Just last week, NASCAR made a number of rule changes for next year geared towards lessening Sprint Cup Series drivers involvement in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, especially during the XFINITY Series Chase. Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge race at the Texas Motor Speedway made it evident that these rules will make a significant difference next year.
Cup Series drivers dominated the race, with Brad Keselowski leading 145 laps of the 200 lap contest and the top three finishers were all Cup drivers. It seemed to be Keselowski’s day, until the final restart.
Kyle Larson took the lead from Keselowski with 29 laps to go and cruised to his fifth career XFINITY Series victory. Keselowski made it close at times but he couldn’t get back around the young California driver. It’s the third win of the season for Chip Ganassi Racing, after Larson’s Pocono win and Justin Mark’s win at Mid-Ohio earlier in the season. Keselowski came home second and Kevin Harvick finished third in his final XFINITY race of the season.
Erik Jones finished fourth and was the first XFINITY Series driver in the finishing order. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Suarez finished fifth after finishing fifth the day before in the Camping World Truck Series race. Fellow Chase driver Elliott Sadler was close behind the Gibbs Toyota’s in sixth.
The other five Chase drivers finished in the top fifteen. Justin Allgaier finished 10th and Darrell Wallace Jr. finished 11th. Ryan Reed finished right behind his teammate Wallace in 12th while Blake Koch finished 14th. Brendan Gaughan ended the day 15th.
There were five caution periods, the first coming just 10 laps in when Brandon Hightower spun in Turn two. On lap 72, Ray Black Jr. spun to bring out caution number two. Debris brought out a caution on lap 92 and Matt DiBenneditto slammed the Turn four wall on lap 134 to bring out yet another caution. Finally, Hightower blew his engine on lap 166 and the fluid brought out the final caution of the day.
The top finishing among the Chase drivers ended the day in pretty decent shape heading into Phoenix, the final race of this round. Suarez leads the field, 17 points ahead of fifth in the standings and Sadler follows 16 points ahead. Jones is a comfortable seven points ahead while Koch, the only driver still in the Chase field who doesn’t drive for a Sprint Cup Series owner, is one point ahead of Allgaier for fourth on the Chase Grid. Reed sits five points out. Wallace and Gaughan at 20 and 23 points back respectively enter Phoenix all but needing to win to get to Homestead.
Unofficial Race Resultsn1631_unoffres-nxs-at-texas-nov-2016