It was a banner night for Austin Cindric, who was able to claim his first elusive NASCAR Xfinity Series win of the season in Thursday night’s Shady Rays 200 at Kentucky Speedway. It was also a banner night for rookie Riley Herbst, Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe, all of whom emerged with strong top-five results following an eventful race as part of a series doubleheader week at the Bluegrass State.
For Riley Herbst, who came into Kentucky following an up-and-down stretch in his rookie Xfinity season, he started in 23rd based on a random draw. After avoiding a wreck at the start of the race that eliminated his teammate Brandon Jones, Herbst was able to work his way to 12th by the competition caution on Lap 15. While his other teammate/rookie Harrison Burton ran towards the front, Herbst kept his No. 18 Monster Energy Toyota Supra towards the top 10 as he finished the first stage in 11th despite struggling with grip. Throughout the second stage, Herbst moved into the top five and was able to finish fifth and collect valuable stage points towards the Playoffs. For the majority of the final stage and the second half of the race, Herbst remained inside the top 10 while keeping his car intact. Following a series of late cautions and late restarts, including an overtime restart following teammate Burton’s spin, Herbst moved into the runner-up spot after Chase Briscoe got loose while battling Cindric for the lead and the win. Ultimately, a caution for a multi-car wreck on the final lap ended Herbst’s shot for a late charge as he crossed the line in the runner-up spot. The runner-up spot, however, tied Herbst’s career-best finish in the series and it marked his seventh top-10 result of the season and his first top-five result since he finished second at Auto Club Speedway in February. With the result, Herbst remained in 11th in the regular-season standings, but is 42 points above the top-12 cutline to the Playoffs.
“We did a good job all day,” Herbst said. “We, probably, ran fourth all day, over-adjusted the car there at the end, got a little bit too tight, but all in all, we’ve had speed all year. We just haven’t been able to capitalize, probably mostly on my part in the final stages of these races, so once we start capitalizing, we’ll start getting good finishes like this. So, it was good.”
For Ross Chastain, Thursday’s Xfinity race presented one of two opportunities for the Floridian to record his first series win of the season. Starting in the runner-up spot by virtue of a random draw, he avoided a two-car wreck at the start of the race and made a brief challenge for the lead on Noah Gragson on the outside lane, only to loose grip on the outside lane. By the competition caution, he was back in fifth and was able to record a fourth-place result in the first stage. Throughout the second stage, Chastain kept his No. 10 Chevy Accessories/Kaulig Racing Chevrolet Camaro inside the top five as he finished in fourth again. After running well inside the top 10 for the start of the final stage, Chastain was hit with a pit road speeding penalty following a pit stop and was sent to the rear of the field when the race restarted with less than 40 laps remaining. At the front, teammate Justin Haley assumed command after opting for a two-tire pit stop. Nearly ten laps later, Chastain was involved in an incident with Brett Moffitt in Turn 4, which drew another caution. Through two additional cautions and three restarts, including an overtime attempt, Chastain was able to rally to settle in third on the final lap when the caution flew. When the checkered flag was displayed, Chastain raced across the finish line in third, four spots ahead of teammate Haley. With his career-high 12th top-10 result, Chastain is fourth in the regular-season standings and is 252 points above the top-12 cutline.
“The record book will show a good night, starting up front, fourth in both stages and a third-place finish,” Chastain said. “Me speeding on pit road to start the final stage is not how you win races in NASCAR and overdriving the entry to Turn 3 and taking out Brett [Moffitt] there. I hate that [for] the No. 02 group. I’ve raced with Brett quite a bit. We’ve had our fair share of run-ins and I hate that I gave him another reason not to like me. So, I’ll take some time to try and make that better. But, I just overdrove it and got loose and took him out. [I] Can’t thank everybody on Kaulig Racing, Chevy Accessories, everybody at Team Chevy for giving us this opportunity, [team owner] Matt Kaulig, Nutrien Ag Solutions. It, definitely, was tough. We fired off in the race and I thought we had like the wrong tires on the car. We were not very good and [crew chief] Bruce Schlicker kept telling me that he was gonna make it better, and he did. By the end, now, I think that we have a car to go race tomorrow for the win, race [Briscoe], [Cindric], [Allgaier], those guys, [Haley]. But, we didn’t have it to start tonight and we’re gonna make some small changes unlike Homestead and be better tomorrow night.”
If there was an Xfinity Series competitor who came into Kentucky seeking more momentum following recent victories at Pocono and Indianapolis, it was Chase Briscoe, who reunited with regular crew chief Richard Boswell following a four-race stretch with interim crew chief/veteran Greg Zipadelli. Starting seventh on a random draw, Briscoe worked his way to fifth by the competition caution, but brought his No. 98 Ford Performance Racing School/Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang to pit road for four fresh tires, fuel and a big chassis adjustment. Restarting near the end of the lead lap field, Briscoe made his way up to 16th when the first stage concluded. Under the stage’s break, Briscoe remained on track to inherit the lead. The following restart, however, Briscoe was overtaken by Noah Gragson for the lead, but he remained within a tight three-car battle for the lead that included Austin Cindric. When the second stage concluded, Briscoe settled in third. For the remainder of the final stage, Briscoe kept himself battling towards the front and challenging Cindric for the lead. Following a series of late restarts and cautions, including an overtime attempt, Briscoe was lined up on the front row and on the inside lane beneath Cindric. Entering Turn 1, however, Briscoe got loose and lost his momentum to Cindric as he was also overtaken by two more competitors. When the caution flew on the final lap and the race concluded, Briscoe was scored in fourth while Cindric emerged victorious. Though he came short in claiming his sixth series win of the season, he collected his eighth top-five result and continues to lead the regular-season standings by 16 points over Gragson.
“Yeah, I just got loose,” Briscoe said. “The restart before that, I almost cleared Austin and then, he got back around me. There at the end, that last restart, I went down there and same thing. I thought I was gonna be able to clear him. I just got too loose and about wrecked the thing. I don’t know if I just made the right rear [tire] mad or what. I was just, literally, wrecking on both ends after that. So, I felt like this was our worst car of the year as far as balance and speed goes. We were still able to, at least, be in the hunt. We’ll go onto tomorrow. I felt like Kentucky and Texas are our two worst mile and a halfs, and those are the next two [scheduled races]. So, we’ll try to build on it, just try to learn a little bit and get better.”
Herbst, Chastain and Briscoe along with their fellow NASCAR Xfinity Series competitors will return for the second series race of the week at Kentucky Speedway on July 10, which will air at 8 p.m. on FS1.