AVONDALE, Ariz. – A rag-tag pit crew led William Byron to his fourth victory of the season.
He also was one of the four drivers to qualify Saturday for next week’s Xfinity Series championship finale.
Byron, Justin Allgaier, and Elliott Sadler – all from JR Motorsports – and Daniel Hemric took the four spots in all-Chevrolet race for the Xfinity Series championship.
Byron wrapped up his spot on points during Saturday’s race at Phoenix Raceway. With nothing to lose, he used the final pit stop to take two tires in an effort to gain track position and win the race. He got out first, behind a crew that was assembled on the fly.
JR Motorsports, the team owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., his sister, Kelley, and Rick Hendrick, found themselves scrambling Saturday morning when a mechanical issue forced a plane carrying its pit crews to make an emergency landed on its way from North Carolina.
The plane landed in Arkansas, and even though Hendrick Motorsports sent a plane to retrieve the crew members, they did not arrive at Phoenix in time for the race.
So, Byron, Sadler and Allgaier were missing regular pit crew members.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after the race he was “freaking out” when he learned about the crew situation.
All four berths in next Saturday night’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway were on the line in Phoenix. It made for an enjoyable race for the final spot between Hemric and Cole Custer, as the two battled for position in the closing laps. Custer was fourth and Hemric fifth, and if they stayed that way, Hemric had the spot. But Christopher Bell chased Hemric, who couldn’t afford to give up a position between Custer.
Bell used a three-wide pass on the outside to get by both drivers, and Hemric eventually passed Custer and finished fifth.
Custer faded to seventh, and praised his first-year Stewart-Haas Racing team.
“I knew we needed to beat him, but I guess we needed a buffer in between us to beat him,” Custer said. “I think we made the best of our day with what we had, but, overall, we’re still not in the championship four. But for a first-year team we came a long ways.”
Ryan Blaney led 147 of the 200 laps but finished second. He took four tires on the late pit stop and had to drive his way back to the front. Although he was disappointed, he understood the bigger picture for him is Sunday when he races for a shot at the Cup championship.
Blaney starts from the pole Sunday.
“I didn’t think our Cup car was very good today, which was kind of a letdown a little bit,” Blaney said. “It was a frustrating day. We weren’t great in race trim all weekend. Even when we unloaded on Friday we weren’t great in race trim.
“Obviously, qualifying trim went well, but race trim we’ve just struggled a lot. We’ve been struggling to find speed and anything we’ve done hasn’t really changed the balance up very much, which is probably the most frustrating part. We change everything and I can’t really feel any difference and it’s still just slow.”
Erik Jones, another Cup regular, finished third. Christopher Bell was fourth.
Allgaier finished 10th and Sadler was 18th.
Eliminated early from title contention was Brennan Poole who collided just 32 laps into the race with the lapped car of Caesar Bacarella. The driver was making his first career NASCAR national start.
“Bad luck, bad circumstances. Just a bummer,” Poole said. “Sometimes lapped cars get in the way and you have to navigate around them. Didn’t get it done.”
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