Chandler Smith wins spring NASCAR Xfinity race at Richmond Raceway for the second year in a row

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Chandler Smith took the lead with 59 laps to go Saturday and won the spring NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond Raceway for the second year in a row.

Smith led a 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing — the seventh time the organization has done it — with Aric Almirola second and Taylor Gray third in his first start in the series.

“I made too many mistakes there throughout the race to be able to capitalize on such a fast car,” Gray said. "I can’t thank all of my guys enough back at the shop.”

Corey Heim was fourth, giving Toyota just its second sweep of the top four finishing positions, Jesse Love was fifth and Bubba Pollard was sixth, also in his first start in the series.

The victory was the second for Smith this season and the third of his career. It also moved him into the series points lead by 10 over Austin Hill. Smith also won at Phoenix on March 9th.

“Never give up,” he said. “This car was not good stage one, wasn’t good stage two. But, we were able to do some strategy there. ... and this thing was fast when it counted.”

Almirola dominated much of the day, leading 95 laps and sweeping both stages, but finished more than four seconds behind his teammate.

“I let Chandler go, and then when I started to try and just creep back to him, I didn’t have anything to go in and I was too loose in and I couldn’t get the throttle down on exit,” Almirola said.

Both drivers pitted with 71 laps to go, with Smith the first off pit road running 16th, and quickly worked their way around the 15 cars that declined to pit, gambling that there would be another caution late in the race.

“If a caution came out — it is what it is — it probably wouldn’t have been my time, but it was our time today and I’m going to cherish the moment,” Smith said.

Instead, the race stayed green the rest of the way, leaving many teams with a set of tires they never got to use. An exception was Cole Custer, the series champion last year, who pitted with 26 laps to go, emerged 29th and two laps down and raced to a 10th-place finish.

“If we could do it again, we would have pitted,” Custer said. “We talked about it for five days coming here. It just seemed like that was not enough laps on your tires to really take that chance to not have a set at the end.”

Gray's good day came at the expense of Sam Mayer, who finished second in the second stage but made contact with Gray leaving pit road before the third stage, getting damage to his left front that caused the tire to go flat early in the final stage. After pitting again, he returned running 32nd and two laps down. He finished 30th.

Joey Gase brought out the sixth and final caution when he hit the wall early in the final stage. Gase then tore a rear panel off his car and threw it at the windshield of Dawson Cram’s car when he passed by under caution.

Austin Hill finished eighth, ending his streak of finishing in the top five in every race this year.

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AP NASCAR: https://apnews.com/hub/nascar-racing