Rookie Chandler Smith earned his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory Saturday afternoon at Richmond Raceway, holding off John Hunter Nemechek on a final race restart with six laps remaining to hoist the ToyotaCare 250 trophy.
Smith’s No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet led a race-best 83 of the 250 laps – the bulk of that early in the race. But the 20-year-old Georgia native was able to run among the top five for most of the day and ultimately drive his Chevy around Nemechek’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota on that last restart, pulling away to a 0.298-second victory after intense side-by-side action for the lead in the closing laps.
Smith has had three top-five finishes, including a gut-wrenching near miss at Las Vegas last month. After leading a dominant 118 laps and being out front with one lap to go at Vegas four races ago, he had to settle for third place. So this victory at Richmond was especially motivating for the young driver.
“Feels great,” a smiling Smith said. “This goes to testimony as to Vegas, dominated that race but didn’t win and said, ‘It was all in God’s timing.’ … Here we are in Richmond, my favorite race track, and we’re sitting in Victory Lane.”
It marks the third-consecutive runner-up finish for Nemechek at the 0.75-mile Richmond track, including a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race and the last two NASCAR Xfinity Series races there.
“We weren’t very good on the short run, we had a long-run speed car,” Nemechek said. “But we came from the back up there to battle for the win, put ourselves in position.'”
“Disappointed to run runner-up again, that’s the last three races I’ve run here, finished second. Frustrated, but we’ll go back to work. The 16 (Smith) just had the best car on the short run.”
JR Motorsports driver Josh Berry finished third in the No. 8 JRM Chevrolet. He led 63 laps and was out front with 65 laps remaining until a series of caution flags and restarts characterized the race ending.
Kaz Grala turned in a strong day with a fourth-place showing in the No. 26 Sam Hunt Racing Toyota — equaling his career-best effort in the Xfinity Series. And Cole Custer rallied to a fifth-place finish in the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford after a problem on pit road and some tight side-by-side racing late in the day.
Justin Allgaier — who started his No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet from pole position after qualifying was rained out Saturday morning – led laps early but had an up-and-down day. Ultimately, he finished 13th and was good enough to take the first $100,000 bonus in the Dash 4 Cash sweepstakes sponsored by Xfinity.
With his work, Allgaier now joins Saturday’s three new qualifiers – Chandler Smith, Berry and Nemechek to contend for the next $100,000 check at the series’ next race at Martinsville Speedway on April 15.
“Weird day today, we didn’t fire off quite as good as we hoped for, but they kept working, great pit stops all day.” Allgaier said, adding: “It’s weird finishing 13th and still be standing here holding this check, but the other guys had a rough day. This puts us in next week for the Dash 4 Cash, so huge thanks to Xfinity for all they do for the sport.”
Seven different drivers led at least 24 laps – and for much of the race, there were at least three drivers ranked among the top 10 looking for their first career Xfinity Series win.
Sheldon Creed, Ryan Sieg, Parker Kligerman, the season’s three-race winner Austin Hill and Derek Kraus rounded out the top 10. It was the first series start for Kraus, who raced among the top 10 in his No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet for most of the day.
Riley Herbst, who led 27 laps and Brandon Jones, who led 24, were involved in an accident while contending for fourth place late in the race. Herbst finished 23rd while Jones was 21st.
The next race is the Call811.com Before You Dig. 250 at Martinsville Speedway on April 15 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Note: Post-race inspection concluded following the Xfinity Series race without issue, confirming Chandler Smith as the race winner.