William Byron was going to have the chance to race for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship regardless, but he earned the trip in the best way possible.
Byron used a two-tire pit stop to claim the lead and held off Ryan Blaney to win Saturday’s Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix Raceway, his fourth series win of the season but first since July at Indianapolis.
The win guaranteed Byron a spot in the Championship 4 but he had already clinched a spot by points earlier in the race.
The four drivers who will compete for the series championship next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway are Byron, Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric.
“I don’t know how we it – grinded all day,” Byron said. “It was a great job by the team and a great pit call by Dave (Elenz, crew chief). We’re so ready to go to Homestead.
“It got robbed from me last year (in the Truck series) here in Phoenix, so this makes up for that. Awesome job.”
Byron’s pit crew was among those at JR Motorsports that were without a fast majority of their regular team members after a plane on which they were traveling had to make an emergency landing in Arkansas earlier Saturday.
“I was so used to long runs and was set up for that but we took off pretty good there,” Byron there. “We’re building fast race cars and hopefully we can end it with a championship.”
The win is Byron’s fourth of the season and fourth of his career.
Erik Jones finished third in the race, Christopher Bell was fourth and Hemric ended up fifth.
Brendan Gaughan hit the wall off Turn 4 to bring out a caution on Lap 181 which sent all the lead-lap cars all down pit road for fresh tires.
Byron, Hemric and Jones all took two tires and lined up in the top three positions on the restart with 13 laps remaining in the race.
The second stage turned out to be just like the first.
Blaney easily held off Jones to claim the stage victory, with Jones coming in nearly a second behind.
Hemric finished third, Allgaier was fourth and Bell completed the top-five.
Blaney maintained his lead after pit stops during the stage break, followed by Jones, Custer, Hemric and Bell.
On Lap 105, Alex Bowman had rebounded from his penalty and moved back into the Top 10, passing Ty Dillon for the position.
Five laps later, Bowman dropped down on pit road for an unexpected stop. “Shaking like hell,” Bowman said over his team radio.
Blaney and Jones engaged in a back-and-forth battle for the lead before Blaney emerged with the Stage 1 victory over Bowman.
Jones finished third, Hemric fourth and Allgaier completed the top-five.
During pit stops during the stage break, both Brandon Jones and Bowman were penalized for uncontrolled tires on pit road. Blaney maintained the led on the restart on Lap 68.
Playoff contender Brennan Poole saw his championship hopes disappear when he was involved in a wreck on Lap 23 in Turn 2. Poole tried to drive underneath the lapped car of Caesar Bacarella.
“It’s killed. We have no right-front,” Poole said over his team radio. “We’re done.”
Poole entered the race ranked fourth among the eight remaining playoff drivers. His team attempted repairs and he went back on the track, but almost immediately hit the wall and returned to the garage.
“I saw (Bacarella) go in and we were going to kind of go to the top to go around him and he slid up so I tried to go to the bottom,” Poole said. “Bad luck, bad circumstances. I guess I could have been a little more cautious there, but just trying to get up there to get some stage points and keep moving forward.”
On the first lap, Gaughan got loose in Turn 3, made contact with Michael Annett and spun out to bring out the first caution of the race.
Here's highlights from the race:
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