Busch wins Xfinity race as inaugural Chase field is set
AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Kyle Busch won for the 10th time in the Xfinity Series this season with a victory at Phoenix International Raceway on the night NASCAR’s second-tier series’ set its inaugural championship field.
The final four for next weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be a battle between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joe Gibbs.
Both car owners got two drivers each into the championship field the first year NASCAR rolled out the Chase for its lower two national series. The Chase uses the same elimination format as the Sprint Cup Series, and eight drivers were competing for the final four slots on Saturday night.
Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, both driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, got in. JR Motorsports qualified Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler.
But, after the race, Sadler’s car was being inspected by NASCAR for an apparent loose lug nut on his car. It’s unclear if Sadler could face a points penalty that would knock him out of the championship field.
“I think we might have a loose lug. They’ll look at it. But, hey, we did what we had to do,” Sadler said.
Sadler, a longtime NASCAR veteran, is seeking his first title at the national level and has his best chance this year in this winner-take-all format.
“We’re pumped about it, we really put all our eggs in one basket, and that’s that Homestead car,” he said.
Allgaier had to stretch a drying gas tank over the closing laps to claim his spot and keep Blake Koch out of the field. Koch was keeping an eye post-race on Sadler’s situation, but immediately apologized for an earlier incident with Darrell Wallace Jr. that knocked Wallace out of title contention.
Busch, meanwhile, is racing Sunday for a spot in Cup’s final four. New rules will make him ineligible to race in any Chase races in a lower series next year, so this was his last victory in the fall race at Phoenix.
Busch noted he’d learned something about the tires by running the Xfinity race, and he planned to confer with his Cup team to get better prepared for Sunday’s main event. The reigning Sprint Cup champion had the fastest car in Saturday’s final practice.
“We got a lot better, I feel like we’re at least in the ballpark,” Busch said of Sunday. “We’ve got a top-five race car and we’ll go from there.”
Brendan Gaughan’s championship chances ended when he wrecked with 63 laps remaining. He was in a must-win situation and came to Phoenix last in the eight-driver standings.
Wallace, who was seventh in the standings, was wrecked when Koch ran into Wallace’s lane to cause the accident. Wallace was mourning his grandmother, who died earlier this week, and had trouble controlling his emotions after.
“My grandmother was giving me the ride of my life,” said Wallace, nearly sobbing. “That was the most fun I have had all year. Just circumstances took us out.”