By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
With the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series season in the books and the year coming to a close, now is the opportunity to take a look at the top-10 moments of the year. Today, we tackle the first five in the first of a two part series.
History is Made in Daytona
The 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series season started out with an incredible finish in the season opening PowerShares QQQ 300 at Daytona International Speedway.
After five separate overtime attempts the race came down to a photo finish between JR Motorsports teammates Elliott Sadler and Tyler Reddick. The margin of victory, 0.0004 seconds in Reddick’s favor, was the closest in NASCAR history.
“This feels amazing,” said Reddick, in victory lane at Daytona. “This is a hell of a way to start the year off with JR Motorsports. Ryan Reed and Ryan Truex, those guys were giving me good pushes as I was really struggling on some of those restarts to get going. I was holding back there on the last restart and (Reed) gave me one last really good push to get back up to Elliott.
“I don’t even know how close it was at the line, but it was real close.”
What makes this history making moment even more impressive is the fact that both Reddick and Sadler were involved in incidents. Reddick was involved in multi-car melees on lap 11 and during the second overtime on lap 123. Sadler meanwhile was penalized for locking bumpers with teammate Chase Elliott and then spun during the first overtime attempt.
Despite the carnage, well over half the field finished the race with 23 on the lead lap.
2018 XFINITY Dash 4 Cash is a Resounding Success
In the 2018 XFINITY Dash 4 Cash program, zero Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers were permitted to compete in the Xfinity Series. As a result, the races at Bristol Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway, and Dover International Speedway were some of the most compelling of the season.
At Bristol, Ryan Preece took the victory, passing his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate late in the race. For Preece, it was his only chance at the $100,000 bonus since he was not scheduled to compete in the remaining Dash 4 Cash races.
Richmond saw Christopher Bell earn his first victory of the season and the Xfinity debut of Noah Gragson. The JGR duo dueled throughout the race with Bell ultimately earning the victory and the $100,000 bonus.
Talladega Superspeedway saw Spencer Gallagher earn his first career NASCAR victory, as well as the first in the Xfinity Series for GMS Racing, leading only the final lap. The dramatic last lap made the race a ‘feel good’ story for several days.
Finally, Dover saw JRM teammates Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler beat and bang for the final $100,000 bonus. The duo nearly crashed off of the final corner fighting for the bonus. Allgaier took the victory and the bonus before failing post-race technical inspection. However, he kept the financial bonus and the victory.
Spencer Gallagher’s Dramatic Rise and Fall
As alluded to in the previous moment, Gallagher’s victory was a ‘feel good’ story for several days after the race. The GMS Racing driver was having a career season.
By the time the series reached Talladega, Gallagher was running consistently inside the top-10 more often and was eighth in the Championship Points Standings. Following his victory at Talladega, it looked as if he was poised to fight for a Championship in just his second full-time Xfinity Series season.
Just days later, Gallagher was suspended by NASCAR for violating the Substance Abuse Policy. Not only did he lose any chance at a Championship, but GMS Racing lost the benefit of an automatic berth in the Owner’s Championship Playoffs.
Gallagher entered the Road to Recovery program, apologizing for his mistake.
“I would like to say that I am sorry to all of the GMS organization for my actions, especially my team and team owner, who have worked so hard this year and have put faith in me. I also want to apologize to NASCAR, Chevrolet and my fans for letting them down. I have not upheld the behavior that is expected of me. I promise you all here and now, I will do whatever it takes to make this right.”
Gallagher returned at Kentucky Speedway after completing the Road to Recovery program. He would compete in another nine Xfinity Series races. Next year, he will assume a management role at GMS Racing while John Hunter Nemechek takes the reigns of the No. 23 Chevrolet Camaro SS.
Ross Chastain Gambles on Himself and Wins
A growing trend in the NASCAR Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series is drivers gambling on themselves. Ross Chastain is one of the most recent to do so as he joined Chip Ganassi Racing for three races in 2018.
In those three races, the 25-year-old watermelon farmer earned a pole at Darlington Raceway, led 270 laps, won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and finished second at Richmond Raceway. In the three races he ran in the No. 42 DC Solar Chevrolet Camaro SS, Chastain raced for free, gambling on the possibility of a career changing moment.
Chastain’s reaction in victory lane at Las Vegas was a mixture of shock and excitement,
“Holy cow! I’m just a watermelon farmer from Florida—I’m not supposed to do that,” said Chastain, who carried one of his trademark watermelons to Victory Lane. “This shows you anything in your life is possible. I gave one away at Darlington, and this was awesome racing.
“I never thought this would happen. It’s incredible. Allgaier was awesome. He’s insane. I had to play possum there (on the restarts) and then changed it up. The car was just amazing. This was all we could ask for. We did it!”
Chastain’s regular team, JD Motorsports, often used older Ganassi equipment. The Xfinity Series veteran and fan favorite earned one top-five and four top-10s with JDM prior to his three-race stint with Ganassi.
Chastain ultimately parlayed that victory into a full-time opportunity with Ganassi in 2019.
John Hunter Nemechek Continues Where His Father Left Off
The first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory for John Hunter Nemechek took place at the site of his father’s final Xfinity Series victory. 14 years ago, Joe Nemechek swept the weekend at Kansas Speedway, earning his final Cup and Xfinity (then-Busch) Series victories to date.
The 21-year-old split time in the No. 42 Chevrolet Camaro SS with Jamie McMurray, Justin Marks, Kyle Larson, and Chastain.
Nemechek took the lead on the final restart. He comfortable pulled away from Daniel Hemric who had dominated the day prior to the final restart.
“When that caution came, I knew we had a chance,” Nemechek said. “Luckily, Daniel and I raced each other hard and clean all day. We got the track position, and this thing was on rails today. I feel like we’ve been contending for wins all year. We just haven’t pulled through.
“To check the first one off—that’s the hardest one to get. Hopefully, we can go on. We’re racing for the owners’ championship at Homestead.”
As the rest of the season progressed, Nemechek did fight for an Owner’s Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Ganassi. Although he was unable to deliver on an Owner’s title, Nemechek found plenty of success, despite a partial schedule.
In 18 races, the Mooresville, N.C. native earned six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes, along with one pole position, in addition to his victory at Kansas.