I’d like to open this weekend’s Xfinity Recap with a little equation if you don’t mind. Auto Club + Xfinity Series Racing = An absolutely fun and incredible race.
Cole Custer returned to the Xfinity Series in style, leading 80 laps and surviving three overtimes to win for SS Green Light Racing in the #07 Mustang. “Man, that was just an awesome car…I mean that thing was just a rocket ship all day,” Custer said with a wry smile on his face after the win. Custer was the only active driver in the field today who had won at Auto Club before, and he remains that with the win.
If you looked at just the statistics of this race, you would see that Custer led almost half the laps, that all four JRM cars finished in the top-10 and you would probably make the assumption that it was a pretty run of the mill event.
Of course, you would be wrong. Despite Custer being out front for a lot of laps, he didn’t come by this win easily. Enter The Xfinity Series’ resident “wild man” Noah Gragson. Fresh off of a good weekend at Daytona where he almost snagged Beard Motorsports a top-10 in the 500, Gragson was definitely at the center of a lot of the action.
The number 9 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet was in contention all day, and when the checkered flag fell, Noah brought it home second. It’s been a blistering start for him as well to start the season, as it was his second top-three finish in as many races. “I felt like the car was really close all day, just struggled with the cloud cover and temperature change, too loose or too tight,” Gragson said of his ride after the race.
Trevor Bayne, yes, the 2011 Daytona 500 Champion, made his return to the Xfinity Series in the famous JGR #18 Toyota. After qualifying on the front row with teammate Brandon Jones (more on him in a minute) Bayne showed he’s still got it, winning a stage and being competitive all day.
“I expected to win here to be honest,” Bayne admitted after the race, “in the Gibbs car and the 18 and my experience here… I don’t say that arrogantly but I expected to win.” Trevor definitely has the speed and the team behind him to do just that next time we see him at Phoenix in April.
There were some scary moments to go along with the great ones today, too. On just the seventh lap of the race, Landon Cassill’s #10 had an engine problem and caught fire through the tri-oval. Landon coasted the burning car to turn one and was able to hop out unharmed. It’s been a little disappointing to see how things have gone for the popular racer two races into the season, but I’m sure he’ll bounce back next week.
Another scary incident happened toward the end of the race, when Brandon Jones’ Toyota spun off turn four and smashed into the sand barrier at the entrance of pit road. Broadcaster Joey Logano said it looked like an “explosion” and he was spot on with the analogy. A few anxious moments later, Jones was out of the car and okay. The incident resulted in a 23 minute red flag for cleanup that pushed the race into the early night time hours.
AJ Allmendinger was in the lead as early as lap six, but had to make an unscheduled stop for a loose wheel, which put him back in the running order. AJ and the team were able to rally back and bring it home in seventh. Defending series champion Daniel Hemric got into a bit of a tangle with Ty Gibbs, causing Gibbs to spin into the infield grass early. Both recovered and were able to finish 12th and 13th, respectively. Last week’s winner Austin Hill had a problem and got into the wall early, and never got back into it, finishing a disappointing 27th.
The Xfinity Series returns to Las Vegas next Saturday.
Hopefully, they bring as much great racing with them as they did today in sunny California.
Photo Credit to the Official Twitter of Cole Custer @ColeCuster