HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Daniel Suarez used a dominating performance, aided by a perfect final restart, to win Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 and claim his first-career NASCAR XFINITY Series championship in the process.
Suarez led 133 of 200 laps en route to his third-career win and third of the season, but had to hold off all three of his championship rivals – Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Erik Jones – down the stretch before he could hoist the big hardware.
The run to the finish began when Ryan Reed lost a tire exiting turn two and spun down the backstretch, drawing the caution with 63 laps to go just before Jordan Anderson slammed into the back of Jeremy Clements’ slowing Chevrolet and came to a flaming stop halfway down the backstretch.
Anderson climbed from his car after the incident, but a four minute, nine second red flag was required for cleanup before the race resumed under caution.
When the green flag returned with 57 laps left, the Championship 4 flexed their muscle and took the race into their own hands, as Elliott Sadler and Erik Jones rallied from deep in the top 10 and multiple issues that plagued them in the first half of the race to challenge for the win and the championship.
Suarez and Allgaier got away with the top two positions on the restart, but Sadler went four-wide to move into third and Jones made a similar slate of daring moves up the outside to slide into fourth within a lap of the restart.
With 49 laps left, Allgaier was done waiting and charged to the inside of Suarez for the lead in turns one and two, taking over the top spot and the championship lead as a result.
But the man on the move was Jones, who slid into third on the same lap as Sadler tagged the wall and wrested second away from Suarez four laps later as Allgaier tried to get away and hide.
The Illinois native’s efforts were to no avail, however, as Jones stormed to the lead in turn one the next time by – taking the top spot after running as low as 15th due to an ill-handling car in the first half of the race.
But Jones’ time at the front was short-lived after the race’s sixth caution flew with 42 laps to go for debris on the backstretch, sending the leaders down pit road for their final sets of fresh tires.
Suarez used the first pit stall to win the race off pit road, restarting ahead of Allgaier and Jones while the Ford pair of Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola stayed out to comprise the front row with 37 laps left.
The championship trio quickly moved to the top three positions as Blaney and Almirola free-fell, but it took 11 laps before Jones could work up the momentum on the far-outside lane to challenge Allgaier for the runner-up position.
After a back-and-forth battle that saw multiple crossover moves, Jones cleared Allgaier with 20 to go when Allgaier tagged the outside wall, with the Michigan young gun setting his sights on his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate for the win and the championship.