KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 may have been the opening race in the Round of 8 of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs, 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 pole-sitter 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.
Daniel Hemric also endured one of the toughest days among the remaining eight Playoff contenders, incurring a one-lap penalty when his Richard Childress Racing crew serviced his No. 21 Chevrolet outside his pit stall. He wound up 18th, one lap down, and slipped to seventh in the postseason standings.
The XFINITY Series’ next race is scheduled Nov. 4 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Note: Two teams were found with one unsecured lug nut each in a post-race check — the Team Penske No. 22 Ford of third-place finisher Blaney and the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota of eighth-place Matt Tifft. The rule book’s suggested penalty for such an infraction is a $10,000 fine for each crew chief.
Contributing: Staff reports