With a mere handful of laps to go in the Sport Clips VFW 200, leaders Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain made a crucial mistake during Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity event. Third place Brandon Jones had caught up to the pack and was able to capitalize on their mistake.
Hamlin and Chastain had made contact several times leading up to the final run, both with each other and with the wall. While it wasn’t enough to knock either driver fully out of contention, it was more than enough to slow both drivers down considerably.
Chastain had secured the lead, but Hamlin passed him in turn 3 on the penultimate lap. Chastain wasn’t going to let that one slide; he tapped Hamlin’s left rear bumper, and that was the race deciding move. Both drivers fell off the pace. Jones slipped right through. By the time Jones took the checkered flag, he had opened up a considerable gap between himself and the former leaders.
“Look at the right side of this thing. I think everybody’s looks like this and that is what is so much fun about this track,” Jones said of his car after the race. “This is a tough place to get around. You saw them really racing hard, and I knew I was catching them.
“We knew we was going to pull that big slider, and that’s what you have to do sometimes to clear them. We will take it. Three wins this year. We will keep going. I think more to come.”
Jones has taken home wins at Phoenix and Kansas in the 2020 Xfinity season.
Chastain and Hamlin, for their own part, seemed to understand that it was a racing incident that took them out.
“Denny was faster, I knew that,” Chastsin said. “Everybody watching knew that. I just kept ripping the top best I could. I think I hit the wall 25 times, I was really struggling on entry.”
Hamlin said, “I thought I could clear [Chastain] and get slowed up in time before I got to the wall. Just couldn’t make up for the loss of track position we kept getting. He was running his line, I was running mine, we had a great race there. It was fun. It just didn’t work out.”
That said, Chastain has also been involved in a handful of incidents this year, including a late race crash last week at at Daytona that threw away a podium sweep for his Kaulig Racing team. If he wants to stay in contention, he’ll need to actually get his car across the finish line first and not get swept up in an accident with just a handful of laps left to go.