LAS VEGAS — Report by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Photo courtesy Richard Childress Racing —
Austin Dillon completed a clean sweep of NASCAR XFINITY Series activities at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Saturday afternoon with a dominant win in the Boyd Gaming 300 — but it didn’t come without a scare from fellow young gun Ryan Blaney in the final laps.
Dillon, who swept Friday practice and started from the pole, led 183 of the race’s 200 laps, but Blaney made a charge over the final 20 circuits on fresh tires — after he pitted to repair some rear fender damage sustained in a crash with Erik Jones at lap 173. The Team Penske driver nearly got to Dillon’s inside on the frontstretch with two laps to go, but Dillon threw a massive block to break the momentum of the No. 22 Ford.
That block was all it took to ensure Blaney couldn’t get back to the rear decklid of the Rheem Chevrolet.
“It was a great car today, but man, there at the end (Blaney) put on a heck of a charge — I didn’t know he had tires,” Dillon said in Victory Lane. “I was like, ‘Where did he come from?’ It was like he had a jet pack on. But when you have (a car) like this you just don’t want to mess it up and that was the hardest part was trying not to make mistakes.”
“We did it — it was a heck of a last two laps, that’s for sure.”
The win was Dillon’s third career NXS victory and first since 2012 — with more than 800 laps led, seven poles and a championship (2013) coming in the two-and-a-half year span since Dillon took the checkers at Kentucky in September of his rookie season.
“What a dream, I’m really proud of this one and I’m glad to finally get back to victory lane. Love Vegas.”
The weekend sweep (leading all practices, qualifying on pole and winning the race) was also the first by any XFINITY driver since Joey Logano accomplished the feat at Kentucky in 2009.
Blaney hung on to finish second despite nearly wadding his car up exiting turn four on the final lap, but was visibly disappointed after having the best car and the freshest tires over the final dash to the finish.
“First I want to apologize to Erik Jones, (we were racing and) he just kinda sucked me around there,” Blaney explained of the late race incident that allowed him to get the fresh rubber he used in the final laps. “I tried to stay off of him but just got him there. Hate to see that.”
“We had a fast car though, it was a good call to come and get tires. It tightened me up and that brought it to life. We were coming and I got to him with a good run off of four and he did what he had to do to stop my run. It just wasn’t enough — I slipped a little bit in turns one and two on the top and couldn’t get to his outside. Just couldn’t quite catch him, hopefully the next race will be a bit smoother for us.”
Regan Smith was the highest-finishing of the full-season NXS drivers in third, with Denny Hamlin fourth in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota. Defending champion Chase Elliott rounded out the top five.
Dillon had Sin City wired from the moment the green flag dropped on Saturday — leading 104 of the race’s first 105 laps and never giving it up under green flag conditions until the field came down for a cycle of green-flag stops, allowing the No. 20 of Jones to use slightly fresher tires to grab the lead for three laps before Dillon re-assumed command at lap 113.
From there Dillon would run away to a 5+ second advantage at times and lap up to eighth place on-track, flexing his muscle before Blaney sparked the second and final set of green flag stops with 50 to go to try and force the field’s hand. The gamble worked versus Dillon, elevating the No. 22 to a second off of Dillon’s No. 33, but Elliott and his JRM crew would be the biggest beneficiary of the pit jumble, leading just as a caution came out with 40 laps to go for a spinning Mario Gosselin.
The yellow, which ended a 100-lap green flag stretch from lap 60 to lap 160, allowed Elliott — who was just coming down pit road at the time of the caution — to get back on the lead lap and make a late-race charge, while Dillon assumed the lead and never gave it up over the final 40 laps.
Two subsequent restarts would cause chaos before Dillon could celebrate, however. Dakoda Armstrong was the first to meet the outside wall, crashing hard in turn two with 33 laps remaining after getting into the TriStar machine of David Starr, and then Jones went nose-first into the outside concrete at the exit of turn four with 27 laps remaining, just past the end of the SAFER Barrier.
The incident, sparked while Jones and Blaney were battling for third, saw Blaney’s Ford wiggle coming off the corner and just tip the left-rear quarter panel of Jones’ Toyota. When Jones tried to correct, his car snapped around and took heavy damage, while Blaney was able to keep his car off of the wall in arguably the save of the race.
“The 22 just lost it,” Jones said in the garage area, explaining the accident from his point of view. “Just not a lot of car control on his end today. Really unfortunate to be taken out that late, we had a strong car — one that I thought could have probably contended for the win. Wish we could have brought home a better finish but at the end it doesn’t take away from our day — we ran up front, led laps and had a fast car. The finishes will come, it’s just a shame today had to end the way it did.”
Jones wasn’t the only Toyota driver to have trouble, however. TriStar Motorsports had an abysmal start to their day, with Mike Bliss crashing hard in turn two just 14 laps in and Blake Koch pounding the wall on lap 54 to draw his day to an early close.
Brian Scott, who started from the outside of the front row, had an engine issue at the drop of the green flag and stacked up the entire inside file on the initial start — Scott rode the car out for several laps to try and diagnose the problem, but ultimately took his RCR Chevrolet to the garage area and was credited with 38th in the rundown after completing just 14 laps.
Despite Scott’s misfortune, RCR still placed three cars inside the top ten at the checkered flag, with Las Vegas native Brendan Gaughan sixth and Austin’s brother Ty Dillon coming home eighth after nearly going a lap down late in the race. Darrell Wallace Jr. split the duo by finishing seventh for Roush Fenway Racing.
Brennan Poole impressed with a ninth place finish in his NXS debut and fellow rookie Daniel Suarez rounded out the top ten.
The NASCAR XFINITY Series returns to action next week at Phoenix International Raceway for the Axalta Faster! Tougher! Brighter! 200, the second race of the three-event “Western Swing”. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. Eastern time live on FOX.
RESULTS: NASCAR XFINITY Series; Boyd Gaming 300; Las Vegas Motor Speedway; March 7, 2015
- Austin Dillon
- Ryan Blaney
- Regan Smith
- Denny Hamlin
- Chase Elliott
- Brendan Gaughan
- Darrell Wallace Jr.
- Ty Dillon
- Brennan Poole
- Daniel Suarez
- Aric Almirola
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Elliott Sadler
- Chris Buescher
- Ryan Reed
- J.J. Yeley
- David Starr
- Ross Chastain
- John Wes Townley
- Landon Cassill
- Ryan Sieg
- Jeremy Clements
- Eric McClure
- Jamie Dick
- Cale Conley
- Harrison Rhodes
- Dexter Beam
- Derek White
- Erik Jones
- Dakoda Armstrong
- Mike Harmon
- Mario Gosselin
- Derrike Cope
- Cody Ware
- Blake Koch
- Carl Long
- Morgan Shepherd
- Brian Scott
- Mike Bliss
- Jeff Green