AVONDALE, Ariz. — Ryan Blaney came on strong during the second-half of the first stage in Saturday’s Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix Raceway, pulling away to notch his fifth NASCAR XFINITY Series stage win of the year.
Of interesting note, Saturday marked the first time Blaney has won the opening stage of an XFINITY race.
Erik Jones led the field to green from the pole, but it wasn’t even a full laps before calamity struck as Brendan Gaughan spun in turn three and nearly collected Michael Annett, with Corey LaJoie also going around to bring out the yellow.
Once racing resumed on lap five, however, Jones was able to jump out to a half-second advantage over fellow front row starter William Byron during the early stages of the run.
A calm, calculated approach saw Blaney slip past Byron for second on the 18th round, but it was five laps after that pass that disaster struck behind them and massively affected the championship chase.
Brennan Poole and Cole Custer, racing for position, came up on the slower lapped car of Caesar Bacarella entering turn one and split the No. 8, with Poole going below the white line entering the corner and Custer soaring around the high side as they worked to pass Bacarella.
But Bacarella came down the track at corner entry, slamming into the side of Poole’s car and causing heavy damage that sent Poole head-long into the outside SAFER Barrier.
Though Poole’s crew tried valiantly to fix the car on the five-minute crash clock, the damage was too severe, ending Poole’s day and his chance to advance into the Championship 4.
Racing resumed on lap 30 and saw a fierce battle break out between Jones and Blaney at the front of the field.
Though Jones held the lead off the gun on the outside, Blaney kept working the bottom groove in turns three and four, edging ahead on lap 34 before finally clearing Jones for the lead on the 38th round, after nearly four-straight laps of side-by-side racing.
From there, Blaney drove off to the stage win, while Alex Bowman came on strong to take the green-checkered flag just .644 of a second back of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford.
Jones faded to third in the final laps of the stage, followed by playoff contenders Daniel Hemric, Justin Allgaier, William Byron and Cole Custer.
Christopher Bell, Austin Dillon and Blake Koch completed the points-scoring drivers in the top 10 at the first stage break.
Playoff drivers Matt Tifft and Elliott Sadler were 14th and 15th, respectively, at the end of the stage.
With 140 laps remaining, Allgaier, Byron, Sadler and Hemric are the provisional championship contenders.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network, as well as a periodic contributor to SPEED SPORT Magazine.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Email Race Chaser Online: email@example.com
Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews