A lively 3M 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway on Sunday afternoon looked to have finally settled down and be drawing to an almost leisurely close, with reigning series champion Chase Elliott looking firmly on course to pick up his first win of the 2015 season.
But things are rarely so simply or as easy in NASCAR competition, and just three laps from the chequered flag a late caution meant that the race would go into overtime. Moreover there was now a pit strategy call to make, and when the dust finally settled after the final two-lap sprint to the finish had played out it was Elliott who had come off second best, while Roush Feway Racing's Chris Buescher had played the moment beautifully.
CLICK: Full race results from Sunday's 3M 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway.
Buescher and Elliott were the class acts of the day and rarely far from the front, but it had been Drew Herring who had won pole position for Joe Gibbs Racing in the #20 car. He had set a final-round lap of 23.439s (134.391mph) in qualifying on the seven-eighths of a mile paved oval on Saturday afternoon to put him ahead of his team mate Daniel Suarez by just seven thousandths of a second to clinch his second pole in 16 Xfinity Series starts.
However Herring wasn't at the wheel of the car for the race on Sunday, and neither was the #20 at the head of the field: Herring had only been sitting in for Erik Jones, who was needed on standby at Charlotte Motor Speedway in case Kyle Busch suffered any problems on his post-injury return to competition in the All-Star Race. With Jones arriving in Iowa on Sunday morning to take over driving duties, the #20 was required to drop to the back of the field for the green flag as a result of the driver change. That left Suarez in control coming to the green flag and Richard Childress Racing's Brian Scott promoted up alongside him on the front row followed by Buescher, Elliott and Brandon Jones.
Two quick cautions - including one for HScott Motorsports's Brennan Poole getting turned into the wall by JGL Racing's JJ Yeley - got the race off to a staccato start but after that finally the race settled down for a green flag spell that not even a turn 4 spin for Darrell Wallace Jr. on lap 46 could disrupt. By the time the scheduled competition caution came out on lap 60, Erik Jones had worked his way back up from the rear all the way into the top ten. Buescher took the lead from Suarez on pit lane but was quickly displaced at the restart by Chase Elliott; Elliott then kept the lead through the next caution on lap 82 for Ross Chastain blowing a tyre, the #9 soon building up a solid lead over Buescher as the race increasingly took on the look of a two-horse race.
Buescher had his turn at the front when he beat Elliott off pit lane under a debris caution on lap 143, but there followed a trio of cautions starting with Yeley being sent into the wall in a blatant retaliatory strike by Poole for their earlier contact. The spat not only put Yeley out of the race but also had race control order Poole to the naughty step in the team garage for the rest of the afternoon. The next restart saw Yeley's team mate Eric McClure spin out in turn 1 and the next restart was even messier, with both Erik Jones and Chase Elliott making contact with the wall and Ty Dillon lucky not to get caught up in it, while Brandon Jones, Brian Scott and Daniel Suarez were all involved in a fierce three-wide to stay in the top ten. Finally a new caution for John Wes Townley spinning in turn 2 on lap 177 enabled everyone to cool off and reset themselves.
Buescher held the lead on the restart on lap 181 after fighting off Penske's Ryan Blaney at the restart, as Elliott had been among the few to take the chance to put for fresh tyres and have his car checked for damage after his too-close encounter with the wall. The new tyres worked a treat as Elliott soon cut his way back through the traffic during the ensuing long green flag stint which lasted almost to the end of the race. On lap 220 he recaptured the lead by breezing past Buescher who was now struggling on tired-out tyres and then pulled out a three second lead. With the end of the race nigh, Elliott was looking certain of the win - but then Jamie Dick hit the backstretch wall and was collected by Ross Chastain to bring out the yellows again just a handful of laps before the scheduled finish.
