AVONDALE, Ariz. – Last fall at Phoenix Raceway William Byron watched his chances at a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship go up in smoke because of an engine failure.
On Saturday Byron made sure he’d have a shot at the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a victory in the Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix Raceway.
“This one got robbed from me last year at Phoenix, so we got it back,” Byron said.
The other three drivers who will battle Byron for the championship at Homestead were also determined Saturday at Phoenix Raceway. Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric will join Byron to fight for the championship on Nov. 18.
Most of the race was dominated by Ryan Blaney, who swept the first two stages and looked like he was well on his way to victory during the third and final stage in the 200-lap event when Brendan Gaughan crashed with 19 laps left to bring out the caution flag.
That set up round of pit stops, which was particularly stressful for Byron because his usual pit crew was unable to make it to the track on Saturday because of flight issues. His team opted for a two-tire pit stop, which got him off pit road first ahead of Blaney and the rest of the field.
When the race resumed with with 13 laps left Byron quickly darted away from the field. Blaney, who took four tires and restarted fourth, quickly got up to second, but Byron was already pulling away.
In the end Byron drove to his fourth victory of the season and of his career, which gives him all the momentum heading into the NASCAR XFINITY Series finale next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“This pit crew did awesome. They didn’t even know they were pitting the car this morning. Incredible job to them,” Byron said in victory lane. “This is the momentum we need. I can’t wait to get to Homestead.”
Blaney finished second, followed by Erik Jones, Christopher Bell and Hemric.
Behind Byron the battle was intense for the fourth and final spot in the Championship 4 for Homestead. Sadler and Allgaier both clinched their spots in the Championship 4 throughout Saturday’s race, but the battle for the final Championship 4 position came down to a battle between Hemric and Cole Custer.
Brennan Poole entered the race fourth in points and in position to battle for a championship, but he was involved in a crash on lap 22 and failed to finish, ending his championship hopes. That opened the door for Hemric and Custer to race for the final spot in the Championship 4.
During the final caution period after Gaughan crashed Hemric and Custer both hit pit road. Hemric, who entered pit road several positions ahead of Custer, took only two tires and restarted second. Custer’s team opted instead for four tires and restarted sixth.
Hemric quickly faded to fourth during the restart as Custer gave chase. Custer got by Hemric with 10 laps left, but Custer needed to gain one more position or needed Hemric to lose one more position in order to advance to Homestead.
Hemric refused to give up and slowly tracked Custer back down in the final laps. With two laps left the faster car of Bell caught Custer and Hemric, taking them three-wide as they battled for position and the final spot in the Championship 4. On the final lap Hemric was able to slip past Custer, allowing him to claim the fourth and final spot in the battle for the championship at Homestead.
“That’s what the playoffs are all about,” Hemric said after climbing from his Chevrolet. “We struggled taking off, but taking two tires at the end was just enough when we need to be able to fire off with a little bit more speed.
“It got a little nerve wracking once the 18 (Bell) caught us. I knew kind of what we needed to do with the 00 (Custer) and the 18 had such a big run, I just had to make sure that if he was going to pass me he was going to pass both of us. Fortunately it worked out that way.”
Along with Custer and Poole, Ryan Reed and Matt Tifft were also eliminated from championship contention at the end of Saturday’s race at Phoenix Raceway.
Byron, Sadler, Allgaier and Hemric will now turn their attention to Homestead-Miami Speedway next Saturday as they battle for the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship in the Ford 300.
Allgaier’s car failed post-race inspection. Any related penalties will be announced next week by NASCAR.
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