Strategy & Tires Propel Smith To Richmond Xfinity Win


Chandler Smith celebrates after winning Saturday's NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond Raceway. (HHP/Chris Owens photo)

RICHMOND, Va. – Chandler Smith went into his final pit stop Saturday at Richmond Raceway banking that the ToyotaCare 250 would run green to the end. The gamble paid off with a trip to victory lane.

Using fresh tires to drive back through traffic like a rocketship, Smith passed defending series champion Cole Custer for the lead with 60 laps left and never looked back at the three-quarter-mile oval.

Smith went on to a comfortable, 4.495-second victory over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Aric Almirola for his third career NASCAR Xfinity Series triumph and second of the young season. It was JGR’s 12th Richmond win.

“Never give up,” he said after climbing from his race car. “Never give up. This car was not good in stage one, still wasn’t good in stage two, but we pulled some [pit] strategy there with our Mobil 1 GR Supra and it was as fast as Xfinity internet on fresh tires there when it counted.”

Saturday was Smith’s second straight spring win at Richmond, the track where he earned his first series victory a year ago. It also continued his run of top-10 finishes in every Xfinity Series race this season.

“All glory to God,” Smith continued. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be surrounded by all the men and women at Joe Gibbs Racing and the manufacturer that’s given my career so much success in Toyota. I’m back winning races on a consistent basis and that’s a great feeling.”

With his win Saturday, Smith also assumed the point lead over fellow two-time winner Austin Hill by 10 markers in the regular season standings.

The turning point of the race came after an incident on lap 173, when contact between Joey Gase and Dawson Cram sent Gase spinning into the outside wall in turn one and drew the last of six caution flags on the afternoon.

While it led to conflict between Gase and Cram, it also created pit strategy drama at a track where tire falloff – and fresh tires late in a race – is traditionally king.

Justin Allgaier led a group of 14 drivers that stayed out under the caution, expecting a late-race caution as short tracks often produce, while Smith and Almirola brought the remainder of the lead-lap cars down for service and fresh rubber in the hopes that green-flag racing would prevail.

Though Allgaier brought the field back to the final restart with 67 laps to go, Smith’s fresh tires quickly carved through the frontrunners despite the fact that he lined up 15th when the green flag returned for good.

It took Smith just eight laps after the restart to pass the 14 cars ahead of him before he drove off into the distance. He then emphasized the importance of family after winning on Easter weekend.

“I cannot wait to get to see my kids [in victory lane],” Smith said. “They’re here today, my wife and my sons, and I’m ready to celebrate with them.”

Joe Gibbs Racing’s banner day at one of its statistically best racetracks included a sweep of the top-three finishing positions, the seventh time in Xfinity Series history that the organization has accomplished that feat.

Smith and Almirola were trailed by Taylor Gray, a 19-year-old NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regular who made his first Xfinity Series start Saturday in the No. 19 Toyota GR Supra for JGR.

“We just got a little bit too loose,” noted Almirola, who swept the first two stages and led a race-high 95 laps, of what he lacked to be able to chase down Smith.

“The run before when I took off, my car was really, really good … but at the end [of that stint], it built a little bit tight and we wanted to try and alleviate that,” he added. “I don’t know if it was the different set of tires or what … but I paced myself, let Chandler go, and then when I started trying to creep back to him … I didn’t have anything to go with. I was too loose on entry and couldn’t get back to the throttle.

“I hate to win both stages and feel like we had the dominant car, only to let it slip away, but it’s still special to come back here 18 years after my first start with this team and perform for Coach [Joe Gibbs].”

Another Truck Series standout, Corey Heim, was fourth for Sam Hunt Racing to give Toyota a top-four sweep as a manufacturer. Rookie Jesse Love finished fifth in a Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Super late model kingpin Bubba Pollard crossed sixth for JR Motorsports in his long-awaited Xfinity Series debut, with Parker Kligerman, Austin Hill, Sammy Smith, and Custer closing the top 10.

Custer was a lap down to the leaders at the finish, however, he rallied from outside the top 20 in the final 20 laps after having to pit for a suspected tire issue and taking on a set of sticker tires.

The Stewart-Haas Racing pilot was the highest finishing Ford driver Saturday afternoon at Richmond.

Among the drivers who stayed out to the checkered flag, Allgaier was the best finisher in 11th place.

NASCAR Xfinity Series teams will return to action Saturday, April 6 with the running of the Dude Wipes 250 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. John Hunter Nemechek was the winner of the event last year.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.