Justin Allgaier commenced the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in dramatic fashion by dominating and making a late charge back to the front amid a late pit stop for four fresh tires to outduel Daniel Hemric amid a late battle and win the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday, September 15.
The 37-year-old Allgaier from Riverton, Illinois, led three times for a race-high 110 of 300-scheduled laps in an event where he started 10th and battled up towards the front as he collected stage points during both stage break periods, all while leading for the first time in Lap 109. Amid late on-track chaos, Allgaier and crew chief Jim Pohlman rolled the dice by surrendering the lead and pitting for fresh tires during a late caution period with 50 laps remaining. Restarting within the top 15 during the final restart with 44 laps remaining, Allgaier methodically carved his way back to the front before engaging in a fierce battle with Daniel Hemric for the lead with 20 laps remaining. Allgaier then succeeded in reassuming the top spot from Hemric following a bold pass with 12 laps remaining and managed to pull away to win for the third time in the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season and become the first Xfinity Playoff contender to transfer from the Round of 12 to 8.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, Playoff contender Cole Custer claimed pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 122.341 mph in 15.684 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Josh Berry, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 122.123 mph in 15.712 seconds.
Prior to the event, the following names that included Derek Kraus, Anthony Alfredo and Riley Herbst dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective entries. Jeb Burton also dropped to the rear of the field in a backup car after wrecking his primary car during Friday’s practice session.
When the green flag waved and the race started, Custer rocketed ahead as he then transitioned his No. 00 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang from the outside lane to the inside lane to retain the lead through the first two turns. Behind, rookie Chandler Smith made his way into second over Berry followed by John Hunter Nemechek as Daniel Hemric and rookie Sammy Smith followed suit. As the field jostled for early positions amid two lanes, Custer proceeded to lead the first lap.
Through the second to fifth lap, the field running in the middle of the pack fanned out to as high as three lanes while most of the front-runners ran in a single file line behind the leader Custer. In the process, Berry, who nearly got loose while battling Nemechek for third place through Turn 2, slowly began to lose spots as he dropped out of the top five due to being stuck on the outside lane. Berry’s misfortunes allowed Nemechek, Sammy Smith and Brandon Jones to move into the top five behind Custer and Chandler Smith.
Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Custer was leading by more than a second over Chandler Smith followed by Nemechek, Sammy Smith and Justin Allgaier while Brandon Jones, Berry, Daniel Hemric, Trevor Bayne and Ryan Sieg were in the top 10. By then, Playoff newcomer Parker Kligerman was in 11th ahead of Sam Mayer, Jeremy Clements, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and rookie Parker Retzlaff while Sheldon Creed and Austin Hill were mired in 19th and 20th. Meanwhile, Jeb Burton was mired back in 31st.
Ten laps later, Custer continued to lead by two seconds over Nemechek followed by Chandler Smith, Sammy Smith and Allgaier. Behind, Berry lost a spot to eighth place over Brandon Jones and Bayne while Kligerman cracked the top 10 as he was in 10th ahead of Mayer and Hemric. Meanwhile, Earnhardt Jr. was in 13th while teammates Creed and Hill were still mired in 18th and 19th, respectively. In the process, Burton gained three spots to 28th as Custer’s lead decreased to a second over Nemechek by Lap 25.
At the Lap 35 mark, Custer stabilized his lead by a second over Nemechek while Allgaier, Sammy Smith and Chandler Smith continued to run in the top five. Behind, Brandon Jones, Bayne, Berry, Ryan Sieg and Mayer completed the top 10 while Kligerman, Hemric, Earnhardt Jr., Jeffrey Earnhardt and Retzlaff trailed in the top 15. Meanwhile, Hill and Creed were in 17th and 18th while Jeb Burton was in 25th. Custer’s lead would increase again to more than two seconds over Nemechek at the Lap 40 mark.
By Lap 50, Custer’s advantage stabilized to more than two seconds over the new runner-up competitor, Allgaier, while Nemechek fell back to third in front of Jones and Sammy Smith. By then, Playoff contenders Chandler Smith, Mayer and Kligerman were in the top 10 while Berry and Hemric trailed in 11th and 12th in front of Earnhardt Jr. In addition, Hill was in 16th, teammate Creed trailed in 19th and Burton, who would lose a lap to the leaders, was in 23rd.
Fifteen laps later, Custer extended his lead by nearly three seconds over Allgaier while Nemechek, Jones and Sammy Smith were scored in the top five. With Bayne, Chandler Smith, Mayer, Kligerman and Ryan Sieg running in the top 10, Earnhardt Jr. moved up to 11th in front of Hemric, Berry, Retzlaff and Riley Herbst. Custer would proceed to stretch his advantage to more than two seconds over Allgaier just past the Lap 75 mark.