Everything now hinged on a green-white-chequered restart. Fuel was critical for pretty much the entire field, so the leaders duly came down pit road - with the exception of Elliott, who evidently felt he had enough of a margin in terms of both gas and performance to close out the race without risking a mishap on pit road. But when the race resumed it was clear that this had been a miscalculation: Buescher immediately dived down low to get around the #9 car and went warp speed with a push from behind from Roush team mate Darrell Wallace Jr that blasted him all the way to the finish line with a final margin of half a second over Elliott.
"Bubba gave us a heck of a shot on the restart,” said Buescher after securing his second win in 51 Xfinity Series starts, the first having come at Mid-Ohio last August. "It was a hard hit - that was almost a crash! It was exactly what we needed to get going and get to the inside and be able to pull this win off.
"When that happened, I knew we had an awesome shot at [winning]," he continued, admitting that before the yellows had come out he'd accepted the need to put championship prudence ahead of pushing for the race win. "When that caution came out — watched it happen right in front of me — it was like, 'All right, this is it. This is what we need. We need to come in and get some tyres and get back rolling here.'"
"That's racing some days,” sighed Elliott, who led a race-high 114 laps in total at Iowa but whose race essentially came down to making that pit stop on lap 177. "You make a decision, and I think it was a good one. We had some right-side damage and it was good to come in and make sure that was okay rather than to face the opposite of that, cutting down a tyre and have a day like we did in Talladega. So I think it was the right move."
Erik Jones held on to third place ahead of Scott, Blaney and Wallace, with Ben Rhodes in seventh followed home by Brandon Jones, Elliott Sadler and Brendan Gaughan.
"Not a bad day," said Erik Jones, who earned his sixth top-five and ninth top ten finish in 10 starts so far in 2015. “We had a good Interstate All Battery Center Camry. It just wasn't good enough to run with the #60 or the #9, on long green-flag runs especially. A long day coming from the back really hinders your ability to adjust on the car like you want to, so I spent most of the day trying to get the car where I wanted it. It ended alright and we'll get it better for next time."
"I thought our Shore Lodge Chevrolet was going to be a lot better based on our practice and qualifying good," admitted fourth-place finisher Scott. "We didn't have the rear grip in the car that we needed. At the end we debated two tyres or four tyres and we finally had our handling better and would've finished sixth or seventh if we went green to the end. Rolled the dice and took four tyres. It's too bad we didn't have another lap or two because it would've got interesting."
"Man, that was a wild finish - I'm really happy with our eighth-place finish today at Iowa,: added Scott's RCR team mate Brandon Jones. "I learned a lot this weekend. We had a lot of speed there at the end. This was a great weekend for the JELD-WEN/Menards team. I can't wait to get back behind the wheel of the #33 car in August when we come back to Iowa."
Jamie Dick finished in 25th place after his late crash that triggered the GWC. It was his first race back in competition since he was diagnosed with onset diabetes following the Xfinity Series race at Phoenix in March. The Viva Motorsports driver had earlier had a lucky escape in first practice on Saturday when a lead weight used as ballast on Ross Chastain's #4 car flew off and crashed through Dick's windshield and hit his helmet. Dick was not injured in the incident which forced him to the backup car for the rest of the weekend, while Chastain's team will almost certainly now receive a penalty for improperly affixed ballast.
"On behalf of myself and everybody at JD Motorsports, I want to apologise to Jamie and everyone at Viva Motorsports," Chastain said on Twitter afterwards. "Words don't mean much now but I'll do everything I can to make this right and changes will be made on our end. Right now I'm just glad my friend is alright."
As a result of this week's race win, Chris Buescher moves into the lead of the Xfinity championship standings by eight points from Ty Dillon who finished in 14th place in Iowa, the first car a lap down. Despite finishing second this weekend, reigning series champion Chase Elliott remains 31 points Buescher after ten of the 33 races of the 2015 season. In the owners standings, the Penske #22 driven this week by Ryan Blaney holds an impressive 64 point lead over Buescher's #60.
The next NASCAR Xfinity Series race will be on Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
See full race results from Iowa, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Xfinity Series championship standings.
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