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March 9, 2024

Chandler Smith surges in overtime, grabs Xfinity Series win in Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Chandler Smith had a message for his Joe Gibbs Racing team after taking the checkered flag in overtime in Saturday’s Every Dig. Every Time. 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Phoenix Raceway.

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“We’ll take ’em when we can get ’em,” Smith radioed before celebrating his second career victory with a burnout near the start/finish line.

It was good fortune — combined with Justin Allgaier’s disastrous bad luck — that put Smith in Victory Lane after 205 laps at the 1-mile track in the Sonoran Desert.

RELATED: Official results | At-track photos

Allgaier held a lead of nearly three seconds after crossing the stripe on Lap 195 of a scheduled 200. But as the driver of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet approached Turn 1, his left-rear tire went flat.

Allgaier’s car turned sideways and smashed into the outside wall, ending the race for the veteran driver from Illinois.

On the subsequent overtime restart, Smith pulled away from teammate Sheldon Creed and reached the finish line 0.365 seconds ahead of Sunoco rookie Jesse Love, who edged Creed for the runner-up spot by 0.019 seconds.

“Going through the dogleg (on the front stretch), I felt (the tire) come apart, like I ran something over, and at that point you’re just a passenger,” Allgaier said. “I just hate it that we tore up a race car. We didn’t go to Victory Lane. I hate it for all the guys and gals at JR Motorsports.”

Allgaier’s ill fortune was determinative, but it wasn’t that Smith didn’t deserve the victory. He won the first 45-lap stage wire-to-wire and led a race-high 88 laps to Allgaier’s 52.

“We just lacked a little bit on the 7 (Allgaier),” Smith said. “I hate that happened to him — he had that in the bag. I’m so proud of everybody back at Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s good finally to get this first win off our back for these guys.

“So let’s go keep racking ’em up.”

Stage 2 winner Cole Custer led 61 laps, but his car suffered from a loose handling condition during the final run.

With Custer fading badly, Smith was in the lead, more than 2.5 seconds ahead of Allgaier, when Hailie Deegan brushed the Turn 2 wall on Lap 137. To that point, Smith and Custer had combined to lead all the laps.

The relatively innocent-looking fourth caution, however, set the stage for the chaos that followed. Smith lost three spots on pit road as John Hunter Nemechek took the lead.

On the subsequent restart on Lap 144, Smith and Nemechek were racing in close quarters when contact from the right-front of Smith’s Toyota turned Nemechek’s Supra in front of the field.

All told, 11 cars sustained damage, with Nemechek, hard-luck Sam Mayer (third DNF in four races), Hailie Deegan, Parker Retzlaff and Jeb Burton unable to continue.

MORE: Lap 144 pileup thins field | Weekend schedule: Phoenix

Smith’s No. 81 Toyota was none the worse for wear and restarted next to Allgaier, the race leader, on Lap 152. On the longest green-flag run of the day, Allgaier pulled away and was cruising toward a comfortable victory when disaster struck, opening the door for Smith to secure his first victory since last April’s win at Richmond for owner Matt Kaulig.

Austin Hill came home fourth, with Custer, the defending series champion, claiming the fifth spot. Sunoco rookie Shane van Gisbergen, Brandon Jones, Parker Kligerman, Sammy Smith and Anthony Alfredo completed the top 10.

The Xfinity Series will take a week off and return to action March 23 at the Circuit of The Americas (5 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Notes: Post-race inspection in the Xfinity Series garage was complete without major issue, confirming Smith as the race winner. The No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Jesse Love and the No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevy of Parker Kligerman were each found with one unsecured lug nut, which will result in a fine for each team’s respective crew chiefs in the midweek penalty report. … Chandler Smith jumped into the Xfinity Series points lead, leapfrogging Austin Hill by one spot in the standings. … Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing have two victories apiece in the early stages of the season.

Contributing: Staff reports