Teamwork was the buzz word of the night for the Wawa 250 Powered by Coca-Cola NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway, but ultimately it came down to team members aggressively deciding the win amongst themselves instead of a team versus team surge for the checkered flag.
Ross Chastain tagged the left rear of his Kaulig Racing teammate — and the race leader – AJ Allmendinger‘s Chevrolet on the final lap in the final turns sending both cars into the wall while their other teammate Justin Haley surged through the field to the checkered flag. It was the 21-year old Indiana-native‘s second career Xfinity Series win matching his work at the sport‘s other big track, Talladega Superspeedway earlier this season.
Haley, the driver of the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet edged Gray Gaulding — who was making his second start of the season — by a mere .253-seconds for the victory. Chase Briscoe, Riley Herbst and Harrison Burton rounded out the top five. Chastain recovered to finish sixth, followed by Michael Annett, Austin Cindric, Josh Williams and Jesse Little.
“Obviously, just a little delayed reaction, obviously not intentional,” Haley said watching the replay of his teammates‘ tussle.
“Just a little lucky there, I got shucked out and I was a little frustrated but that‘s why you never give up,” he added. “These things are so unpredictable.”
Before the contact with Allmendinger and Chastain, it looked like the race was ultimately going to come down to a good ole‘ Chevrolet versus Ford duel. The Kaulig Chevrolet threesome led 68 of the race‘s 100 laps with Allmendinger‘s 58 laps out front the most on the evening. Ford drivers Cindric and Briscoe were positioned in the lead pack ready to make a final push forward, but Cindric was caught up in the Allmendinger/Chastain incident on the final lap.
After the race, Chastain — who along with Haley are Kaulig Racing‘s two full-time drivers — offered his thoughts on the contact with his teammate but he was resolute in his decision to go for the win.
“It doesn‘t matter how many races each of us run,” Chastain said referring to Allmendinger‘s part-time schedule. “We‘re supposed to go for the win. Team rules are the last 10 laps and we all stay committed. I hate that Justin go shucked out there with five to go.
“But coming to the checkered [flag], what am I supposed to do? Finish second? Not this guy.”
Allmendinger ended up 15th and the veteran was obviously disappointed in the outcome and the manner of the outcome. However, he noted the importance of the victory for the team.
“It‘s the way it is,” Allmendinger said. “I don‘t know. I try to take care of my teammates, but it is what it is and it was going for the win. Ross is going for the championship and going for the win there. I saw him get low and thought maybe he would take care of me a little bit considering I was there. But he‘s going for the win. It is what it is and just disappointing because we were going to have another one-two-three Kaulig finish at Daytona.
“It‘s racing. And congratulations to Justin Haley for getting a Kaulig Racing Chevrolet into Victory Lane. That‘s the most important thing.”
Kaulig Racing swept the night with Haley winning Stage 1 and Allmendinger leading the three-car Kaulig Racing train in Stage 2.
Two drivers still closely battling for the 12th and final playoff position — Brandon Brown and Jeremy Clements turned in a dramatic evening. Brown scored stage points by finishing fourth in Stage 1 and that ultimately proved to be vital for his championship chances considering both cars suffered some damage in a multi-car accident midway through the race.
Clements finished 20th and Brown was 26th. The stage points were enough to keep Brown in that 12th place transfer position, with a 32-point advantage over Clements as the series moves to historic and historically tough Darlington Raceway next week.
Cindric‘s eighth-place finish was good enough to keep him atop the championship standings by 58 points over Chase Briscoe.
Up next, the NASCAR Xfinity Series heads to Darlington Raceway for Saturday’s Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200 (12:30 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). There are four races left in the regular season.
Note: The No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet of Justin Haley passed NASCAR’s post-race inspection. There were no other issues.
Contributing: Staff reports