In the valley of the desert where a handful of NASCAR’s future stars battled against the all-time series winner and champion Kyle Busch, a new star shined the brightest as rookie Sammy Smith notched his first NASCAR Xfinity Series career victory in the United Rentals 200 at Phoenix Raceway on Saturday, March 11.
The 18-year-old Smith from Johnston, Iowa, led a race-high 92 of 200-scheduled laps, including the final 52, as he withstood a flurry of cautions, a 15-lap dash to the finish and a late charge from teammate Ryan Truex to claim his first Xfinity career victory in his 13th start in the series and become the first first-time winner across NASCAR’s top three national touring series for the 2023 season.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Cole Custer notched his first Xfinity pole of the season after posting a pole-winning lap at 129.959 mph in 27.701 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Justin Allgaier, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 129.706 mph in 27.755 seconds.
Prior to the event, Kyle Busch and Jeffrey Earnhardt dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective cars. Parker Kligerman also dropped to the rear of the field in a backup car.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, the field fanned out to multiple lanes through the frontstretch dogleg as Custer, who also went through the dogleg, retained the lead ahead of Daniel Hemric and Sheldon Creed while Allgaier fell back into a side-by-side battle with John Hunter Nemechek for fourth. At the conclusion of the first lap, Custer led ahead of Hemric and Creed while Allgaier retained fourth in front of Nemechek and the field.
Through the first five scheduled laps, Custer was leading by nine-tenths of a second over Creed followed by Hemric, Allgaier and Nemechek while rookie Chandler Smith, Josh Berry, rookie Sammy Smith, Riley Herbst and Austin Hill were in the top 10. Behind, Ryan Truex was in 11th ahead of Ryan Sieg, Sam Mayer, Brett Moffitt and Kaz Grala while Jeb Burton, Josh Williams, Brandon Jones, Kyle Sieg and rookie Parker Retzlaff rounded out the top 20.
At the Lap 10 mark, Custer extended his advantage to more than a second over Creed while third-place Allgaier trailed by more than two seconds. By then, Nemechek and Hemric remained in the top five while the two Smiths involving Sammy and Chandler battle for sixth. In addition, Kyle Busch cracked the top 20 after starting towards the rear of the field.
Ten laps later, Custer continued to lead by more than two seconds over the new runner-up competitor Allgaier while Creed fell back to third as he trailed by more than two seconds. Behind, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Nemechek and Sammy Smith were in the top five in front of Herbst while Hemric was back in seventh in front of teammate Chandler Smith, Josh Berry and Austin Hill. By then, Ryan Truex was back in 11th in front of Mayer and Brandon Jones while Kyle Busch was up in 14th.
Another eight laps later, the first caution of the event flew when the back bumper from Leland Honeyman’s No. 45 Alpha Prime Racing entry came loose and fell onto the frontstretch. The cause of the loose bumper happened a few laps earlier when Honeyman got loose and made contact against the outside wall towards Turn 1.
With 10 laps remaining in the first stage, the event proceeded under green. At the start, Custer bolted ahead with the lead as the field fanned out through the dogleg again. Behind, Sammy Smith challenged Allgaier for second while Creed, Nemechek, Sammy Smith and Herbst battled for fourth. Shortly after, Allgaier launched a challenge to the outside of Custer for the lead but was unable to prevail as Custer maintained the lead on the inside lane.
Then on Lap 37, Allgaier made his move to the outside of Custer as he assumed the lead in his No. 7 hellowater Chevrolet Camaro through the backstretch and back to the frontstretch. A lap later, the caution returned when Berry, who was running in eighth, got bumped by Chandler Smith as he spun in the middle of Turn 3. Despite the spin, the entire field managed to dodge Berry as he continued without sustaining any damage. During the caution period, some led by Nemechek pitted while the rest led by Allgaier remained on the track.
