On an ambivalent night for JR Motorsports, Justin Allgaier took advantage of a brilliant strategic call by crew chief Jim Pohlman to win Friday night’s Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first event in the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.
Charging from 13th after restart on Lap 257 of 300, Allgaier passed Daniel Hemric for the lead on Lap 288 and pulled away to win by 1.695 seconds, securing a spot in the Round of 8 of the Playoffs.
Allgaier also broke news in Victory Lane, announcing off the cuff that he had re-signed for another season with JR Motorsports.
That was the good news. In a rare appearance as a driver team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 47 laps before pulling off the track on lap 271 with a fireball in his car licking at his firesuit. Earnhardt made a quick exit and finished 30th.
And that was after three JR Motorsports cars were eliminated from the race in the same wreck.
Without hesitation, Pohlman called Allgaier to the pits when Josh Bilicki’s spin in Turn 1 caused the sixth and final caution on Lap 248. Allgaier rocketed through the field until he caught Hemric, harrying the driver of the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet until he slipped past with just over 12 laps left.
The victory was Allgaier’s second at the 0.533-mile short track and his first since his initial Xfinity Series win in 2010. Between victories Allgaier led plenty of laps but couldn’t return to Victory Lane—until Friday night.
“This team has done an amazing job at this racetrack since I started at JR Motorsports,” Allgaier said. “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 want to win Bristol. Man, we won Bristol! It’s Bristol, baby—let’s go!”
The victory was Allgaier’s third of the season and 22nd of his career.
Hemric floundered early in the race until the top lane came in. Then his car came to life.
“We just enough race car there that once the top came in, I was going to live by it,” Hemric said. “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.
“Yeah, the tires were just too much there. Him and Dale Jr. had the best cars all night. So yeah, proud of this group. We definitely stole a finish tonight but came a long way through traffic.”
Playoff drivers John Hunter Nemechek, Cole Custer and Chandler Smith finished third through fifth, respectively. Custer led 109 laps, one fewer than Allgaier.
A four-car wreck in Turn 1 on Lap 167 sidelined three JR Motorsports cars, two of them driven by Playoff contenders Josh Berry and Sam Mayer. After slight side-to-side contact with the No. 1 Chevrolet of Mayer, Berry’s No. 8 Chevy cut a right front tire and turned up the track into Mayer, knocking him into the outside wall.
Running behind his JR Motorsports teammates, Brandon Jones also was collected in the wreck, as was the No. 39 Ford of Ryan Sieg.
Those weren’t the only teammates who ran afoul of each other. On Lap 217, Sheldon Creed clipped regular-season winner Austin Hill just short of the start/finish line. Out of control, Hill’s Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet bounced off the inside wall and nosed into the outside SAFER barrier in Turn 1. Hill was unable to continue.
Hill finished 33rd. Creed came home 11th.
As if that weren’t enough drama, Earnhardt ran in or near the lead until his car began to smoke with 30 laps left.
“The shifter tunnel column was on fire,” Earnhardt explained. “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.
“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.”
Mayer, Berry, Parker Kligerman (who lost 53 laps under repairs in the garage) and Jeb Burton (who started from the rear in a backup car and finished 13th) all dropped below the cut line for the Round of 8 as the series heads for the second Round of 12 Playoff race Sept. 23 at Texas Motor Speedway.