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Chandler Smith wins Xfinity race at Richmond for second straight season

Chandler Smith led a Joe Gibbs Racing sweep at Richmond Raceway Saturday afternoon cruising to a 4.495-seconds victory over teammates Aric Almirola and Taylor Gray in the ToyotaCare 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

It marks back-to-back wins in this race for Smith — answering his first career Xfinity Series victory last spring — 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.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos

“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,” he added.

For his part, Almirola acknowledged he just 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 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 19-year old Gray‘s series debut. NASCAR Craftsman 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, with Custer the first car one lap down. 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.

Joey Gase throws his rear bumper at the car of Dawson Cram during the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond.
Joey Gase throws his rear bumper at the car of Dawson Cram during the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond.

Tempers boiled over at Lap 173 when Joey Gase was dumped by Dawson Cram heading to Turn 1. Cram shoved Gase down the frontstretch, sending Gase’s No. 35 car spinning rear-end first hard into the SAFER barrier in Turn 1. Upon exiting the vehicle, Gase finished ripping off the fiberglass bumper cover — donning the words “Race Against Crime” — then threw the bumper directly at Cram’s windshield as the No. 4 car rolled past under caution.

Brandon Jones of JR Motorsports qualified second but suffered a mechanical failure heading into Turn 1 at Lap 43. His No. 9 Chevrolet spewed fluid on corner entry, sending the vehicle sideways and crashing into the outside wall before later catching fire. Jones escaped unharmed but with a 37th-place finish after his early exit. Ryan Sieg and Jeremy Clements also incurred damage as part of the incident.

With the win, Smith takes a 10-point driver standings lead over Hill to next Saturday‘s DUDE Wipes 250 (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). John Hunter Nemechek is the defending race winner.

NOTE: Post-race technical inspection concluded without issue, confirming Smith as the race winner. The Nos. 16, 19 and 26 cars each had one lug nut loose, which will result in a monetary fine for each team later this week.

Contributing: Staff reports