When the first stage period concluded on Lap 85, Custer claimed his sixth Xfinity stage victory of the 2023 season. Allgaier settled in second as he trailed by more than a second while Brandon Jones, Nemechek, Bayne, Chandler Smith, Kligerman, Mayer, Earnhardt Jr. and Sammy Smith were scored in the top 10. By then, Playoff contenders Hemric, Hill, Berry, Creed and Burton were mired within the top 20 on the track, but they did not claim the first round of stage points. In addition, 16 of 38 starters were scored on the lead lap.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Custer pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Custer retained the lead after exiting first while Allgaier, Jones, Nemechek, Earnhardt Jr. and Bayne followed suit.
The second stage started on Lap 95 as Custer and Allgaier occupied the front row. At the start, Custer rocketed ahead and retained the lead from the outside lane while Jones and Allgaier battled for second through Turns 1 and 2. Then in Turn 3, Allgaier nearly got loose after battling dead even and making slight contact with Jones. Their contact allowed Earnhardt Jr. to close in from fourth before Jones would succeed and clear Allgaier for the runner-up spot. Amid the battles, Custer proceeded to lead by the Lap 100 mark as Nemechek settled in fifth.
Not long after, the battle for the lead intensified between Custer and Allgaier, who reclaimed the runner-up spot from teammate Jones during Lap 101 before using the inside lane to gain ground on Custer. After a brief dueling match, Allgaier gained the lead from the inside lane by Lap 109. With Allgaier leading, Custer, who remained on the outside lane, retained second in front of Earnhardt Jr. Behind, Jones, who had a small tire rub towards the left-rear fender of his No. 9 Menards Chevrolet Camaro, was in fourth in front of Nemechek while Sammy Smith, Herbst, Chandler Smith, Bayne and Mayer were in the top 10 by Lap 115.
At the Lap 125 mark, Allgaier was leading by a second over Custer while Earnhardt Jr., Jones and Nemechek continued to trail in the top five. Behind, Sammy Smith was in sixth ahead of Herbst, Bayne, Chandler Smith and Mayer while Hill, Kligerman, Hemric, Berry, Jeb Burton and Creed were in 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 18th and 21st, respectively. Allgaier would continue to lead by more than a second over Custer by Lap 135. By then, Jones regained third place from Earnhardt Jr. while Nemechek retained fifth in front of teammate Sammy Smith.
On Lap 146, the caution flew when Joe Graf Jr. got bumped by Connor Mosack before he spun exiting the frontstretch and through Turn 1 as he nearly collected Custer, Jones and Earnhardt Jr. while spinning towards the Turn 1 outside wall before he spun below the apron and proceeded. The incident occurred laps later after Playoff contender Kligerman took his No. 48 Spiked Light Coolers Chevrolet Camaro to the garage due to a wheel bearing issue.
During the caution period, a bevy of names that included Jones, Earnhardt Jr., Bayne, Herbst, Mayer, Chandler Smith, Hemric and Berry pitted while the rest led by Allgaier remained on the track.
When the race restarted on Lap 153, Allgaier fended off Nemechek to retain the lead as the field jostled for positions. Seven laps into the restart, Allgaier was leading by a tenth of a second over Custer followed by Hill, Bayne and Earnhardt Jr. while Nemechek was battling Hemric for sixth place. By then, Jones was in ninth ahead of Herbst while Berry was in 11th and Sammy Smith was back in 15th.
Then on Lap 166, the caution flew when Berry, who was battling teammate Mayer in the top 10, raced up the track in Turn 1 and clipped Mayer’s No. 1 Huck’s Market Chevrolet Camaro, with the ensuing contact resulting with Mayer spinning and slapping the outside wall while Berry got hit and collided into the outside wall by teammate Jones, thus knocking out three JR Motorsports competitors from contention and hindering Mayer and Berry’s start to the Playoffs, as Ryan Sieg also spun and collided into Jones’ No. 9 Menards Chevrolet Camaro from the carnage. The caution for the multi-car wreck was enough to conclude the second stage period scheduled to conclude on Lap 170 under caution as Allgaier claimed his ninth Xfinity stage victory of 2023. Custer settled in second followed by Hill, Earnhardt Jr. and Bayne while Nemechek, Hemric, Herbst, Chandler Smith and Jeffrey Earnhardt were scored in the top 10.
During the stage break, various pit strategies ensued as Earnhardt Jr., Bayne, Chandler Smith, Parker Retzlaff and Herbst remained on the track while the rest led by Allgaier and Custer pitted.
