Erik Jones lead the field to green in the NASCAR XFINITY Series TheHouse.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL for the series regular season finale. Three of the twelve playoff openings were still up for grabs and nine drivers were in a dogfight for them. The 'win and you're in' format for making the playoffs would make this race very intense and very exciting. The race's three stages were broken into 45, 45 and 110 laps.
At the drop of the green flag in stage 1, Jones drove his No. 20 JGR Toyota into the lead and began to pull away from the field while the remainder of the pack fanned out to 3 and 4 wide contests for position. Matt Tifft and Ryan Blaney took over 2nd and 3rd as the field settled into a fairly long green flag run. Around the halfway point of the stage, Tifft and Blaney gave way to a charging Kyle Larson and Cole Custer. Larson, per usual, moved his line high and found speed that drivers not named Erik Jones had failed to discover. Others began to follow suit and move up the track, but Larson capitalized the most.
Lap 29 saw championship contender William Byron coming to pit road with a car that would not stay in gear. He would lose 34 laps in the garage while his crew attempted repairs. Byron would finish 33rd. Erik Jones would win a caution-free stage 1. The stage 1 top-10: 20, 42, 00, 22, 18, 1, 7, 19, 2, 21
Pit stops between stages 1 and 2 saw Erik Jones keep hold of the top spot. Cole Custer, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney and Elliott Sadler made up the top 5. Jones failed to run away from the field on the restart. Custer and others stuck right on the No. 20's rear bumper. Jones would control another caution free stage and take the green-and-white checkers for the stage 2 win. The stage 2 top-10: 20, 00, 22, 42, 1, 18, 2, 7, 3, 19
Erik Jones would win the race off pit road during the caution between stages 2 and 3. Unfortunately for him, Jones was caught speeding on his exit from pit road and had to restart at the back of the field. Ryan Blaney also suffered a pit road penalty and had to join Jones at the back.
The top-5 coming to take the green for the final stage was Custer, Suarez, Sadler, Austin Dillon and Ty Dillon. Custer maintained the lead at the start with Larson blowing past the crowd and trying to run the No. 00 down. The No. 42 would get within striking distance with around 70 laps left in the race. The lead would swap temporarily a couple of times before Custer would stretch back out to a half-second lead. Larson would mount another charge and take the lead just a few laps later.
Green flag pit stops would begin with Bubba Wallace coming in with 62 laps to go. Most of the remaining leaders began to pit with 54 laps remaining. The running order stayed basically the same after the pit cycle. Larson did stretch his lead once the cycle was completed to over 1.6 seconds.
The first incident-induced caution flag came about as Brandon Jones spun trying to reach pit road on lap 151. The No. 33 did not make any contact in the incident. Wallace would receive the free pass. The field came to pit road for four tires and fuel. Larson led off pit road followed by Custer, Blaney, A. Dillon and Jones.
On the ensuing restart with 47 laps to go, Larson and Blaney had a brief battle for the lead, with the No. 42 eventually coming out on top. Cole Custer quickly fell back to 4th. The race stayed green until, with 21 laps to go, Daniel Suarez spun coming out of turn 4. The No. 18 did not make any contact and came to the pits for tires and fuel.
The field came to pit road with the caution out. Erik Jones completed his recovery from his pit road penalty at the end of stage 1 by coming out with the lead. Larson, Blaney, Allgaier and Custer followed. Everyone took 4 tires and fuel. Brandon Jones received the free pass.
On the restart with 15 laps to go, Justin Allgaier took his first turn at the lead. Coming onto the backstretch, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney made contact that pushed the No. 22 into the wall. Cole Custer made contact to the rear of Blaney's car in the jam. There was no caution. Blaney had to bring his car to pit road with front tire rubs. Jones and Custer each continued with Custer dropping back many spots before getting back up to speed.
Just as Blaney was re-entering the race from the pits, Ryan Reed's No. 16 spun from the 5th position. Reed was underneath Bubba Wallace and got loose going into turns 1 and 2. As Reed chased his car up the track, he made contact with Wallace and then made contact with the outside wall. Wallace also contacted the wall. Reed came to pit road for repairs. Custer took the opportunity under the caution to come in and attempt repairs to the nose of his car after the contact with the No. 22 a couple of laps earlier.
The race restarted with 7 laps to go with Allgaier choosing the bottom position from which to lead the field to the green. Sadler would restart on the outside with A. Dillon and Jones making up the second row. Allgaier got a great start and jumped to the lead. Jones swept to the outside of Sadler and make an aggressive move for 2nd place. As he started to run the No. 7 down, NASCAR made the call that Jones changed lanes before the start/finish line and called him to pit road to serve a penalty. Replays showed that the No. 20 did indeed make a move to the outside before reaching the line, which is a restart violation.
Allgaier began to stretch his lead out to over 1.75 seconds as he took the white flag. He drove a smooth final lap and took the checkered flag for the win. The win makes a statement that Allgaier will be a serious contender going into the NXS playoffs, that begin next weekend at Kentucky Speedway. With a 3rd place finish, Elliott Sadler was crowned the regular series champion. The JR Motorsports teammates conducted dueling burnouts after their cool down laps. The top-10: 7, 42, 1, 21, 2, 19, 00, 3, 11, 98
Justin Allgaier's win was his second of the year and gives him five series wins for his career. This was Justin's second career victory at Chicagoland Speedway in 2011. Allgaier is from Riverton, IL, just 2 1/2 hours away from Joliet.
With the completion of the regular season at the end of TheHouse.com 300, the playoff field for the 2017 NXS has been set. Wlliam Byron will begin as the points leader(2,025). Allgaier (2,023), Regular Season champion Elliott Sadler (2,020), Daniel Hemric (2,009) and Brennan Poole (2,006) make up the rest of the top 5 seeds. Ryan Reed(2,005), Jeremy Clements (2,005) and Custer (2,005) earn positions 6 - 8 based on their playoff point totals after winning this season. Blake Koch (2,005), Matt Tifft (2,004), Brendan Gaughan (2,003) and Michael Annett (2,001) all made the playoffs based on their season point totals and fill positions 9 - 12.
The NASCAR XFINITY Series playoffs begin Saturday, September 23, in the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway near Sparta, Kentucky. (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)