In an event dominated by JR Motorsports’ Josh Berry, Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Hill stole the spotlight after outdueling Berry during an overtime attempt to win the eighth annual running of the Explore The Pocono Mountains 225 at Pocono Raceway on Saturday, July 22.
The 29-year-old Hill from Winston, Georgia, led the final two of 92 over-scheduled laps in an event where he started 11th and nabbed a single point at the conclusion of the first stage. After being penalized with a speeding penalty prior to the final stage, Hill and his No. 21 RCR Chevrolet Camaro team led by crew chief Andy Street rolled the dice by pitting for fuel during a caution period with less than 45 laps remaining amid a two-car wreck that collected fellow competitors John Hunter Nemechek and Cole Custer.
From a restart with 40 laps remaining through a late caution period with 11 laps remaining and prior to a six-lap dash to the finish, Hill elected to remain on the track amid concerns of running low of fuel. Despite losing a brief lead to Berry at the start of the six-lap dash, an opportunity presented itself for Hill as another late-race incident sent the event into overtime. During the event’s lone overtime attempt, the Georgian capitalized on a late mistake made by Berry slipping up the track in Turn 1 that enabled Hill to muscle into the lead. Despite being placed in a duel against Berry on the final lap, Hill managed to rocket away from Berry with a push from Berry’s teammate Sam Mayer and retain the lead just as a final lap incident involving Berry concluded the event under caution and handed Hill his fourth Xfinity victory of the 2023 season.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, July 21, Josh Berry notched his first Xfinity Series pole of the 2023 season after posting a pole-winning lap at 167.951 mph in 53.587 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Daniel Hemric, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 167.128 mph in 53.851 seconds.
Prior to the event, the following names that included Garrett Smithley, Chad Chastain and Blaine Perkins dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective entries.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Berry fended off a brief duel with Hemric through the frontstretch to launch ahead with the lead through the first turn. As the field battled two by two through Long Pond Straight, the Tunnel Curve and Turns 2 and 3, Berry managed to rocket ahead in his No. 8 Tire Pros Chevrolet Camaro and lead the first lap followed by Hemric while Sheldon Creed, Connor Mosack, John Hunter Nemechek and rookie Sammy Smith pursued within the top six.
Through the second lap, more battles ensued within and outside the top 10 as Cole Custer was trying to protect ninth place ahead of Austin Hill, rookie Chandler Smith, Justin Allgaier, Corey Heim, Jeb Burton and others while Brandon Jones and Sam Mayer tried to close in on the top-six competitors. Meanwhile, the leader Berry proceeded with a reasonable advantage ahead of Hemric.
Through the first five scheduled laps, Berry was leading by more than a second over Hemric followed by Creed, Mosack and Sammy Smith while Nemechek, Brandon Jones, Mayer, Custer and Austin Hill were in the top 10. Behind, Allgaier occupied 11th in front of Chandler Smith, Corey Heim, Ryan Sieg and Jeb Burton while Chase Elliott, Brett Moffitt, Daniel Suarez, Kaz Grala and Jeremy Clements occupied the top 20. By then, Ty Dillon was mired in 21st in front of Riley Herbst, Parker Kligerman, rookie Parker Retzlaff and Anthony Alfredo.
At the Lap 10 mark, Berry stabilized his advantage to more than a second over Hemric while Creed retained third place in his No. 2 Whelen Chevrolet Camaro. Behind, Sammy Smith moved up to fourth followed by teammate Nemechek and Brandon Jones while Mosack fell back to seventh. In addition, Custer and Mayer battled for eighth, Allgaier cracked the top 10 as he was running in 10th, Hill fell back to 12th and Elliott was up to 14th.
Five laps later, Berry extended his advantage to nearly two seconds over Hemric while third-place Creed trailed by nearly three seconds. By then, teammates Sammy Smith and Nemechek retained fourth and fifth while Mosack had fallen back to 10th as Mayer, Allgaier and Custer moved up the leaderboard in the top 10.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 20, Berry, who has led since the drop of the green flag, captured his second Xfinity stage victory of the 2023 season. Hemric settled in second, trailing by more than a second, while Nemechek, Sammy Smith, Creed, Jones, Mayer, Allgaier, Mosack and Austin Hill were scored in the top 10. By then, Custer, who pitted for service under green on Lap 17 and just as pit road closed to signify the conclusion of a stage period, was mired back in 37th place, the next-to-last spot.
Under the stage break, nearly the entire field led by Berry pitted while select names that included Custer, who pitted prior to the stage’s conclusion, along with Alex Labbe, Brennan Poole and Garrett Smithley remained on the track. Following the pit stops, Berry exited first ahead of Hemric, Smith, Jones and Nemechek. Amid the pit stops, Josh Williams was penalized for equipment interference.
