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March 30, 2024

Smith, Almirola, Love, Kligerman clinch eligibility for Dash 4 Cash opener

RICHMOND, Va. — Aric Almirola struck a slightly apologetic tone on the cool-down lap after Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race. He was unable to chase down eventual winner and Joe Gibbs teammate Chandler Smith in the ToyotaCare 250, but sealed his chance for a six-figure payday next week as a consolation prize.

“Yeah, I want to go win 100 grand,” Almirola said. “It’s a great opportunity to go do that.”

Smith and Almirola led the way both in Saturday’s 250-lapper, but also in qualifying for next week’s four-driver field in the Xfinity Series’ annual Dash 4 Cash incentive program. They will be joined in the lineup bidding for a $100,000 bonus by rookie Jesse Love — fifth Saturday at Richmond — and seventh-finisher Parker Kligerman when the initiative opens its 16th season next Saturday at Martinsville Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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Almirola swept both stages and led a race-high 95 laps, notching his best finish of the season in his part-time Xfinity Series campaign this year. Smith led 76 and kept his No. 81 Toyota in front by 4.495 seconds at the checkered flag.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos: Richmond

Smith was never headed for the final 60 laps, and Almirola’s handling faded late.

“We just got a little bit too loose,” Almirola said. “The run before that was stage two and my car took off and my car was really, really good. At the end, just built a little bit too tight and that last run — for whatever reason — I don’t know if it was the set of tires or what. I let Chandler (Smith) go and then when I started to just creep back to him. I didn’t have anything to go with — I was too loose in, and I couldn’t get the throttle down on exit. Hate that — to win both stage and feel like I had the dominant car and then to let it slip away there in the end is disappointing, but it was a fun weekend this weekend in Richmond.”

Love continued his impressive start to his first season in the Xfinity ranks with his third consecutive top-10 finish. The 19-year-old driver of Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Chevrolet was nowhere to be found among the top 10, however, at the stage breaks. When his early frustrations began to mount, he and crew chief Danny Stockman Jr. took a different tack.

“There was a time where I was wanting to hop on a flight home and just get the hell out of Richmond,” Love told “And then I just told myself, and Danny said the same thing, we kind of changed our tone at a certain point. We’re just like, let’s just try to maximize the day, whatever that is, and we’ll be happy with ourselves, right? We were already as low as we’re probably going to get on the day. Let’s try to just get a little bit better.”

Kligerman’s path to Dash 4 Cash eligibility included a balky shifter linkage in the early portions of the race, then a tire-strategy call that panned out with fresher rubber for the final stage. He closed out the day with a valiant battle with Super Late Model short-track ace Bubba Pollard, who snared the sixth spot from Kligerman’s No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevy at the end.

Kligerman went to congratulate Pollard on a successful Xfinity debut on pit road at the end, telling him he had fun racing with him. Pollard was ineligible for the Dash 4 Cash prize because he did not meet an entry deadline.

“It was fun. He’s a great dude, and I’ve watched a lot of his racing. I’ve never met him,” Kligerman said. “I got into him one time by accident, but he raced me super-clean at the end and for 40 laps, we ran right with each other. This is his kind of place and he showed up and showed why he deserves his chance in this car. Cool to race a legend like that. I mean, he’s done way more in this sport driving-wise, I’d have to do another 10 years to get his level.”