Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – SPEEDWAY, IN – While fighting for the race win in the final laps of Saturday’s Indiana 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Xfinity Series championship leaders Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell collided – their cars hitting the wall and their trophy hopes at the historic venue halted as well.
Both drivers were checked, cleared and immediately released by medical personnel, but it was an unusual checkered flag circumstance for the pair who have combined to win 10 races this season and were contending door-to-door for a victory at the famed race track before things went sideways for them with eight laps remaining.
Kyle Busch, who was running third at the time of Reddick and Bell accident, inherited the lead and held off the field to earn his fourth victory in this race – all from pole position. It is his sixth career win at the track, counting two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories as well.
But in the waning laps as Bell and Reddick raced side-by-side, it looked like the Xfinity Series full-timers would settle the race win amongst themselves.
“I don’t exactly know what happened,” said the Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell, who was credited with a 29th place finish. “Both of us had our foots down going into [Turn] two and I guess I slid just enough being on the inside of him there.
“Proud of everyone on this Rheem team, they brought us a really fast Supra. We’re going to Vegas which has been pretty good to us in the past and hopefully we can win there.”
The defending series champion Reddick has been the championship leader for 22 of the 25 weeks this season. His 30th place showing in the final order Saturday was easily the worst finish of the season for the Richard Childress Racing driver, who has tallied an amazing 21 top-10 and 19 top-five finishes.
As with Bell, Reddick attributed the collision to a simple case of hard racing among the title contenders. He also expressed his gratitude for the safe conditions at the track.
“No one in this garage or in NASCAR or in racing in general should ever question Christopher’s driving ability, that wasn’t the issue there,” Reddick said of his rival. “His car just simply got loose and we just got together and didn’t have a lot of race track.
“It was the end of the race, we were going for it, type deal. Nothing against Christopher, he did nothing wrong his car just got loose. It’s part of racing at this place and going for the win.”
The third driver in the series’ Big 3 of 2019, Cole Custer, had ironically run behind Reddick and Bell for much of the race, but was able to guide his No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to a seventh-place finish.
All the three of the drivers – Reddick, Bell and Custer – earned points in both the race’s first and second stages.
Despite the accident, Reddick still holds a 50-point championship lead over Bell and a 113-point lead over Custer heading into the regular season finale next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Playoff-Bound William Byron Can Make NASCAR History In Qualifying At Indy
William Byron was a visible mixture of raw excitement and tempered enthusiasm Saturday morning before the opening round of practice for Sunday’s NASCAR Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
For the first time in his two-year Cup career, Byron has secured a position in NASCAR’s Playoffs. And while he smiled acknowledging a bit of pressure was lifted for Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard (2 p.m. ET. on NBC, IMS Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the 21-year-old Charlotte native is fine with high NASCAR Playoff expectations. He’s used to success.
And this weekend Byron’s success could make NASCAR history as the series prepares for the 10-race Playoff portion of the season beginning next week at Las Vegas. Should Byron win the Busch Pole position Sunday morning (10:30 a.m. on NBCSN, IMS Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) for the Brickyard 400, he would be the first driver in history to win the pole position at the sport’s four biggest races – the Daytona 500, Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600, Darlington’s Southern 500 and the Brickyard 400 – all in the same season.
Of course, for this former NASCAR Xfinity Series champion it’s where he finishes that will matter the most. And Byron is optimistic about his chances at Indy, where he has won before – the 2017 Xfinity Series race en route to the season title. And of course, his predecessor in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Jeff Gordon, won a record five Brickyard 400 races.
“I think it means a lot just for the sole reason that it’s the Brickyard 400 and this place means a lot to win here,’’ Byron said. “I don’t know if it would mean as much if it was just a typical race and we were already in the Playoffs, but for it being the race that it is, it would mean a lot [to win].
“Plus, it would be such a big race to win right before you start the Playoffs. I think [a win] would carry a lot of momentum into the first round.’’
Momentum is certainly something Byron has benefitted from this year. And he credits a lot of that to his new crew chief Chad Knaus, who previously led his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson to seven Cup titles.
In Byron’s 2018 rookie Monster Energy Series season, he had four top-10s and no top-fives. He’s had four top-10s in just the last two months under Knaus’s guidance, including a career best runner-up finish in the summer Daytona race. In all, Byron has eight top-10s and two top-fives – career highs – with 11 races still remaining in the season.
And it all translates into a hefty dose of Playoff confidence at just the right time. Byron is currently ranked 13th in the points standings and has already clinched his postseason berth.
“I’m excited,’’ Byron said of his championship position. “I don’t really know what to do or what to expect or anything. But, obviously having been in the series last year and having seen the way that the races played out, it’s just all about getting down to business and pretty much doing the same thing that you’ve been doing to get here and just try to eliminate mistakes.
“I think that is the biggest thing. I’m going to try to definitely have really clean races and that starts this weekend for us and just trying to build the momentum for it and make sure we execute a good race.”
Byron has previous top-10 finishes at three of the Playoff venues – an eighth-place finish at the Dover, Del. one-miler earlier this season, ninth at Phoenix last year and a top 10 at Texas both last year (10th) and this year (sixth).
“I think anywhere we’ve been and then go a second time, like Vegas and Richmond come to mind,’’ are places Byron says he feels especially optimistic about. “That second or third round, Texas would be a good track for us. I think Texas, and Kansas would be good, too, because we’ve been there already this year.
“Anywhere that Chad (Knaus) and I go for the second time is going to pay off.’’