after 112 laps.
Tifft also had an adventurous day, recovering from an unscheduled pit stop for a vibration and a penalty for an uncontrolled tire on pit road. He finished ninth in the race and seventh in the postseason pecking order.
Annett lost ground with a late-race spin that dropped him two laps off the pace. He returned to the race to take an 27th-place finish.
Koch fell from the lead lap early as his Kaulig Racing No. 11 team addressed a power steering issue. He placed 25th in Saturday’s 300-miler and was last among the 12 postseason qualifiers.
The race began after a 5 1/2-hour delay because of rain and mist throughout the day. The inclement weather canceled Coors Light Pole Qualifying, forcing competition officials to set the starting lineup according to the rule book.
Daniel Suarez started from the pole and led a race-high 111 laps, but a lengthy pit stop with 38 laps left knocked him from contention. His Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 team had trouble with an air hose getting caught, and an uncontrolled tire penalty compounded the issues. He fell from second place to 26th in that exchange, then settled for an eighth-place result.
The XFINITY Series’ next race is scheduled Oct. 21 at Kansas Speedway.
Notes: Two Playoff-eligible cars — the No. 19 of Matt Tifft and the No. 11 of Blake Koch — were ruled too low in a post-race inspection. The guidelines for such an infraction call for a 10-point penalty in the standings, which would not be enough of a deduction to jeopardize Tifft’s status in the next round.