2021 could spell the year of opportunity for Justin Allgaier as he scored his second win of the season and his first-career victory at Darlington Raceway Saturday afternoon.
The win makes Allgaier the second two-time winner in the NASCAR Xfinity Series alongside defending champion Austin Cindric.
Similar to the chaotic Camping World Truck Series race Friday night, the Xfinity Series couldn’t find a rhythm in the early goings as three cautions came out in the first 20 laps of the race. One of them was a scheduled competition caution with only three lead-lap cars pitting, while the other two occurred earlier centered around Brandon Gdovic.
The final 20 laps of stage one went without a hitch and saw Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson battle it out for the lead.
At the final lap of the stage, Gragson gained on Cindric to potentially make a move for the stage win, but a Matt Mills spin down the frontstretch ruined any chance of a lead swap and Cindric won his fifth stage of 2021.
Tommy Joe Martins picked up some valuable stage points as he came home fifth after pitting and running the closing laps on fresher tires than others on track.
Xfinity Series rookie Ty Gibbs made his first mistake of the year after being caught for speeding, but Riley Herbst’s day went from bad to worse early as he was penalized for removing equipment. Before the stage break, Herbst fell all the way back to 26th in a car that won nine races in the previous season.
The second stage was paced by Daniel Hemric, who is still seeking his first win of 2021. He led 38 laps in the stage and pulled out to a three+ second lead before a caution for Jesse Little bunched the field up again.
It looked as though Hemric would stay out in front to win stage two, but his crew called him down to pit road on the second time around for stops as they believed a left-rear tire was going flat.
AJ Allmendinger and Brandon Jones led the field to green in a quick dash for the stage two win. Down turn two, Allmendinger jacked up Jones’ rear end and got the car way loose entering the backstretch. Luckily, Jones saved the car and only had slight contact with Gibbs to prevent a major wreck from happening.
Harrison Burton took advantage of the entanglement between the leaders to pass Allmendinger on the final lap of the stage to earn his first stage win of 2021.
Joe Graf Jr. continued to stand out at Darlington for all the wrong reasons.
He was responsible for two late cautions as he spun Gray Gaulding off turn two, which was a continuation of their throwdown following an incident at Martinsville Speedway last month. Six laps later, Graf spun and totaled his car to bring an end to a day he’d like to forget.
JR Motorsports teammates in Justin Allgaier and Josh Berry found themselves out front and battled for the lead with 10 to go. Allgaier went out in front and started to pull away, but rookie Ryan Vargas spun in turn two to send the race to overtime.
Burton, who ran third, along with his cousin Jeb, Justin Haley and Cindric all came down pit road to get fresh tires for the final two laps. However, the stops did not net any driver quality results as they all finished outside the top 10 and Cindric was in a last-lap crash that led to a 30th-place finish, his worst of 2021.
On the final restart, Berry got loose on the inside and slightly made contact with Allgaier, but Allgaier was able to get out clear to the lead and take the victory in his Dale Earnhardt throwback scheme.
Berry, Jones, Gragson and Hemric rounded out the top five. For Gragson, he is now three-for-three in Dash 4 Cash events this season. He can win all four events next Saturday at Dover International Speedway.
Jeremy Clements came home with a season-high finish of sixth, which puts him one top 10 short of matching a career high of top-10 finishes that he set last season.
Michael Annett finished seventh, followed by Brett Moffitt, Ryan Sieg and Alex Labbe. For Labbe, it is his first top 10 since the Charlotte Roval last October.
The Xfinity Series heads to Dover next Saturday in the final Dash 4 Cash event. The four racing for $100,000 will be Berry, Gragson, Allgaier and Jones.