Wisconsin native Paul Menard claimed victory for Richard Childress Racing in his home state race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series outing at the 4.048-mile, 14-turn Road America circuit on Saturday afternoon.
CLICK: Full NASCAR Xfinity Series results from Road America
After qualifying was washed out, Ben Rhodes found himself handed pole position for the Road America 180 by virtue of topping the times in Friday's first practice. Rhodes, the 2014 K&N Pro Series East champion, was joined on the front row of the grid for Saturday afternoon's race by his JR Motorsports team mate and reigning Xfinity Series champion Chase Elliott, with Penske's Ryan Blaney joining HScott Motorsports' Justin Marks on row two for the green flag.
Elliott took the lead before a rapid lap 1 caution for Tommy Drissi going off into the gravel at turn 5. When the race resumed, Elliott was able to increasingly pull away from the rest of the field while Rhodes dropped back following a lock-up and run-off that forced an early off-schedule pit stop. Rhodes was replaced in second position by Richard Childress Racing's Brian Scott with Blaney vying with road course specialist Boris Said for third.
After a round of green flag pit stops, Elliott's lead over Scott was over ten seconds, but after 19 laps without a caution - a new record for the series at Road America - the yellows were back out again on lap 23 for Cale Conley's engine blowing up and dropping fluid on the track. The leaders stuck to their pit strategy and opted to stay out, but the restart on lap 27 gave Scott an opportunity to make a successful pass on the former runaway leader, taking Blaney with him into second place in the process.
While trying to fight back, Elliott subsequently spun off the track and picked up enough grass on the front grille to make overheating on the #9 an issue, forcing him to make a green flag pit stop on lap 30 ending his hopes of a strong afternoon's showing. Scott held the lead for another lap before it was time for him, too, to make his deferred visit to pit lane, handing the honours to his RCR team mate Brendan Gaughan who in turn soon passed the lead on to another team mate in the form of Paul Menard.
By the time the third caution materialised on lap 35 for Ben Rhodes getting beached in turn 7, the assorted pit stop and fuel conservation strategies meant that Blake Koch (TriStar Motorsports) and Ross Chastain (Roush Fenway Racing) were at the front. The restart was delayed by Stanton Barrett (Vision Racing) stalling in turn 13 and then Regan Smith (JR Motorsports) suffering a dead battery. Koch's hopes of making it to the finish also ended up falling far short when he ran out of gas on lap 40 and needed pushing back to pit lane.
When racing resumed after an extraordinarily long caution there were just four laps to go and the car out in front was JD Motorsports' Michael Self but he was soon quickly hustled aside by Menard as the field got back up to speed with Darrell Wallace Jr. (Roush), Ryan Blaney, Brian Scott and Boris Said also rushing past Self in a tight pack as the prospect of the chequered flag loomed.
By the start of the final lap, the leading pack had broken up with Menard and Blaney having a private battle at the front to claim victory. Although Blaney arguably looked to have the faster car, Menard was able to control proceedings right until the finish line to pick up his third Xfinity win in 197 starts, his first win at Road America and also his first in 2015.
Behing the lead pair, Scott clinched third place just ahead of a storming late recovery charge from Chase Elliott, who kept his hopes of retaining his title alive with fourth place ahead of Wallace, Said, Marks, Smith and current points leader Chris Buescher (Roush) who now has a reduced 16 point lead in the standings over Chase Elliott with Ty Dillon close behind in third place after finishing tenth at Road America.
The next round of the NASCAR Xfinity Series will be the VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina on September 5.
See full NASCAR Xfinity Series results from Road America and updated Xfinity Series championship standings.
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