With 121 laps remaining, the final stage commenced as Earnhardt Jr. and Chandler Smith occupied the front row. At the start, Earnhardt Jr. and Chandler Smith dueled for the lead for a full lap until Earnhardt Jr. rocketed his No. 88 Hellmann’s Chevrolet Camaro ahead of Smith and clear of the field with both lanes to his control. With Earnhardt Jr. leading, Bayne moved his No. 19 He Gets Us Toyota Supra into second as Allgaier would follow suit a few laps later. The caution, however, would return with 116 laps remaining after Jeremy Clements and Joe Graf Jr. wrecked in Turn 1. Following the incident, Jeb Burton ran into the side of Jeffery Earnhardt to express his displeasure over being put into the wall by Earnhardt prior to the caution period.
During the ensuing restart with 110 laps remaining, Earnhardt Jr. retained lead and moved from the outside to the inside lane to fend off teammate Allgaier. By then, Bayne trailed closely along with Herbst, Chandler Smith and Nemechek as Earnhardt Jr. continued to lead.
With 100 laps remaining, Earnhardt Jr. was leading by a second over Bayne followed by Allgaier, Custer and Nemechek while Herbst, Hill, Ryan Sieg, Sammy Smith and Chandler Smith were in the top 10. By then, Creed and Hemric were mired in the top 15.
Fifteen laps later, Earnhardt Jr. continued to lead by more than a second over Custer while Allgaier, Nemechek and Bayne trailed in the top five ahead of Ryan Sieg, Sammy Smith, Hill, Creed, Herbst, Chandler Smith, Hemric, Retzlaff, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Derek Kraus as Jeb Burton followed suit in 16th.
Shortly after, the caution flew when Creed slid up the track and made contact with teammate Hill entering the frontstretch as Hill, the 2023 Xfinity regular-season champion, spun and hit the inside wall. The damage to the No. 21 Bennett Transportation Chevrolet Camaro was enough to terminate Hill’s run late in the event. During the caution period, a majority of the field led by Earnhardt pitted while Allgaier, Ryan Sieg, Hemric, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Jeb Burton remained on the track.
With the race restarting under green with 76 laps remaining, Allgaier and Hemric dueled for the lead until Allgaier pulled ahead through Turn 2 as Ryan Sieg closed in while in third place. Behind and in the ensuing laps, Earnhardt Jr. overtook Jeb Burton for fourth as Nemechek and Custer followed suit.
With 60 laps remaining, Allgaier retained the lead by two-tenths of a second over Hemric while Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Sieg and Nemechek were in the top five. Behind, Custer was in sixth ahead of Chandler Smith, Sammy Smith, Bayne and Herbst while Creed was back in 12th ahead of Jeb Burton.
Following another caution period eight laps later after Josh Bilicki got sideways off the front nose of Rajah Caruth and wrecked on the frontstretch, select names that included Allgaier, Jeb Burton and Retzlaff pitted while rest led by Hemric remained on the track.
With the race restarting with 44 laps remaining, Hemric fended off Nemechek to lead from outside lead while Custer and Earnhardt Jr. battled for third. Though Nemechek led Lap 257 by a hair, Hemric regained momentum from the outside lane to reassume the lead in his No. 10 Cirkul Chevrolet Camaro. As Hemric worked to retain lead from Nemechek, Earnhardt Jr. trailed closely in third while Custer and Chandler Smith were in fourth and fifth.
With 30 laps remaining and amid a four-car battle for the lead, Hemric was leading by two-tenths of a second over Nemechek while Custer and Earnhardt Jr. were under seven-tenths of a second as they joined the battle. Shortly after, Earnhardt Jr. fell off the pace and pitted under green before he then parked his No. 88 Chevrolet in Nemechek’s stall as smoke and fire started to billow inside of the car. Despite his event coming to a late closure, Earnhardt Jr. was able to emerge unscathed and the race remained under green flag conditions as the safety crew put out the fire and towed Earnhardt Jr.’s car back behind the wall.
With Earnhardt out of contention, Hemric retained the lead by a tenth of a second over Allgaier followed by Nemechek, Custer and Chandler Smith with less than 25 laps remaining. Shortly after and with 20 laps remaining, the battle for the lead intensified as a side-by-side battle ensued between Hemric and Allgaier. Despite being pressured by Allgaier on the inside lane, Hemric, who nearly lost the lead after getting briefly held up by Kligerman, remained on the outside lane to retain the lead.
With 15 laps remaining, Hemric was still leading by a tenth of a second over Allgaier as both continued to challenge one another amid the turns for the lead. Then three laps later, Allgaier muscled his No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet Camaro ahead from the inside lane. He would then clear Hemric through Turn 2 to assume the lead and continue to lead with 10 laps remaining as he had both lanes under his control.
