Justin Allgaier clinches Xfinity Series Championship 4 spot in dramatic finish

Justin Allgaier clinches Xfinity Series Championship 4 spot in dramatic finish

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — At the end of Saturday‘s chaotic Dead on Tools 250, Justin Allgaier rescued his season with an improbable victory that earned the driver of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet a berth in the Nov. 4 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 event at Phoenix Raceway.

Allgaier‘s Camaro crossed the finish line glued to the side of Sheldon Creed‘s No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, scoring his first win at Martinsville, his fourth of the season and the 23rd of his career by 0.032 seconds over Creed, who needed a victory to advance to the title race.

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Allgaier joins Sam Mayer, John Hunter Nemechek and Cole Custer in the battle for the Xfinity Series crown at Phoenix Raceway next Saturday (7 p.m. ET, USA, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App).

Repeated contact between Creed‘s car and the Chevrolet of teammate Austin Hill during two overtime laps eventually victimized Hill, the regular-season champion, in a chain-reaction wreck in the final corner and deprived Hill of a chance to race for the championship next weekend.

Before the final restart, Allgaier‘s chances of qualifying for the title race had dimmed, as both Hill, the race leader at the time, and Cole Custer (seventh for the restart) had control of the final two Championship 4 spots.

Though Custer was collected in the last-lap wreck, which produced the 16th caution of the race, he was credited with a 19th-place finish to Hill‘s 21st and bumped the RCR driver out of the Playoffs by seven points.

But no one benefited from the closing mayhem more than Allgaier, who got repeated encouragement from spotter Eddie D‘Hondt and crew chief Jim Pohlman during the late stages of the race.

“Both of those guys kept telling me, ‘It‘s not over,‘” Allgaier said. “Coming to the start/finish line, I don‘t think I saw a single person sitting down. I was just hanging on… This car has been lights-out fast all year.

“We‘ve got a shot at going for a championship at Phoenix. This is an emotional one. I‘ve wanted to win at Martinsville for a long time, and I‘ve been on the other end of that (pointing at the crashed cars on the frontstretch) too many times.”

The overtime restart was a recipe for disaster. Hill had lane choice and picked the bottom, with Creed lined up to his outside. Hill initially cleared Creed‘s Chevrolet, but the driver of the No. 2 Chevy used his bumper to force Hill up the track and draw alongside.

As the cars ran through Turns 3 and 4 for the final time, John Hunter Nemechek turned Hill‘s Camaro and ignited the last-lap wreck that ultimately settled the field for the Championship 4.

Creed, who is leaving RCR at the end of the season, was subdued but unapologetic.

“I‘m not proud of racing like that, but I didn‘t blast him,” Creed said. “He was still with me (on the final lap)… I feel like I raced pretty fair for the situation, and he‘s going to be mad, but it‘s for a Championship 4 spot, and I‘m going to fight for my guys all the way to the end.”

As might be expected, Hill had a different view of the final two laps.

“Man, it‘s uncalled for for that to happen, and then for neither of the RCR guys to make it to the final four,” Hill said. “It‘s frustrating. I‘m pretty excited for him to go to his next adventure over at Gibbs, and I don‘t have to put up with him anymore.”

(Hill may have anticipated Creed‘s next move, which is yet to be announced.)

Pole winner Sammy Smith, another driver in a must-win situation to continue in the Playoffs, led 147 of the 256 laps and finished third. But Smith also left Martinsville with a grudge against a teammate—John Hunter Nemechek, who had clinched a Championship 4 berth on points by the end of the second stage.

In Smith‘s view, Nemechek made it impossible for him to fight for the win in overtime.

“They were telling me that he wasn‘t going to make any enemies,” Smith said. “I asked him if he was going to choose the top, and he said he wasn‘t going to do that. I had a good run on him, and he went to block me down to the bottom.

“He didn‘t want to make any enemies, but I‘m really frustrated right now. He definitely made one. I‘m not going to let that one go, and we will see how things go.”

In a race that started in daylight and ended under a full moon after a 28-minute stoppage to clear the track after a 12-car wreck on Lap 244, Riley Herbst ran fourth, followed by Josh Berry and Daniel Hemric.

Parker Retzlaff, Anthony Alfredo, Jeb Burton and Parker Kligerman completed the top 10.

Sam Mayer, already part of the Championship 4 by virtue of last week‘s victory at Homestead, was knocked out of the race in the Lap 244 wreck and finished 25th. Playoff driver Chandler Smith completed 187 laps before being sidelined by an accident and eliminated from the postseason.

Note: Post-race inspection in the Xfinity Series garage concluded with no issues, confirming Allgaier as the race winner.

Contributing: Staff reports