By Dustin Albino
3 Minute Read
LOUDON, N.H. — When the checkered flag flew in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Brandon Brown thought he finished fifth. Turns out, with both the cars of Landon Cassill and Noah Gragson getting disqualified, the No. 68 car finished a season-best third.
RELATED: New Hampshire results | Justin Allgaier wins
Brown hovered inside the top 20 for the opening half of the race, earning six stage points in the opening stage when crew chief Doug Randolph chose not to call the No. 68 car to pit road when a caution flew inside of 10 laps remaining in the stage. On a four-lap dash to the stage end, he dropped three positions from second to fifth.
Buried in traffic on the restart, Brown finished the second stage in 19th. But he was able to stay out of trouble in the second half of the race when many others were not, as there were six yellow flags in the final stage alone.
The pivotal point for Brown was when Akinori Ogata blew an engine on Lap 175. With just 17 cars on the lead lap, Randolph brought the No. 68 Chevrolet to pit road for four fresh tires. Over the 21-lap sprint to the finish, Brown was able to race to as high as fourth position but dropped to fifth when the race was complete.
“That last stint was all attack mode, give it everything that I had and push as hard as I could every single lap,” Brown said. “I was trying my hardest not to break the grip and break the plane to where I started sliding and tearing up the tires. But I did it just one too many times.”
When the race concluded, Brown radioed his crew, telling them he had a winning car. He had just made too many mistakes to catch race winner Justin Allgaier.
“With the (new) tires, it had the chance to win,” Brown said. “It just needed the driver to make the right moves. Maybe just one more caution would have been great.”
The eventual third-place finish was needed for Brandonbilt Motorsports. In the first 17 races of the season, the team had just a pair of top-10 efforts, with the most recent of those coming at Richmond Raceway back in early April.
Over the last few weeks, Brown had consecutive DNFs at Road America and Atlanta Motor Speedway. In the former, he totaled the car in the massive 13-car pileup. He then made a mistake at Atlanta, getting into the wall after battling inside the top 10 early and even finishing fourth and third, respectively, in the first two stages.
“This is everything to our team because we’ve had very minimal media time up until now,” Brown said. “(That) really hurts for a team like us, especially with the sponsorship hunt and how hard it can be.
“Everyone knows how hard I hustle for sponsors. It means everything for us to get back up and get these strong runs and show these brands and companies, ‘Hey, Brandon Brown is in there and he’s going to put you in a chance to win.’ We’re out here to compete.”
With Cassill being awarded just one point for his disqualification, Brown gained 39 points on the cutline, now just 61 markers behind with eight races remaining.
While it may take some more good fortune for Brown to increase his chances of making the postseason for the second time in three years, he has a fighter’s chance.
“I think it’s obtainable,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of work and a ton of strategy calls like that. We really need to take advantage of every opportunity given to do this and not choke anything away.”