NASCAR Xfinity Series at Las Vegas: Good Things Come To Those Who Wait
BY DAVE GRAYSON
Sometimes watching NASCAR racing is a case of we, the fans, having to be patient. Just because one driver and car is dominating an event doesn’t necessarily guarantee the final outcome. Let’s face it, the sport of NASCAR is often filled with last minute surprises. It often fortifies that famous comment from baseball legend Yogi Berra who said: “it ain’t over till it’s over.”
Such was the case of Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Driver Austin Dillon just literally ran away with this event after leading 183, of the scheduled 200, laps during the Boyd Gaming 300. All the ingredients were in place that created this outstanding performance. It began with a well prepped race car followed up by good calls by Crew Chief Nick Harrison, great service from the pit crew and topped off by Dillon’s driving talent. By the way, all of this happened after Dillon completely dominated the speed charts in all practice sessions and claimed the pole position during qualifying.
Having said that, Dillon’s performance was rapidly turning this race into a snooze festival. The urge to take a Saturday afternoon nap was overwhelming. There’s an old saying, in live televised sports, that says “he stinking up the broadcast.” That’s exactly what Dillon and company were doing.
However, once again, good things come to those who wait and the complexion of this race was about to change. Enter Ryan Blaney.
On lap 173 Blaney and Erik Jones were racing side by side for position. The element of side drafting created a loose condition in Blaney’s Ford. The result was some light contact between the two cars that led to Jones’ Toyota going nose first into the outside turn four retaining wall. Unfortunately, for the third NASCAR weekend in a row, a driver found one of the few sections of concrete wall that was not reinforced with a SAFER barrier. Fortunately, Jones walked away from the wreck despite the massive damage to his car.
You have to give a lot of credit to Blaney who immediately manned up and claimed responsibility for the accident. This gesture was despite the fact that evidence from video replays clearly displayed the fact that this incident was nothing more than a side drafting racing deal.
Under the yellow flag, Blaney came to pit road to allow his team to inspect some light damage to his right front fender. That’s when veteran Crew Chief Greg Erwin made a brilliant call by ordering a four tire change. With only nine cars on the lead lap, it was move that would greatly alter the excitement level of this race.
The race returned to green flag status with 21 laps remaining. Dillon immediately jumped into the lead with Blaney restarting fifth, 1.5 seconds away from the leader. 14 laps later, Blaney moved into second and began the process of chasing down Dillon.
At first it was assumed that Dillon would stay the course while running out the laps to the checkers. Blaney had other ideas. With the help of those fresh tires, he was shaving three-tenths of a second per lap off of Dillon’s lead. That when the previously perceived snooze festival became a very lively event.
For the very first time in the race, Dillon received a radio broadcast that warned him someone was catching him. With three laps remaining, Blaney was moving in on the race leader’s rear bumper. That forced Dillon to employ the use of a series of blocking moves to protect his potential race win. On the final lap of the race, Blaney came off of turn four so hard his car literally was sideways with the right rear bumper grazing the wall. The young driver did a magnificent job of saving the car but it cost him an all in effort to steal the win. Dillon sailed under the checkers by a mere margin of .664 seconds.
After the race, Dillon said “my crew chief made sure no one told me that he, (Blaney), had fresh tires so I wouldn’t second guess myself. I just thought I was getting slower, I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.”
Meanwhile a despondent Blaney again expressed regret regarding the contact with Erik Jones. When asked about Dillon’s blocking moves during the final laps of the race, he said ”he did what he had to do, he stopped my run. I didn’t expect him to pull over and I wasn’t going to move him to win the race.” Keep a sharp eye on this young driver. He’s already shown us a lot in a short amount of time.
The vast majority of the Boyds Gaming 300 may have been a snooze festival, but the final laps more than made up for it. This race, once again, proved that, when it comes to watching NASCAR racing, good things come to those who wait.