The second stage started on Lap 25 as Custer and Berry occupied the front row. At the start and amid a stacked two-by-two restart, Custer received a push from Hemric while running on the outside lane to battle Berry for the lead until the latter reassumed the top spot through Long Pond Straight. Behind, Hemric slipped in Turn 1 and fell back to seventh while Brandon Jones rocketed to third along with Sammy Smith, Nemechek and Allgaier. With Berry back in the lead, Jones would then move his No. 9 Menards Chevrolet Camaro into second after overtaking Custer through Turns 2 and 3 as Allgaier followed suit. Not long after, trouble struck for Jeffrey Earnhardt, who fell off the pace after cutting a left-front tire while the event remained under green flag conditions.
During the proceeding laps, Berry was leading ahead of teammates Jones and Allgaier while Custer was overtaken by Sammy Smith and Nemechek for top-five spots amid older tires compared to the field. Behind, Hemric retained seventh as Herbst and Mayer tried to close in.
By Lap 30, Berry was leading by more than a second over teammate Allgaier while teammate Jones, who was in third, trailed by more than two seconds. Behind, Nemechek was in fourth while Custer was being challenged by Sammy Smith for fifth place. Meanwhile, Hemric continued to run in seventh ahead of Herbst and Mayer while Chandler Smith was in 10th ahead of Chase Elliott. In addition, Creed, who was boxed in during his previous pit stops, was in 14th behind Austin Hill and Ryan Sieg.
Five laps later, Berry’s advantage decreased to a tenth of a second over a hard-charging, teammate Allgaier while teammate Jones retained third as he trailed by less than two seconds. Shortly after, the battle for the lead between JR Motorsports’ Berry and Allgaier intensified as Allgaier started to intimidate Berry for the top spot. Behind, the battle for third place also intensified as Nemechek started to gain ground on Brandon Jones for the spot. By then, Parker Kligerman was mired in 36th after pitting under green and remaining on the lead lap. Creed, Ryan Sieg and Daniel Suarez would then pit just as pit road closed with two laps remaining in the second stage.
Then on the final lap of the second stage, Allgaier drew even on teammate Berry for the lead and for the stage victory. With Berry pulling ahead and retaining the spot from Allgaier entering the straightaways while Allgaier gained runs through the turns, Berry managed to fend off Allgaier by a tenth of a second to claim his second stage victory of the day and the third of the 2023 Xfinity season on Lap 40. Nemechek settled in third while Brandon Jones, Custer, Sammy Smith, Mayer, Herbst, Hermic and Chandler Smith were scored in the top 10.
During the stage break, nearly the entire field led by Berry pitted while some led by Allgaier and including Garrett Smithley, Brennan Poole, Suarez, Creed, Ryan Sieg and Kligerman remained on the track. Following the pit stops, Austin Hill was penalized for speeding on pit road.
With 45 laps remaining, which marked the halfway point of the event, the final stage started as Allgaier and Suarez occupied the front row. At the start, however, the caution quickly returned amid a stacked restart when Nemechek, who restarted in the top 10 and was getting boxed in behind Kligerman after Kligerman struggled to launch, got sideways after getting bumped by teammate Sammy Smith as Nemechek then got turned before colliding into Custer’s No. 00 Haas Ford Mustang with both spinning and hitting the outside wall through the frontstretch. Amid the carnage, Suarez managed to emerge as the leader over Allgaier while Ryan Sieg, Berry and Creed were in the top five. During the caution period, names that included Mayer, Ryan Ellis, Patrick Emerling, Herbst, Nemechek, Custer and Sammy Smith pitted while the rest led by Suarez remained on the track. In addition, Chad Chastain was sent to the rear of the field for laying back during the previous restart.
During the proceeding restart with 40 laps remaining, Suarez and Allgaier dueled for the lead as the field fanned out entering the first turn. Through Turn 1, Suarez tried to muscle ahead with the lead, but Allgaier fought back entering Long Pong Straight as Berry tried to launch a three-wide move on both. With Berry backing out, Allgaier rocketed ahead to assume the lead. Behind and during the proceeding lap, Berry continued to battle Suarez for the runner-up spot as Creed battled Ryan Sieg for fourth place.
With 36 laps remaining, Allgaier retained the lead by a tenth of a second over a hard-charging Berry while Suarez fell back to third and trailed the lead by less than two seconds. A lap later, Suarez surrendered third place to pit his No. 10 LeafHome Water Chevrolet Camaro under green as Creed, Elliott and Kligerman moved up the leaderboard in the top five. In addition, Berry navigated his way around teammate Allgaier for the lead. Another lap later, Chandler Smith and Corey Heim pitted under green.
