NXS: Marks Reigns Supreme For Maiden XFINITY Win in Wet & Wild Mid-Ohio Romp

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Justin Marks sloshed to his first-career NASCAR XFINITY Series win in the rain on Saturday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. (Jonathan Moore/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

Justin Marks sloshed to his first-career NASCAR XFINITY Series win in the rain on Saturday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. (Jonathan Moore/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

LEXINGTON, Ohio — After never having led a lap in the NASCAR XFINITY Series coming into Saturday’s Mid-Ohio Challenge, Justin Marks put together a near-flawless performance, leading the most laps and taking down his first-career win on an emotional day for Chip Ganassi Racing.

With the weight of Bryan Clauson’s recent passing on everyone’s mind entering the day, Marks reigned supreme over the rain and his competition at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, pacing the field for 43 of 75 laps and taking down the win for not just himself, but for the team Clauson once drove for at the XFINITY level.

Marks drove past Ty Dillon with 10 laps to go — taking the lead for good when Dillon ran off-course — but had to weather a challenge from polesitter Sam Hornish Jr. and a downpour on the final restart, following a caution with four laps to go, before he could celebrate.

The win is Marks’ first in the series in his 25th start.

“These are as tough conditions as you can put drivers in,” said Marks from a makeshift Victory Lane. “It’s just really hard on everybody when it’s dry and wet and you don’t really know what to do, so strategy plays a big role in it. You know, my specialty is road racing in the rain in these stock cars and I don’t get much of an opportunity to do it so when that opportunity presents itself, you have to really take advantage of it and I about threw it away today.”

“I knew if the race ended in the rain that we would have a real shot at winning it. I wish my family was here. I’m just really happy.”

Marks dedicated the win to Clauson’s memory. The late USAC champion drove for Chip Ganassi Racing, Marks’ current XFINITY team, in

“Bryan’s short career in stock car racing came with Chip Ganassi Racing, so it’s great to be able to put this thing in Victory Lane to honor him and think about him. He’s a real American hero race car driver, Bryan was. They don’t make them like that anymore. We parked it for him today.”

The theme of the day was survival, and from the drop of the green flag it was going to be very apparent that in order to win, there was going to have to be some restraint in this very tight and technical 15 turn 2.4 mile road course.

Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2, with Hornish at the wheel, led the field to green before Mother Nature intervened and brought out the first caution of the day on the opening lap.

As teams moved to the Goodyear rain tires, the pace slowed almost to a crawl that saw its problems even before the race was restarted. Kenny Habul spun the JR Motorsports No. 88 under caution, showing even at slow speeds and with rain tires on, just how horrendous the conditions had become.

The race was restarted on lap nine and the action picked up immediately. Roush-Fenway Racing teammates Darrell Wallace Jr. and Ryan Reed got into it early, with Reed forcing his Roush Fenway Racing teammate into the grass on the entry to the keyhole. Wallace, however, would get his revenge two laps later, forcing Reed wide exiting turn six.

Carnage ensued for the rest of the green flag run, as the race saw nine cars leave the racing surface before the caution was eventually waved for the No. 97 of T.J. Bell, who got stuck in the sand trap at turn four on lap 14.

As the race resumed new contenders made their way to the front, including debuting Israeli Alon Day, sports car legend Andy Lally and Marks. The trio’s road course pedigrees played into their hands as they quickly became favorites to win the event. Those three had some help in gaining track position, however, as Hornish spun out on a lap 19 restart and collected his teammate Brendan Gaughan.

Things went from bad to worse for the polesitter, as he found himself in the gravel trap the following lap.

Once the race found a rhythm and the rain subsided for the time being, Marks found his pace, leading the majority of the first half of the event. He wasn’t uncontested, however, as Wallace made his way back up into the top two and passed Marks in turn two on lap 28 before going wide at turn four, where he missed his braking point.

Daniel Suarez got stuck at China Beach (turn four) to bring out another caution at lap 29, ultimately finishing 25th and giving up the points lead as a result.

When racing resumed two laps later, the event saw it’s first massive accident when XFINITY Chase Grid leader Erik Jones got loose and slid into the side of Lally, collecting Nelson Piquet Jr. Brennan Poole, Gaughan and Ryan Preece. All but Piquet drove away from the accident and resumed racing.

The race resumed on the 36th circuit, when Marks held the lead after a poor restart from Ryan Blaney. During this run, a dry line began to form on the surface, forcing everyone to pit for slick tires except for Lally — who pitted under the previous caution for slight damage repair and slicks, making up all of his lost track position in the pit cycle.

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