Daring pit strategy leads to victory for Justin Allgaier in NASCAR Xfinity’s Food City 300

Justin Allgaier takes the checkered flag to win Friday night’s Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by David Barks.

Dale Earnhardt Jr has an impressive return to racing until fire cuts short his night

BRISTOL, Tenn. – It wasn’t Las Vegas, but crew chief Jim Pohlman rolled the dice and it led to victory for Justin Allgaier in the first 2023 playoff race in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series – The Food City 300 night race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday night.

When Rajah Caruth got into the back of Josh Bilicki’s car on lap 247 of the 300-lap race over Bristol’s 0.533-mile oval, it brought out the sixth and final caution on the night.

Justin Allgaier does his winner’s burnout as his pit crew stands on the pit riad wall after Friday night’s Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by David Barks.

Allgaier pitted from the lead to get four new Goodyear tires for the final run while most of the other leaders stayed out.

Allgaier fell back to 13th place when the race restarted with 43 laps to go but he quickly moved through the field and was in second, behind playoff driver Daniel Hemric, with 22 laps left.

The duo battled side-by-side for nine laps before Allgaier was able to finally take the lead, pulling away for a 1.695-second victory.

“This team has done an amazing job at this racetrack since I started at JR Motorsports,” said Allgaier. “We led a lot of laps, and the monkey was definitely on our back. The pit strategy there… coming down pit road by myself was nerve-wracking, right?

“I’m speechless, man. This place, Jim Pohlman and I circled this place on our calendar when we started the year, before we ever even took a green flag lap, we said we wanted to win Bristol. Man, we won Bristol! It’s Bristol, baby—let’s go!”

Cole Custer took the lead at the start of Friday night’s Xfinity race and led all the way to a Stage 1 win before finishing in fourth place. Photo by David Barks.

“I thought it would be OK. I thought if I could hold the 7 (Allgaier) off to get to that next group of traffic maybe I’d have a chance to at least race him down in the last five or 10 laps,” said Hemric. “The tires were just too much there. Him and Dale Jr. had the best cars all night. We definitely stole a finish tonight.”

The win automatically qualifies Allgaier for the Round of 8.

Playoff racers John Hunter Nemechek, Cole Custer, and Chandler Smith finished third, fourth, and fifth, respectively, with Ryan Sieg sixth, Trevor Byne seventh, and Riley Herbst eight.

“I can’t believe there weren’t many wrecks,” said Nemechek. “It was a pretty clean race.”

“Overall it was a solid day for us – a solid points day,” said Custer. “We’ll definitely take a good points day and move ob.”

Playoff driver Sammy Smith was ninth with Kaz Grala 10th.

Smoke can be see from a fire inside Dale Earnhardt Jr’s car during Friday night’s Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by David Barks.

Six of the 12 playoff racers finished out of the top 10; Sheldon Creed in 11th, Jeb Burton 13th, Parker Kligerman 31st, Austin Hill 33rd, Sam Mayer 35th, and Josh Berry 36th.

Mayer, Berry, Kligerman, and Burton all dropped below the cutline for the Round of 8.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Junior climbed out of the broadcast and into an Xfinity car for a one-night return to racing.

Earnhardt led an impressive 47 laps and was in the top three most of the night but, with 30 laps remaining, his car caught fire, ending an impressive run for the oldest driver in the field.

“The shifter tunnel column was on fire,” said Earnhardt. “I saw some smoke in the car, and I felt that I was like, ‘Hopefully that’s not me,’ but it was. That last lap, I saw a big fireball down in the tunnel of the car and I felt it.

Safety officials tend to Dale Earnhardt Jr. after he is helped out of his car by crew members from Joe Gibb Racing during Friday night’s Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by David Barks.

“Obviously, my uniform was burning up. I was like, ‘I can’t keep going. I got to stop.’ And usually when you stop the fire gets bigger.

“So I pulled over by the pit stall and some of the guys were pretty alert, and they helped me out. We were going to finish with a top 10, maybe top five. We had a shot at winning it, if the car was going to run good at the end.”

The pit crew that jumped in came from Joe Gibbs Racing.

The NASCAR Cup Series wraps up NASCAR’s Bristol weekend on Saturday. The start time for the Bass Pro Shops night race has been moved up one hour, to 6:30 p.m. EDT because of the threat of rain.

The second Round of 12 Xfinity playoff race comes up next weekend, on Sept. 23, at Texas Motor Speedway.

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