The stars of both the XFINITY and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returned home this weekend as the Chase to the Championship continued at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Drive for the Cure 300
As the weekend began, it appeared that Tropical Storm Nate would receive the victory in Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 300 XFINITY Series race. After a lengthy rain delay for this primetime race, the green flag finally waved over the No. 18 of Daniel Suarez and the rest of the 40-car field about five hours past the original start time. Although Suarez led most of the opening laps, the No. 20 of Erik Jones took the Stage 1 win. This small victory was short lived, however, as Suarez’s teammate began experiencing troubles with his ride, knocking out this young driver’s hopes to win at his team’s home track.
Jones’ bad luck gave Suarez the chance to regain his lead as well as the Stage 2 win. Although things were looking up for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, two faulty pit stops would leave the No. 18 driver having to settle for a top-10 position.
While Joe Gibbs Racing XFINITY Series teams couldn’t find their way to Victory Lane, Chip Ganassi Racing driver Alex Bowman drove his way to his first XFINITY Series win on Saturday night. The driver, who will step into Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s driver shoes next year, led 32 of 200 laps in his first series start to take Drive for The Cure 300 Presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Bowman, who admitted to being slightly rusty in his return to competition. “I’ve got to thank Mr. Hendrick and Chip and everybody that made this possible. It’s been a long time since I’ve raced, so to come here and be as competitive as we were all night, even until that last restart, I was really pleased with how competitive we were.”
As Bowman celebrated his victory, five other XFINITY Series drivers also had reason to celebrate after clinching spots in the eighth round of the Countdown to the 2017 Championship when points were awarded in the race’s opening two stages. William Byron, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier all advanced easily in the standings despite some setbacks. Brennan Poole, Matt Tifft and Ryan Reed also moved on, with Reed clinching his spot by a single point over Brendan Gaughan. Michael Annett, Blake Koch and Jeremy Clements joined Gaughan in being eliminated from championship contention on Saturday as the bottom four drivers in the XFINITY postseason field.
Bank of America 500
While Saturday’s XFINITY Series race winner was a bit of a surprise, the winner of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America 500 was anything but. The weekend started off with a dud on Friday for the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team after a mix-up in qualifying on Friday would leave Truex starting in the 17th position. Despite this, the series point leader and his team would make up for their faulty start by driving to the front of the field on Lap 234 and taking this lead all the way to yet another season victory.
Before Truex could find his way to the top, a Freaky Fast driver lead the way 149 of Sunday’s 334-Lap feature race. The No. 4 of Kevin Harvick took both the Stage 1 and 2 wins, but as the event wound down the series leader was back in his usual spot, at the front of the field. Truex survived two late restarts, the last in overtime, to win for a series-best six times this season, the second time at Charlotte and the 13th time in his career.
“We qualified horribly, and I was mad about it,” said Truex. “Despite this rocky start, this was an unbelievable win and a total team effort. You dream about days like today. Every guy on this team did a perfect job, and I couldn’t be prouder of them – and this time of the year is just when you want it to happen.”
Truex leaves Charlotte with a guaranteed spot in the postseason’s Round of eight and a 34-point lead in the standings over second-place Kyle Larson, who ran 10th on Sunday in one of the race’s fastest cars after two pit road glitches and contact from Kurt Busch’s car during the Lap 325 spin.
Kyle Busch squandered his advantage in playoff points when he smacked the outside wall in Turn 4 and brought out the fifth caution on Lap 136. With a resulting 29th-place finish, Busch fell from second to sixth in the standings, only 12 points clear of ninth-place Matt Kenseth going into next weekend’s race at Talladega. Only 25 points separate Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for fourth in the points standings.
Stay tuned to RacingJunk.com as the Countdown to the NASCAR Championship continues.