Down to the final five laps of the event, Allgaier stretched his advantage to nine-tenths of a second over Hemric while third-place Nemechek trailed by more than two seconds ahead of Custer and Chandler Smith.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Allgaier remained as the leader by more than a second over Hemric. With Hemric unable to close the deficit amid lapped traffic, Allgaier was able to navigate his way around the 0.533-mile oval circuit for a final time and cycle back to the frontstretch to claim the checkered flag and win for the third time this season by more than a second over Hemric.
With the victory, Allgaier notched his 22nd career win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, his third of the season, his first since winning at Daytona International Speedway in late August and first at Bristol since 2010, where Allgaier had claimed his first Xfinity career victory. The victory, which also marked the fifth of the season for JR Motorsports, automatically transferred Allgaier, crew chief Jim Pohlman and his No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro team a spot into the Round of 8 in the 2023 Xfinity Series Playoffs.
During his victory celebration, Allgaier, who gave his father and team owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., a ride across the side mirrors of his race-winning car to Victory Lane, broke the news that he will remain as a full-time Xfinity Series competitor for JR Motorsports for the 2024 season.
“How cool was it that I got to battle with the bossman, Dale Jr.,” Allgaier said on USA Network. “Just cannot say enough for this team. This team has done such an amazing job at this racetrack since I started at JR Motorsports. We led a lot of laps and the monkey was definitely on our back. The pit strategy there, man, coming down pit road all by myself, that was nerve racking. I’m speechless, man. This place, Jim Pohlman and I circled this place on our calendar when we started the year, before we ever even took the green flag lap. We said we want to win Bristol. Man, we won Bristol! It’s Bristol, baby! Let’s go!”
Hemric, who was announced to be driving for Kaulig Racing for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season earlier in the day, settled in second place for the third time this season and the 13th time in his career. Despite falling one spot shy of claiming his second Xfinity victory, Hemric was left satisfied with his result as he is currently ranked in sixth place in the Playoff standings while 12 points above the top-eight cutline.
“It’s been a hell of a day,” Hemric said. “I just want it so bad for these guys. Everybody at Kaulig Racing deserves it, so proud of our effort, though. We came a long way over the course of 300 laps there.”
Nemechek, Custer and Chandler Smith finished in the top five, thus joining Allgaier and Hemric as Playoff contenders to notch top-five results in the Playoff opener. Ryan Sieg, Trevor Bayne, Herbst, Sammy Smith and Grala completed the top 10 in the final running order.
Notably, Playoff contenders Sheldon Creed and Jeb Burton ended up 11th and 13th, Kligerman concluded his long night in 31st, 54 laps down, and Hill, Mayer and Berry were the three Playoff contenders who failed to finish the first Playoff event. In addition, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended up 30th after his late ignition issues prevented him from finishing the event.
There were eight lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured six cautions for 48 laps. In addition, 14 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.
1. Justin Allgaier, 110 laps led, Stage 2 winner
2. Daniel Hemric, 33 laps led
3. John Hunter Nemechek, one lap led
4. Cole Custer, 109 laps led, Stage 1 winner
5. Chandler Smith
6. Ryan Sieg
7. Trevor Bayne
8. Riley Herbst
9. Sammy Smith
10. Kaz Grala
11. Sheldon Creed
12. Derek Kraus
13. Jeb Burton
14. Connor Mosack
15. Parker Retzlaff, one lap down
16. Brett Moffitt, one lap down
17. Rajah Caruth, two laps down
18. Ryan Ellis, two laps down
19. Stefan Parsons, two laps down
20. Josh Williams, two laps down
21. Kyle Sieg, two laps down
22. Brennan Poole, three laps down
23. Kyle Weatherman, three laps down
24. Jeremy Clements, three laps down
25. Anthony Alfredo, four laps down
26. Joe Graf Jr., five laps down
27. Josh Bilicki, six laps down
28. Blaine Perkins, six laps down
29. Chad Finchum, 24 laps down
30. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – OUT, Ignition
31. Parker Kligerman, 54 laps down
32. Jeffrey Earnhardt – OUT, Brakes
33. Austin Hill – OUT, Dvp
34. Brandon Jones – OUT, Suspension
35. Sam Mayer – OUT, Accident
36. Josh Berry – OUT, Accident
37. BJ McLeod – OUT, Power
38. Timmy Hill – OUT, Rear gear
*Bold indicates Playoff competitors
1. Justin Allgaier – Advanced
2. John Hunter Nemechek +65
3. Cole Custer +39
4. Austin Hill +21
5. Chandler Smith +18
6. Daniel Hemric +12
7. Sammy Smith +5
8. Sheldon Creed +4
9. Jeb Burton -4
10. Sam Mayer -14
11. Parker Kligerman -22
12. Josh Berry -24
With the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs underway, the postseason battle for the title continues next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, for the second Round of 12 event. The event is scheduled to occur on Saturday, September 23, at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.