In the first race of a Saturday doubleheader, the Xfinity Series field took to the short track of Richmond Raceway for 250 laps. With the playoffs just two weeks away, the competition was as fierce as ever. The regular season championship battle was heating up, and the Go Bowling 250 put on an intense show.
Without qualifying to determine the starting lineup, the familiar qualifying formula was used once again. Drivers’ starting positions were determined as 25% driver’s finishing position from the previous race, 25% owner’s finishing position from the previous race, 35% team owner points, and 15% fastest lap from the previous race. This put the 22 of Austin Cindric on the pole with the 20 of Harrison Burton beside him. Rounding out the top-five was the 9 of last week’s winner Noah Gragson, the 11 of Justin Haley, and the 7 of Justin Allgaier. Regular season points leader AJ Allmendinger started in the eighth position.
As the cars rolled through pre-race tech inspections, no one was sent to the rear for multiple failures. However, three drivers had to start at the tail of the field after inspections. Japanese driver Akinori Ogata was sent for missing driver introductions, Bayley Currey for a driver change (replacing Colby Howard), and Ty Dillion for a driver change (replacing Brett Moffitt).
The green flag fell at 2:40 p.m. with Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton leading the field. Taking an early lead, Cindric drove away from Burton by getting a huge push on the inside. It had only taken him 25 laps to reach the tail end of the field, with the 20 only 0.656 seconds behind. At lap 37, the competition caution was thrown as a result of having no practice. While the leaders did not pit, the 10 of Jeb Burton was forced to come down pit road – with some help – as his battery had died. The team was able to fix the issue at the stop and the car regained power. The 44 of Tommy Joe Martins also came down for fresh tires.
At the restart, it was Cindric and Burton at the front with the 16 of Allmendinger charging hard. By lap 46, it was Allmendinger in the lead with Allgaier in second. With the 44 of Martins on the freshest tires, he was easily the fastest car on the track. Restarting 30th, he had driven up to fifth in just nine laps. Five laps later, he was in second place. At lap 70, Tommy Joe Martins was leading his first laps at Richmond. In a great battle at the front, it would be Allmendinger crossing the line first to win the stage. Martins had fallen victim to a bad block by the 66 of David Starr, and finished the stage in second place.
The leaders came down pit road for tires at the stage break with Cindric winning the race off pit road. Allmendinger had a slow stop after he had been blocked in and had to reverse, restarting sixth. At the restart, it was Cindric and the 18 of Daniel Hemric in the front row with Hemric taking the lead shortly thereafter. A lap later, the 44 of Martins spun between turns one and two after some contact with the 90 of Spencer Boyd, bringing out the caution.
At the restart on lap 92, it was Hemric on the inside and Cindric on the outside. Six laps later, the 54 of Ty Gibbs had taken his first lead of the day. There was not much action during stage two other than some minor contact between Gragson and the 74 of CJ McLaughlin. However, at lap 147 McLaughlin ran down the track in an attempt to reach pit road and drove right into the 48 of Jade Buford. This brought out the caution, ending the stage under yellow with Gibbs taking the victory. All leaders pitted at the break, and Hemric was the winner of the race off pit road.
With Hemric on the outside and Gragson on the inside, the race restarted. Gragson took an early lead, but was passed by Gibbs at lap 166. Four laps later, the 15 of Bayley Currey spun and hit the infield wall hard. As all of the lead lap cars stayed out, the 39 of Ryan Sieg was the only one to pit. However, he was penalized for an uncontrolled tire and sent to the rear. The restart saw Gibbs on the outside and Harrison Burton on the inside. Burton took an early lead, but the caution came out once again just one lap later. The 4 of Landon Cassill had hit the wall and was stopped at the entrance of pit road.
While most everyone pitted for their last set of sticker tires, the 99 of Sam Mayer, 11 of Justin Haley, 8 of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and a few others took the risk and stayed out. The restart saw Mayer on the inside and Haley on the outside with the first driver on fresh tires in 12th. Those tires proved to be a huge help as the 20 of Burton drove up to the lead in just four laps. At lap 224, the caution was brought out once again for the 92 of Josh Williams and 52 of Akinori Ogata who had gotten into each other.
Allmendinger, Cindric, and the 19 of Brandon Jones stayed out while everyone else pitted. Those who had one more set of stickers put them on, and everyone else put on a set of scuffs. The 10 of Jeb Burton was sent to the rear for an uncontrolled tire and the 8 of Earnhardt Jr. was sent for speeding. The restart saw Allmendinger on the inside and Cindric on the outside in an intense battle for the regular season championship. The 11 of Haley was the first on fresh tires in the 13th position. At lap 232, the caution was again brought out for the 44 of Martins who had gotten into the wall.
Nobody pitted at the caution, and the restart saw Allmendinger on the inside and Jones on the outside. Taking an early lead from Jones, Allmendinger only held on until turn three where he was passed by Gragson. After the 51 of Jeremy Clements had gotten into the 2 of Myatt Snider, the caution was brought out yet again. Cindric was the only one to pit, and he put on his scuffs.
Restarting at lap 244, it was Gragson on the inside and the 26 of Truck Series regular season champion John Hunter Nemecheck on the outside. Haley had restarted seventh on the freshest tires, and had already driven up to fourth by lap 246. One lap later, he was second. With less than a half second between himself and the leader, Haley was unable to catch and overcome Gragson. The 9 had earned his second victory of the year, and second in a row. Earning the same result as last year, Haley finished second. The top-five was rounded out by Nemecheck, Allgaier, and the 98 of Riley Herbst
The next Xfinity Series race will be the final race of the regular season at Bristol Motor Speedway. With Allmendinger leading Cindric by only five points, it’s sure to be a fantastic competition. Be sure to catch it on NBC sports at 7:30 p.m. on Friday September, 17th.