By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Stephen Leicht avoided the bulk of the carnage at Daytona International Speedway to earn his first top-five finish in over a decade.
The JD Motorsports driver was running mid-pack when the final ‘big one’ broke out with 12 laps to go. Leicht had the wreck avoided in his No. 01 Flex Glue Chevrolet Camaro SS until his teammate, Garrett Smithley swerved to avoid the melee. Leicht and Smithley spun and emerged with little, if any, damage.
“That backstretch wreck, Garrett and I slowed down to miss it, and we had it missed,” Leicht explained. “Garrett saw a car come off the wall and turned left. I guess he didn’t know I was beside him. That spun us out, but hardly any damage. I wanted a top-five.”
On the final restart of the Circle K Firecracker 250, Leicht found himself in the outside line that quickly organized. He followed AJ Allmendinger as he picked off each car one at a time. Leicht crossed the line in sixth before moving to fifth following Allmendinger’s disqualification.
“It was just hard work,” Leicht admitted. “These guys work really hard and Mark Setzer, my crew chief is probably the hardest working crew chief I ever met. I’ve known him for a long time, we go back to the Hickory Motor Speedway Saturday night racing days. We weren’t good here in February and he worked on the car a lot from then until now.
“Right off the trailer I knew we had a much faster racecar. In qualifying we drove better, drafted better. At one point we were almost to the front in the lead pack. The top line got grouped back up and we fell back.”
Leicht was constantly in the middle of the action throughout the race. He narrowly avoided two other massive crashes, one on lap 10 and the other on lap 74, which wiped out another teammate, B.J. McLeod.
The fifth-place finish is just the fourth top-five in Leicht’s Xfinity Series career. The top-five, which came in his 115th career start was his first since the 2007 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The top-five was also Leicht’s best finish at a restrictor plate race.
The top-five moved Leicht up from 20th in the championship points standings to 19th. 498-points behind points leader Tyler Reddick, the 32-year-old had an uphill battle. Leicht is 215-points behind the playoff cutoff held by Ryan Sieg.