The NASCAR XFINITY Series race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday was another thrilling show. Brad Keselowski had to start in the back and he put on a thrilling display coming from the back to the front.
For a track that normally doesn’t produce a ton of passing, Saturday’s Lakes Region 200 proved the exact opposite.
Here are the top five takeaways.
Bubble Drivers Couldn’t Capitalize On Saturday
Ross Chastain entered this weekend’s race with a decent advantage for the final wildcard spot in the XFINITY Series playoff standings. Unfortunately for him, Chastain crashed on Lap 79 and had to run the rest of the race with damage to his No. 4 Chevrolet. He’d finish 26th, three laps down as a result.
It was a prime opportunity for drivers like Ryan Sieg, Jeremy Clements and others to close the gap for the 12th and final playoff spot with only a few races left in the regular season. Instead, they couldn’t do enough to make a difference.
Sieg, brought his No. 39 Chevrolet home 15th while Clements was 18th. It was a day to make up some of the gap but they didn’t really do enough to make up much ground on making the playoffs on points alone.
The final few bubble spots are now Ryan Reed (+81), Chastain (+30), Annett (-30), Sieg (-36) and Clements (-91) heading towards next Saturday’s race at the Iowa Speedway.
Clements’ Crash Led To A Thrilling Finish
Prior to Jeremy Clements’ Lap 166 crash at pit entry, the race was shaping up to be an easy win for Brad Keselowski. He passed Christopher Bell on Lap 145 and appeared to be well on his way to another victory.
See, Clements’ crash came just after all the leaders hit pit road for the final time. With a fast car and track position, Keselowski only took two tires. Christopher Bell, Ryan Preece and Elliott Sadler went with four fresh tires instead.
Unless a caution flag came out, the race was Keselowski’s to lose despite only taking two tires.
The caution led to a red flag to clean up the barrels which allowed the field to bunch up. That set up a thrilling finish for Keselowski on two tires and everyone else with four. Christopher Bell flew by and held off Keselowski for a thrilling victory in New England.
Hemric Caught Out By Late Caution, Custer Rolls To Another Top 10
No one is as hot in the XFINITY Series still as Cole Custer and Daniel Hemric. In the last 16 races, the duo have each scored 14 top 11 finishes each. Unfortunately for them, out of that dominating streak of runs, none have resulted in either driver tasting the sweet taste of victory lane.
On Saturday, Hemric brought his No. 21 Chevrolet home 11th while Custer was eighth in his No. 00 Ford. For Hemric, it was his ninth consecutive top 11 finish. In Custer’s case, it was his seventh top 10 over the last eight starts on the year.
Hemric, tried something different in the end and it nearly paid off if not for Clements’ crash. He took two tires on his final stop and cycled up to second place. Then, on Lap 166, Clements hit the barrels at pit entry bringing out the sixth yellow of the day. That bunched up the field and caught Hemric out. He’d fall back quickly and took away a top five effort.
Battle For The Overall Points Lead
To piggy back off the point above, Custer and Hemric are on hot streaks which despite not having yet won yet in 2018, are battling for the overall points lead. Where this is significant is that the points leader at the end of the regular season gets 15 playoff points to his credit. So, with only three full time drivers winning so far this season, 15 playoff points could really do a lot for making it out of the first round.
Throw in Elliott Sadler who’s also yet to win a race and you get three drivers battling for the points lead and all within just a few points of one another.
Also, all three were once again in the top 11 on Saturday.
Sadler would finish eighth, Custer ninth and Hemric 11th respectiely. Leaving New Hampshire, Hemric leads Christopher Bell, a three time winner in 2018, by six points while Sadler (-7) and Custer (-13) are just behind.
This is going to be an intense battle towards the end. They need to hold Bell off.
JGR Strong Again In New Hampshire
It’s not a shock that Christopher Bell won in New Hampshire. His win was the fourth straight for Joe Gibbs Racing and eighth over the last 10 years. Bell and Ryan Preece brought their two JGR cars home in the top three as they remain the top dogs on the Magic Mile.