Then with 33 laps remaining, Allgaier pitted his No. 7 Reese’s Ice Cream Chevrolet Camaro under green followed by Hemric and Jeb Burton, with Hemric exiting ahead of Allgaier after opting for only fuel to his No. 11 Chevy Accessories Chevrolet Camaro. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Sammy Smith and Connor Mosack would pit during the proceeding lap, with Smith pitting for only fuel, as Kligerman and Kaz Grala both pitted for only fuel with 31 laps remaining.
With 30 laps remaining, Berry surrendered the lead to pit for four fresh tires and fuel under green as Elliott cycled into the lead. Creed would also pit for four fresh tires as Berry was mired outside the top 20 by the time he returned to the track.
With 25 laps remaining and with mixed strategies continuing to ensue, Elliott, who has yet to pit, was leading by more than six seconds over Brandon Jones while Ryan Sieg, Ty Dillon and Herbst were in the top five. With Mayer and Moffitt running sixth and seventh, Hill, who topped off on fuel during the previous caution period and aiming to finish the event on his current fuel tank, was running in eighth. By then, Berry, the first competitor with enough fuel to finish the event, cycled his way up to 20th with teammate Allgaier following pursuit.
Five laps later, Elliott surrendered the lead to pit his No. 17 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro under green followed by Parker Retzlaff as Brandon Jones cycled into the lead. In addition, Kaz Grala ran into late issues after spinning, but he managed to proceed without drawing a caution.
Another five laps later, Brandon Jones retained the lead by more than eight seconds over Ty Dillon while Ryan Sieg occupied third place. Behind was Herbst, who was aiming to stretch his fuel tank to the distance, along with fifth-place Mayer while Moffitt and Hill were in sixth and seventh. Meanwhile, Berry cycled his way up to eighth while Anthony Alfredo and Allgaier were in the top 10. By then, Elliott, who pitted five laps earlier, was in 12th in front of Chandler Smith and Creed, Hemric was in 16th and Suarez was in 17th.
Then with 11 laps remaining, the caution flew when Allgaier hit and sent the lapped competitor of Joey Gase spinning exiting Turn 2 as Allgaier also sustained damage to the right-front fender of his car. At the moment of caution, Brandon Jones was leading by more than 12 seconds over Herbst while Mayer, Hill and Berry were in the top five. By then, Ty Dillon, Moffitt and Ryan Sieg had made pit stops under green.
During the caution period, nearly the entire field led by Brandon Jones, who was set to pit prior to Gase’s incident, and including Allgaier, who sustained a flat right-rear tire amid the contact with Gase, pitted while the rest led by Herbst and including Mayer, Hill, Berry, Elliott, Creed and Ryan Sieg remained on the track.
Down to the final six laps of the event, the race restarted under green as Herbst and Hill occupied the front row ahead of Mayer and Berry. At the start, Hill muscled his way into the lead on the inside lane followed by Berry. Berry then wasted no time cycling his way back to the lead after overtaking Hill through Long Pond Straight as the field behind jostled for late spots. With Herbst and Mayer falling back to third and fourth in front of Elliott and behind Hill, Berry retained the lead as the event reached its final five-lap mark. Then amid the on-track battles, the caution returned when Connor Mosack wrecked his No. 19 IRWIN Toyota Supra in the Tunnel Curve in Turn 2. The incident was enough to send the event into overtime with Berry leading the field.
During the first overtime attempt, where teammates Berry and Mayer occupied the front row, Berry received a push from Hill while restarting on the outside lane to pull ahead of teammate Mayer. Then in Turn 1, Berry missed the turn and went wide, which allowed Hill to rocket his No. 21 Global Industrial Chevrolet Camaro into the lead while Berry was trying to straighten his car while falling back to third. Amid stacked racing through Turns 2 and 3, Berry quickly reassumed the runner-up spot as he then ignited his pursuit on Hill for the lead and win.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Hill remained as the leader by two-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Berry. Through Turn 1, Berry lightly bumped into the rear of Hill to get Hill loose through the turn. With both then making light contact against one another entering Long Pond Straight, Berry and Hill dueled for the lead until Mayer drafted Hill clear of Berry and to the lead. In the process, Berry made contact against teammate Mayer’s No. 1 Accelerate Pros Talent Chevrolet Camaro as Mayer moved into second. Then entering the Tunnel Curve, Berry’s event went south after he went dead straight toward the outside wall with a flat right-front tire and wrecked against the wall. In front of him, Ryan Sieg, who was vying for a top-10 spot, spun just exiting Turn 2. The incidents forced NASCAR to draw the caution and deem the event official on the final lap as Hill navigated his way back to the frontstretch and claim his fourth checkered flag of the 2023 Xfinity season.
