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Strategy Gamble Earns Chandler Smith Second Victory of 2024 at Richmond 

Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, TobyChristie.com

Chandler Smith is becoming quite familiar with winning at Richmond Raceway.

After earning victories at the three-quarter-mile short track in consecutive years – one in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and one in the NASCAR Xfinity Series — the 21-year-old driver finds himself celebrating in Victory Lane once again following Saturday’s ToyotaCare 250.

The opportunity to retain his title as “Defending Richmond Winner” came primarily as a result of a brave strategy call by veteran crew chief Jeff Meendering, one that brought Smith down pit lane for his final set of sticker tires with more than 60 laps remaining in Saturday’s 250-lap contest.

Despite a couple of close-calls, including a loss of power by Hailie Deegan that left the No. 15 Ford Mustang limping around the track while in the racing groove, the strategy would prevail, with the field managing to stay out of trouble for the race’s final 67 laps.

That allowed the entries with four brand-new tires to prevail in the race’s closing laps, with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver manuevering through traffic the quickest, and making the final pass for the race-lead on defending champion Cole Custer with 60 laps remaining.

After leading a race-high 95 laps, Aric Almirola managed to use that same strategy to come home with a runner-up result, while a pair of NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regulars Taylor Gray and Corey Heim finished in third and fourth, completing the first top-four sweep for Toyota in the Xfinity Series since 2012.

The newly-19-year-old Gray scored an impressive top-five result in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut, piloting the No. 19 Toyota GR Supra for Joe Gibbs Racing. Just behind him, in fourth, was Corey Heim, who led 15 laps early in the going for Sam Hunt Racing.

It’s the third top-five result for Sam Hunt Racing at Richmond Raceway, each of which have come with different drivers — John Hunter Nemechek (2021), Kaz Grala (2023), and now Corey Heim (2024).

NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie Jesse Love completed the top-five in the No. 2 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, the highest finishing Chevrolet in the event. Bubba Pollard finished off an incredible run at Richmond with a sixth-place finish on debut, driving a fifth entry for JR Motorsports.

Parker Kligerman rebounded from significant wall contact in the middle portion of the event to finish in seventh, while Austin Hill continued a streak of top-10 finishes with an eighth-place result. Sammy Smith came home a quiet ninth.

Defending Xfinity Series champion Cole Custer rounded out the top-10, making an incredible rebound from making a green-flag pit stop for fresh tires inside the race’s final 30 laps. It’s the 100th top-10 finish in the second-tier series for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver, in his 149th start.

Parker Retzlaff, who earlier in the afternoon managed to secure his first career pole position in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, led the opening 27 laps of Saturday’s event, but ultiamtely chose the wrong strategy in the race’s final stage, ending up one lap off the pace in 16th.

Similarly, Sam Mayer was looking to have a much-needed strong afternoon at Richmond, when he was hit eiting pit road by Taylor Gray, causing the left-front fender to rub on the tire, eventually cutting it down and forcing a pit stop under green. The JR Motorsports driver recorded his fourth finish of 30th or worse

There’s a good chance Mayer is angry, but nobody is more angry than Joey Gase, after the owner-driver was wrecked entering the first corner, destroying his No. 35 Chevrolet. That triggered an interesting sequence of events where Gase ripped off his rear bumper, and threw it at Dawson Cram on-track.

Ironically enough, it was that caution that triggered the pit strategy for much of the field, which made some people’s afternoons, but destroyed the afternoons of others.

Leaving Richmond, Chandler Smith takes over the points lead in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, pulling a 10-point advantage over Austin Hill in second-place. Cole Custer is third, followed by Jesse Love and Riley Herbst.

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