With two laps remaining in the first stage, the event resumed under green. At the start, the field fanned out to four lanes through the dogleg and through the frontstretch as Allgaier retained the lead. Behind, Creed made his way into second in front of a bevy of competitors that continued to fan out to multiple lanes. This, however, allowed Allgaier to pull away from the field.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 45, Allgaier claimed his second stage victory of the 2023 Xfinity season. Creed fended off Sammy Smith for second followed by Herbst and Hemric while Custer, Busch, Mayer, Nemechek and Chandler Smith were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, some led by Allgaier pitted for the first time in the event while the rest led by Mayer and Nemechek remained on the track.
The second stage started on Lap 55 as Mayer and Nemechek occupied the front row. At the start and with the field fanning out through the dogleg, Nemechek muscled into the lead on the inside lane while Hill and Mayer battled for second in front of a flurry of competitors. As the battles around the circuit proceeded, the caution returned during the following lap when Moffitt, who was running just outside the top 10, got loose underneath Jeremy Clements and spun in the middle of Turn 3, though he was narrowly dodged by the field.
During the following restart on Lap 62, Nemechek rocketed with the lead on the inside lane while Hill made his way into second. Behind, Ryan Truex and Jeb Burton challenged Mayer for third, though the later prevailed exiting the backstretch. As Nemechek retained the lead, Berry, who spun towards the conclusion of the first stage, carved his way back to sixth with multiple battles ensuing behind.
Following another caution period for a two-car incident involving Connor Mosack and Josh Williams in Turn 2 on Lap 68 and another restart on Lap 74, Nemechek battled and fended off Hill to remain the lead on the inside lane. Shortly after, however, NASCAR assessed Nemechek a pass-through penalty through pit road as a result of Nemechek dipping his No. 20 Safeway/Albertsons Toyota Supra below the frontstretch’s double yellow line boundary, which was deemed a violation. With Nemechek penalized, Hill assumed the lead followed by Sammy Smith while Ryan Truex, Mayer, Berry and Busch occupied the top six.
By Lap 84, the caution flew when Berry, who was running in fourth, got bumped by teammate Mayer as he spun his No. 8 Jarrett Logistics Systems Chevrolet Camaro in Turn 2 and towards the pit road’s entrance while being dodged by Busch. By then, Nemechek, who was mired in the next-to-last position in 37th place, managed to remain on the lead lap while Hill retained the lead in front of Sammy Smith and Truex. During the caution period, a majority of the field led by Hill pitted while the rest led by Allgaier remained on the track.
With two laps remaining in the second stage, the event restarted under green as Allgaier and Anthony Alfredo occupied the front row. At the start, Allgaier and Alfredo dueled for the lead through the frontstretch with the field behind fanning out to multiple lanes. As the field continued to battle through the backstretch, Allgaier pulled away as he commenced the final lap of the second stage. With no competition luring behind, Allgaier claimed his second consecutive Xfinity stage victory of the season and third overall at the Lap 90 mark. Hill carved his way back to second followed by Hemric, Sammy Smith and Kyle Busch while Alfredo, Mayer, Herbst, Kaz Grala and Creed were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, a few drivers including Allgaier and Alfredo pitted while the rest led by Hill remained on the track.
With 100 laps remaining, which marked the event’s halfway mark, the final stage started as Hill and Hemric occupied the front row. At the start, a three-wide battle ensued through the frontstretch as Kyle Busch and Hemric challenged Hill for the lead. In the process, Sammy Smith made it a four-car battle as he joined the battle while Busch carved his way into the lead by a hair over Smith. Soon after, Smith launched his challenge on Busch for the lead before prevailing in Turn 2 with 97 laps remaining. As Smith assumed the lead, Busch fell back to second while Hemric, Hill and Mayer were scored in the top five. Meanwhile, Ryan Truex was in sixth in front of teammate Nemechek, who rallied from his restart penalty, while Herbst, Custer and Chandler Smith were scored in the top 10.
With 90 laps remaining, Sammy Smith was leading by more than a second over Busch followed by Hemric, Hill and Nemechek while Mayer, Herbst, Ryan Truex, Custer and Chandler Smith occupied the top 10. Behind, Creed was in 11th ahead of Brandon Jones, Kyle Weatherman, Grala and Parker Kligerman while Berry, Jeb Burton, Allgaier, Moffitt and Ryan Sieg were running in the top 20.
Fifteen laps later, Sammy Smith extended his advantage to more than three seconds over the new runner-up competitor Hill as Busch, who had debris on his front grille, slipped back to third to remove the debris behind Hill’s rear bumper. By then, Nemechek moved up to fourth in front of Mayer while Herbst, Hemric, Custer, Chandler Smith and Creed were running in the top 10.
With 62 laps remaining, the caution flew when Gray Gaulding wrecked against the Turn 1 outside wall as his event came to a late end. During the caution period, the field led by Sammy Smith pitted, but Hill reassumed the lead following a stellar pit service from his No. 21 crew followed by Busch while Sammy Smith dropped to third. Nemechek, Herbst and Mayer exited fourth through sixth while Allgaier gained four spots to move up to eighth.
Down to the final 53 laps, the event restarted under green. At the start, Hill led a stampede of competitors through the frontstretch until Kyle Busch pulled his No. 10 LA Golf Chevrolet Camaro even to Hill’s outside through the backstretch. As the field returned to the frontstretch, Busch peaked ahead with the lead, but Hill fought back on the inside lane. Then As Sammy Smith drew himself in between Busch and Hill to regain his lead through Turn 2, the caution returned when Creed got loose beneath Custer as he spun his No. 2 Whelen Chevrolet Camaro in Turn 2 while being dodged by the field. At the moment of caution, Smith had reassumed the lead in front of Busch and Hill.
During the following restart with 44 laps remaining, Smith fended off Kyle Busch to retain the lead through the frontstretch and entering the backstretch. In the process, Busch came under attack from Nemechek for the runner-up spot, which he lost in Turn 3 while Hill fell back to fourth in front of Berry and Allgaier. As the field behind jostled for late positions, Smith maintained the lead as he also started to extend it over teammate Nemechek while third-place Busch trailed by more than a second.
Then with 30 laps remaining, the caution flew when Alfredo got loose and spun in Turn 2. By then, Sammy Smith was leading by more than two seconds over teammate Nemechek while third-place Busch trailed by more than three seconds.
When the race restarted under green with 24 laps remaining, Kyle Busch launched a three-wide challenge on Sammy Smith and Nemechek in his bid for the lead through the frontstretch. Then in Turn 1, Nemechek went up the track and tagged the outside wall as he began losing spots. Meanwhile, Busch and Smith dueled for the lead through the backstretch, but Smith prevailed on the outside lane to remain as the leader. As Smith began to pull away during the following lap, a flurry of competitors running in the middle of the pack fanned out and jostled for late positions. Then with 22 laps remaining, Allgaier, who nearly got turned by teammate Brandon Jones in Turns 3 and 4 while running ninth, collided against Kaz Grala, who got pinned by Moffitt, and wrecked into the outside wall across the frontstretch as his eventful event came to an end with a wrecked race car.
During the following restart with 15 laps remaining, Smith rocketed his No. 18 Pilot Flying J Toyota Supra away with the lead on the inside lane while Busch battled and just fended off Hill for second. Through the backstretch, Chandler Smith made his way into third followed by Ryan Truex as Hill fell back to fifth. Back at the front, Busch tried to launch an attack beneath Smith on the backstretch, but Smith fended off Busch to retain the lead as Chandler Smith joined the battle in his No. 16 Quick Tie Chevrolet Camaro.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Sammy Smith was leading by nine-tenths of a second over the new runner-up competitor Ryan Truex, who was piloting Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Toyota Genuine Parts Supra, while Busch was being challenged by teammate Chandler Smith for third. Meanwhile, Herbst carved his No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang to fifth while Nemechek, Creed, Hill, Berry and Hemric occupied the top 10.
With five laps remaining, Sammy Smith continued to lead by nearly half a second over teammate Ryan Truex, who continued to reel in on his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate for the lead and potential win, while third-place Busch trailed by more than a second in front of teammate Chandler Smith and Herbst.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Sammy Smith remained as the leader by six-tenths of a second over teammate Ryan Truex, who kept Smith close within his sights but was running out of time to bid for the lead. Despite Truex executing a late valiant effort for his first NASCAR victory, he ran out of time as Smith was able to cycle his No. 18 Supra way back to the start/finish line and claim his first checkered flag in the series.
With the victory, Smith, whose previous best result was 17th through the first three scheduled events, became the 172nd different competitor to win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series level, the 21st to win an Xfinity event while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing and the third different winner of the 2023 season. He also became the youngest series winner at Phoenix and the fourth-youngest overall at age 18 years, nine months and seven days. In the process, he recorded the record 16th Xfinity victory for JGR at Phoenix.
“It’s amazing,” Smith, a two-time ARCA Menards Series East champion, said on FS1. “It’s a dream come true. Just thanks to Pilot Flying J, TMC, Allstate Peterbilt Group, Toyota, all the guys on the [Joe Gibbs Racing] team for giving me this opportunity. It’s awesome.”
Teammate Ryan Truex notched a career-best runner-up result in his first of six scheduled starts with Joe Gibbs Racing for this season, which marked his third runner-up finish in the series overall and his first runner-up result in the series since Phoenix in March 2019, which occurred while driving a part-time stint with JR Motorsports.
“I thought we were good at the start,” Truex said. “Man, I think the track just changed a lot more than I expected it too. That long run, we were really bad. I was just hanging on, but [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] and these [No. 19] guys let me complain on the radio and made the right adjustments. That was a good restart at the end. Glad I could at least try to make it exciting. Congrats to Sammy. He was just the class of the field all day. His car just looked so good. [He] Could really kind of do whatever he wanted. Just thankful to be here. Thanks to Toyota Genuine Parts. Sammy was just a little bit faster, but I’ll try again next time.”
Sheldon Creed muscled his way to third in front of Herbst while Chandler Smith, who had a last-lap dust-up with Kyle Busch, completed the top five. Nemechek, Hill and Berry finished sixth through eighth, respectively, while Busch, who got sideways beneath teammate Chandler Smith and hit the Turn 1 outside wall on the final lap, ended up ninth. Hemric completed the top 10 in the final running order.
There were 14 lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured 11 cautions for 69 laps. In total, 33 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.
Following the fourth event of the 2023 Xfinity Series season, Austin Hill continues to lead the regular-season standings by 30 points over John Hunter Nemechek, 39 over Justin Allgaier and 40 over both Chandler Smith and Riley Herbst.
1. Sammy Smith, 92 laps led
2. Ryan Truex
3. Sheldon Creed
4. Riley Herbst
5. Chandler Smith, two laps led
6. John Hunter Nemechek, 19 laps led
7. Austin Hill, 22 laps led
8. Josh Berry
9. Kyle Busch, three laps led
10. Daniel Hemric
11. Sam Mayer, four laps led
12. Cole Custer, 38 laps led
13. Brett Moffitt
14. Anthony Alfredo
15. Parker Kligerman
16. Ryan Sieg
17. Kyle Weatherman
18. Parker Retzlaff
19. Ryan Ellis
20. Jeremy Clements
21. Josh Williams
22. Jeb Burton
23. Brandon Jones
24. Connor Mosack
25. Kyle Sieg
26. Joey Gase
27. Leland Honeyman
28. Bayley Currey
29. Brennan Poole
30. Patrick Emerling
31. Joe Graf Jr.
32. Garrett Smithley
33. Jeffrey Earnhardt
34. Kaz Grala, one lap down
35. Blaine Perkins – OUT, Suspension
36. Justin Allgaier – OUT, Accident, 20 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner
37. Gray Gaulding – OUT, Accident
38. Dawson Cram – OUT, Fuel pump
Next on the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is a trip back to the south for the series’ first of two visits this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, March 18, at 5 p.m. ET on FS1.