The NASCAR Xfinity Series rang in the 2022 season with the drop of the green flag for Saturday’s Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner 300 at Daytona International Speedway. With many faces in new places, it was sure to be exciting from the first practice to the wave of the checkered flag.
With most COVID restrictions lifted for the 2022 season, practice and qualifying sessions have returned for every race. In Friday’s only practice session, it was rookie Ty Gibbs in the Joe Gibbs Racing 54 at the top of the charts, with teammates Brandon Jones and Drew Dollar right behind. Rounding out the top-five was Ryan Truex in the 26 and Noah Gragson, returning to the 9 for JR Motorsports.
Saturday morning’s qualifying session featured two rounds with the ten fastest from the first round competing for pole position. The 11 of Daniel Hemric was fastest in round one with a surprisingly fast Ryan Vargas in the number 6 JD Motorsports Chevy right behind. In round two, it was once again Hemric out front, making up the front row alongside the 21 of former Truck Series driver Austin Hill. Those who failed to qualify included David Starr, Alex Labbe, Stefan Parsons, Mason Massey, Natalie Decker, Gray Gaulding, Ronnie Bassett Jr., Harrison Rhodes, and Tim Viens.
Prior to the drop of the green flag, the 1 of Sam Mayer, 26 of Ryan Truex, and 35 of Shane Lee were sent to the rear for a mixture of inspection failures. The green flag was flown at 5 p.m. and the 2022 Xfinity Series season had officially started. The action began as early as lap one when the 23 of Anthony Alfredo lost his right side window and was black flagged, forcing him to pit and get a replacement. With the team not having a spare ready, he re-entered the race two laps down.
The 11 of Hemric and 21 of Hill swapped the lead a few times before the first caution flag was flown on lap 14. Involved were the 1 of Mayer, 18 of Dollar, and 51 of Jeremy Clements. Few chose to pit at the break, and the restart saw Hemric and teammate in the 10, Landon Cassill, on the front row. Without much more action to finish the stage, Hemric claimed the first stage win of the 2022 season.
Most pitted at the stage break, taking a mixture of two tires, four tires, or fuel only. The 07 of Joe Graf Jr. and 68 of Brandon Brown did not pit, putting them on the front row for the beginning of stage two. Graf was unable to hold his spot, but Brown remained in the lead for 12 laps before he lost it to Gragson. Keeping the stage clean, there were no cautions. The racing got aggressive at the end of the stage as Hemric, Gragson, and the 16 of AJ Allmendinger made contact but were able to keep it clean. Hemric swept the stages, taking the green and white checkered at lap 60.
Everyone pitted at the final stage break with some taking two tires while others took four. The restart saw teammates Hemric and Allmendinger on the front row, with the 54 of Gibbs stealing an early lead from behind. The 11 and 54 swapped the lead a few times before green flag pit stops began around lap 74. The 1 of Sam Mayer found some trouble as he entered pit road, spinning and losing his rear bumper cover. The race stayed green until lap 84 when safety crews had to clean up the cover in turn four.
Many pitted at this caution, including the leader Hemric who was penalized for speeding on pit road. This would prove to be a costly error as the caution would once again come out at lap 120 for a huge wreck on turn four. The 38 of CJ McLaughlin lost the draft and turned into traffic, collecting eight other cars including Hemric who received heavy damage.
The final restart saw the 21 of Hill and the 9 of Gragson in the front row with teammates Cassill and Allmendinger right behind them. Allmendinger took the lead early, but swapped it with Hill a few times until the final lap. On the back straightaway, the traffic just got too busy and the 23 of Alfredo – who had recovered nicely from his early penalty – was shoved into the back of the 31 of Myatt Snider who flipped into the fence and completely lost his car. With the caution coming out the final lap, it was found that Hill had passed Allmendinger before the yellow and was declared the winner.
This was Hill’s first Xfinity Series win after reaching the Truck Series playoffs the past four seasons. Snider was checked and released from the infield care center, and will be reevaluated before his next race. The next Xfinity Series race will take place on Saturday, February 26th at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
Featured photo from @RCRracing on Twitter.