Entering this year, Chandler Smith had some pretty enormous shoes to fill, replacing AJ Allmendinger as the full-time driver of the No. 16 Chevrolet Camaro, in what had often been the leading entry for Kaulig Racing over the last two seasons.
Now, just seven races into Smith’s rookie campaign, we’ve already learned that the Talking Rock, Georgia-native is certainly no joke, capturing his first career victory in his 10th NASCAR Xfinity Series start.
The 20-year-old driver found himself in contention for the lead throughout the entirety of the event, leading a race-high 83 laps en route to the victory in the ToyoteCare 250 at Richmond Raceway.
In order to pull this off, Smith had to maintain a major defense against John Hunter Nemechek – who ultimately finished in second place for the second straight time in this event.
Nemechek, who made a last-ditch effort to attempt a move to the outside of the Kaulig Racing driver, finished three-tenths behind Smith, coming one spot short of what would have been an incredible rebound.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, along with outside polesitter and teammate Sammy Smith, both elected to stay on track at the competition caution, in order to save a set of tires in the event of several cautions in the final stage of the race.
That move, cost both drivers a spot on the lead lap. While Nemechek was able to acquire the free pass instantaneously, his teammate was not so fortunate, and spent the majority of the event trapped one lap down.
Upon returning to the lead lap, Nemechek was able to drive through the field, and back into the top-10 fairly quickly, establishing himself as a contender for the victory.
Contrary to typical races at Richmond Raceway, a rash of late-race cautions impacted the end of the race, while allowing drivers like Chandler Smith to utilize their strengths – restarts – to gain spots and contend for the win.
Josh Berry came home in third-place, after having one of the best long-run cars in the field, though the continuous short runs hindered his attempt to win Saturday’s event. In fourth, Kaz Grala scored a much-needed top-five for Sam Hunt Racing.
Cole Custer rounded out the top five, scoring his best finish of the season, after a difficult start, and living in his teammate Riley Herbst’s shadow throughout most of the opening six events this season.
Sheldon Creed came home sixth, while Ryan Sieg rebounded from being a lap down to finish seventh. Parker Kligerman, Austin Hill, and Derek Kraus, on debut in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, rounding out the top-10.
Another driver making their NASCAR Xfinity Series debut was Chris Hacker, piloting the No. 38 Ford Mustang for RSS Racing. Having not run any practice laps in his car, Hacker was able to come home 14th place.
Riley Herbst, who came into Saturday second-place in NASCAR Xfinity Series points standings, was running inside the top-five for much of the event, but was taken out by Brandon Jones late in the event.
For the first-time this season, the NASCAR Xfinity Series will have an off-weekend, as the series takes a weekend off before heading to Martinsville Speedway in two weeks time.
Race Results: 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond