NEWTON, Iowa – A week after coming up just short of his first NASCAR XFINITY Series victory in a photo finish with Denny Hamlin at Michigan Int’l Speedway, William Byron finished the job.
Byron took advantage of a late-race caution that trapped most his of competition a lap down, allowing him to pull away to his first NASCAR XFINITY Series victory during Saturday’s American Ethanon E15 250.
It looked like the night was going to belong to Christopher Bell, who was making just his second NASCAR XFINITY Series start. Bell started from the pole and was dominant, leading a race-high 152 laps in addition to winning the first stage of the race.
Bell was still the race leader when a round of green-flag pit stops began with about 40 laps left in the 250-lap event. As lead-lap cars began to make their pit stops, Bell stayed out to stretch his fuel a few extra laps.
With 36 laps left disaster struck for Bell. As the race leader was trying to pass on the bottom, the cars of Ryan Reed and Brennan Poole made contact coming out of turn one. The contact turned Poole sideways, clipping Bell on the bottom and turning him into the outside wall as Reed also spun to bring out the caution flag.
The caution came at a pivotal time as most of the top cars in the field had already come down pit road, with Byron being the only major driver who had yet to pit. He came down pit road for fresh tires and fuel under caution, but Dylan Lupton opted not to pit.
Lupton had previously pitted under caution around lap 165 and had enough fuel to make it to the finish. By staying out and inheriting the race lead, he trapped most of Byron’s major competitors a lap down by preventing them from taking the wave around.
For the restart Lupton was the leader, with Byron lined up second ahead of Dakoda Armstrong, Ryan Sieg and Ross Chastain. During the restart with 21 to go Byron quickly disposed of Lupton, who quickly fell through the field on his older tires. Sieg moved from fourth to second on the restart and was chasing Byron when the caution waved again for Reed, who blew a tire and hit the wall a second time with 17 laps left.
That set up a 10-lap dash to the checkered flag with Byron leading Sieg, Tyler Reddick, Armstrong and Michael Annett. When the green flag waved Byron wasted no time going to work, quickly pulling ahead of the battle for second between Sieg and Reddick.
Unlike last Saturday when Byron had to fend off Hamlin on the final lap, Byron simply cruised towards the checkered flag to score his first XFINITY Series victory aboard the No. 9 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports.
“Man, it feels awesome. Thank you Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) for giving me this opportunity,” said Byron, who is a Hendrick Motorsports development driver. “It’s so cool to run full-time in this series. Everything has come full circle for me. I raced late models for JRM a few years ago and I remember L.W. (Miller of JR Motorsports) telling me he wanted to see me in an XFINITY car.
“Just to see it all come to fruition now and have a victory is really awesome.”
While Byron scoring his first victory will likely get most of the headlines, the rest of the top-five was also newsworthy. Everyone in the top-five, Byron included, scored career-best finishes. Sieg finished second after a last-lap battle with Reddick, who settled for third. Chastain finished fourth, with Armstrong taking fifth.
Sieg’s previous career-best was a pair of third-place finishes at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
“It was crazy. It was surreal,” Sieg said. “It was crazy when I was driving around, I was like ‘I can’t believe we’re second.’ It is really awesome. It was really fun racing with Tyler there and race for the win.”
Despite his career-best finish, Reddick was disappointed with his third-place effort because he felt he could have won the race.
“We had a car that could really roll the center good but I just couldn’t get back to the throttle. That’s where I was getting ate up most of the night,” Reddick said. “We had the four fresh tires and I just feel like we should have came away with the victory there.”
Annett finished sixth, with Jeremy Clements, Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Garrett Smithley completing the top-10. Christopher Bell finished 16th after the crash with 36 laps left took him out of contention to win the race.
Brendan Gaughan picked up a playoff point by winning the second stage of the race when he stayed out after a caution period late in the stage while most of the leaders pitted. He was one of the cars trapped a lap down late in the race and finished 26th.
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