NASCAR Xfinity Series
By Cameron Richardson
3 Minute Read
AVONDALE, Ariz. – A whirlwind Saturday affair at Phoenix Raceway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series saw an array of drivers running up front in contention to snag the victory.
When the checkered flag flew, it was Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Sammy Smith and Ryan Truex nabbing the top-two results respectively. The 18-year-old Smith became the youngest winner in the Xfinity Series at the 1-mile Arizona track, but Truex’s runner-up finish marked a pivotal moment for the 30-year-old journeyman as Saturday was one of six starts he’ll make in the No. 19 Toyota Supra during the 2023 season.
RELATED: Race results | At-track photos
“Practice went really well. I thought we were probably the best car here,” Truex said after the race. “Really good on the long run. Missed a little bit on the fire off. He [Smith] was the class of the field today for sure. Man, I don’t know if I just misread the track or what but midway through the race I was pretty terrible and I was feeling pretty bad about it. We were running like 15th. Just couldn’t get out of my own way.
“But [crew chief] Jason Ratcliff made really good adjustments on it. Gave me what I needed at the end there and luckily had a good restart. I was struggling on restarts a little bit all day and kept working on them and kept working on them and finally got it at the end there.”
This season, Ratcliff calls the shots atop the box for a rotation of drivers who will pilot the No. 19 and was paired with Truex for five races last season.
He said he’s confident that Truex can get the job done when he’s got a fast car.
“To come out and have a showing like that builds some confidence and will hopefully build some momentum for the next five or six [races],” Ratcliff told NASCAR.com. “This has been a good track for us, for our group, for our organization. I wish we would’ve had a few more laps there at the end I think he could’ve gotten it done.
“It’s tough behind the wheel especially when you’re only running a few races a year. You want to go out and do well obviously but to get a setback in the middle of the race and overcome that and not lose hope and keep fighting at the end and have a good showing means a lot I think for a driver. I think it shows what kinda strength he has behind the wheel.”
Sixty-nine of the 200 laps were run under the yellow flag, which hindered drivers’ abilities to find a rhythm. Pit stops shook up the field and created hectic restarts that sometimes saw drivers go four-wide and jumble up the field.
Truex said he found it tough throughout the day but got better as the laps wound down.
WATCH: See the final laps at Phoenix
“My car changed so much during the race,” Truex said. “I was pretty happy at the beginning and then the stages the way they worked, they jumbled everything up and I just kept struggling on restarts to make my track position up and after the stage caution, I’d just be way back in traffic. For whatever reason, the set of tires where we ran 80 laps or whatever it was, I was just terrible. No rear grip. Chattering the front tires.
“In that last adjustment, Jason made the right moves and gave me a good set of tires. The rest was up to me. Being aggressive on the restarts and basically being all four [tires] on the apron in [Turns] 3 and 4 every lap, that’s what got me to second place and I did everything I could to catch Sammy but his car was just a little too good there.”
With a limited schedule last year, Truex hasn’t competed in a NASCAR national series event since Atlanta Motor Speedway last July where he finished third in the same car. His second-place result at Phoenix is his best effort since a runner-up finish at the same track in 2019.
Despite not competing on a regular basis, the New Jersey native added that Saturday was a validation for himself that he can come out and compete for wins in the Xfinity Series.
“Man, second again. Sucks, but at least I’m here.”