XFT: Chandler Smith defends title at ToyotaCare 250

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Chandler Smith led a Joe Gibbs Racing sweep at Richmond (Va.) Raceway on Saturday afternoon, cruising to a 4.495-second victory over teammates Aric Almirola and Tanner Gray in the ToyotaCare 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

It marks back-to-back wins in this race for Smith and he led the final 60 laps in the No. 81 JGR Toyota, 76 laps on the day for his third career win, second of the season. It was his teammate Almirola, who won both Stages and led a race-best 95 of the 250 laps in his No. 20 JGR Toyota, but the former full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver ultimately could not catch Smith, who pulled away in the closing laps.

“Never give up, never give up,” said Smith, who has top-10 finishes in all six races this year. “This car was not good. Stage 1 wasn’t good, but we were able to do some strategy there with this No. 81 Supra in Stage 2.

“Back here winning races on a consistent basis and took over the points lead too, I’m just blessed.”

Almirola acknowledged he didn’t have what he needed to catch the 21-year-old Georgia native in the closing laps. He’ll have another chance at victory next week as he’s in the car again at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

“We just got a little bit too loose,” Almirola said. “The run before that in Stage 2, when I took off, my car was really, really good. At the end, it just felt a little tight and that last run for whatever reason, different set of tires or what, I let Chandler go and when I started to just creep back to him, I didn’t have anything to go with.

“I was too loose in and couldn’t get throttle down on exit. Hate that to win both stages and feel like we had the dominant car and then to let it slip away there at the end, is disappointing.”

The JGR team can also take pride in its third-place finish — considering it was the 24-year-old Gray’s series debut. Truck Series full-timer Corey Heim was fourth followed by series rookie Jesse Love.

It was also a big outing for renowned late model racer Bubba Pollard, punctuating his series debut with a sixth-place finish in the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet — particularly impressive considering Pollard started 37th.

“I just got behind in qualifying there and it made for a long day,” Pollard said. “But these guys gave me a great race car, JR Motorsports.

“I needed that long green flag run just to get in a rhythm. This place is tough, it’s technical and probably one of the toughest places I’ve been to, and I’ve been to a lot of places.

“I’m happy with it. I enjoyed it and had fun and hopefully the fans enjoyed it too.”

Big Machine Racing’s Parker Kligerman, Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Hill, JR Motorsports’ Sammy Smith and reigning series champion Cole Custer rounded out the top 10. The 20-year-old Parker Retzlaff, who won his first career pole position Saturday, finished 16th in the No. 31 Jordan Anderson Chevrolet and led a career-high 27 laps.

With their work, Smith, Almirola, Love and Kligerman have qualified for next week’s Dash 4 Cash event at Martinsville Speedway, and the highest finisher of the four Dash 4 Cash drivers in the race will collect an extra $100,000 bonus.

With the win, Smith takes a 10-point lead in the driver standings over Hill to next Saturday’s DUDE Wipes 250. John Hunter Nemechek is the defending race winner.

–By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

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