With the victory, Hill notched his sixth career victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and fourth of the season, thus joining John Hunter Nemechek as a four-time race winner in 2023. He also became the eighth different winner in the Xfinity Series’ eight-year span at the Tricky Triangle as he also recorded the fourth Xfinity victory of the season for Richard Childress Racing and the 10th of the season for the Chevrolet nameplate.
“We didn’t have the best car all day,” Hill said on USA Network. “[Crew chief] Andy [Street] and everybody back at [Richard Childress Racing] and ECR Engines worked really hard. We got the car better. I thought that we were maybe a top-five, top-seven car, but I didn’t think that we had anything for the leaders. [Berry] was so fast today. On that [overtime] restart, he drove into [Turn] 1 and he got really loose on entry. I was just trying to hit my line and I throttled up, cleared him. Then taking the white [flag], I backed it up way too much into [Turn] 1, just not wanting to do what [Berry] did and he packed air on me, ended up getting into my back bumper and then, we drag-raced down the backstretch. I thought [Mayer] was about to split us three wide. He had a big run, me and [Berry] both closed it up and he just had to push me at that point. Once I cleared him, I just knew I had to hit my marks and obviously, the caution came out.”
“Man, such a special win,” Hill added. “Obviously with fuel saving and had to save fuel there, didn’t know if we were gonna make it and that was on my mind on the last lap. Going into the Tunnel Turn, I was like, ‘Man, I gotta get back to the start/finish line’. [I] Had enough fuel for a burnout, so we saved enough.”
Mayer came home in a career-best runner-up spot for the third time in his career while Elliott, Herbst and Hemric finished in the top five.
Sammy Smith, Brandon Jones, Moffitt, Kligerman and Suarez finished in the top 10. Notably, Creed ended up 11th, Ty Dillon settled in 14th and Allgaier fell back to 23rd after wrecking on the frontstretch along with Chandler Smith that resulted in a rear bumper cover coming off of Allgaier’s car before the veteran went dead straight and wrecked against the Turn 1 outside wall.
Meanwhile, Berry, who led a race-high 51 laps and swept both stages, ended up 24th after wrecking on the final lap and having his first victory of the season slip out of his grasp as he was unable to finish the event.
“It was just a wild restart,” Berry said in the infield care center. “I think [Hill] pushed me a little bit longer and a little harder than I wanted to go into [Turn] 1, and just got loose, got up the track and [into] the marbles. [I] Was able to battle back there and race with him. I was trying to time the run. I got there quicker than I wanted in the center and that’s why I got into [Mayer] and we just lost momentum there. The deal with me and Sam [Mayer], I knew Sam was coming with a huge run and obviously, I just tried to cover it to get next to [Hill]. He moved left and I moved right. It was just a racing deal. Just hate that we didn’t get the finish we deserved today, but man, what a really, really fast Tire Pros Chevrolet. I know that if we can continue to have that kind of speed, we’ll win plenty of races. Tough way to end, but still a lot of positives from today and things that I know I could’ve done better to at the end.”
There were 11 lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured six cautions for 72 laps. In addition, 23 of 38 starters were scored on the lead lap.
With seven Xfinity regular-season events remaining on the schedule, John Hunter Nemechek continues to lead the regular-season standings by 13 points over Austin Hill, 55 over Justin Allgaier and 85 over Cole Custer.
1. Austin Hill, two laps led
2. Sam Mayer
3. Chase Elliott, nine laps led
4. Riley Herbst, three laps led
5. Daniel Hemric
6. Sammy Smith
7. Brandon Jones, 12 laps led
8. Brett Moffitt
9. Parker Kligerman
10. Daniel Suarez, five laps led
11. Sheldon Creed
12. Jeb Burton
13. Anthony Alfredo
14. Ty Dillon
15. Jeremy Clements
16. Kyle Sieg
17. Joe Graf Jr.
18. Ryan Ellis
19. Jeffrey Earnhardt
20. Chandler Smith
21. Garrett Smithley
22. Ryan Sieg
23. Justin Allgaier, eight laps led
24. Josh Berry, one lap down, 51 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner
25. Kaz Grala, one lap down
26. Patrick Emerling, one lap down
27. Blaine Perkins, one lap down
28. Alex Labbe, one lap down
29. Brennan Poole, one lap down
30. Chad Chastain, one lap down
31. Joey Gase, two laps down
32. John Hunter Nemechek, three laps down
33. Cole Custer, five laps down, two laps led
34. Connor Mosack – OUT, Accident
35. Parker Retzlaff, eight laps down
36. Josh Williams, 10 laps down
37. Corey Heim – OUT, Suspension
38. Sage Karam – OUT, Transmission
Next on the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is the series’ annual return to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, July 29, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.