Unloading at Chicagoland Speedway for the final regular season race to set the field for the inaugural NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase, Erik Jones and the No. 20 Hisense USA team qualified in the fifth position and led 10 laps on the way to capturing their fourth win of the season. Rolling off the grid in the fifth position, Jones quickly slipped to ninth on the opening laps and reported to the team that he was too tight and didn’t have the speed he needed on the straightaways. The first caution waved on lap five for the 70 car and the team opted to stay on track. The race restarted on lap 10 with Jones ninth. NASCAR waved a Competition Caution on lap 25 due to rain moving through the area over night and Crew Chief Chris Gabehart called Jones to pit road for four tires, fuel and a round of adjustments to help with the tight-handling conditions. With a solid stop on pit road, the race restarted on lap 31 with Jones in the sixth position. Focused on the leaders and with coaching from Gabehart and spotter Chris Lambert, Jones was able to move up to fifth on lap 42 where he remained when the field started making green-flag stops on lap 80. Gabehart called Jones to pit road from the second position on lap 81 for four tires, fuel and another round of adjustments. As the field cycled through stops, a competitor spun on the track to bring out the caution. Jones remained on the track and restarted the race on lap 88 from the fifth position. Following multiple cautions, Jones worked his way up to second on lap 117. As the race continued under green-flag conditions, teams were forced to make a second round of green-flag stops. Jones reported that he was happier with the handling of the No. 20 Camry and made his green-flag stop on lap 154 for four tires, fuel and another round of adjustments. Once the field cycled through stops, Jones returned to the second position with his focus on leader Busch as he began closing the gap between first and second. With two more late-race cautions, including one involving leader Busch, Jones was able to take the lead for the final time on lap 191 and hold off a hard charging Kyle Larson to secure his second win at Chicagoland Speedway in just his third start at the track.
Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing, finished fourth during the 200-lap event after battling back from damage suffered on pit road. During the only practice session on Friday due to rain in the area, Suárez unloaded fast and maintained his speed throughout the day, finishing third on the time charts with a speed of 176.887 MPH in the ARRIS Camry. Suárez then went out on Saturday morning and qualified his No 19 ARRIS Toyota second for the 200-lap event, turning a lap time of 29.884 seconds at 180.699 MPH around the 1.5-mile speedway. Following the drop of the green flag under a perfect Saturday afternoon night in Joliet, IL, Suárez took the lead on lap two and would be scored in the second position when the first caution of the afternoon waved on lap six. Staying out under the caution, Suárez restarted in second and maintained his position inside the top five until the NASCAR mandated competition caution waved on lap 25. During the caution, crew chief Scott Graves called Suárez down pit road for four fresh Goodyear Tires, Fuel and a round of adjustments. Unfortunately, as Suárez was leaving pit road following his stop, he suffered left and right side damage to his ARRIS Camry after multiple cars hit him on pit road. The damage was severe enough that Suárez came back down pit road to fix the damage and restarted in 29th on lap 31. Despite the setback, Suárez wasted no time working his way to the front, and cracked the top 10 by the time he made a scheduled green-flag pit stop on lap 80 for four tires, fuel and another round of adjustments. Once pit stops cycled through, Suárez would be scored in the eighth position. Suárez would continue his march towards the front following the pit stop, and would be scored in fourth at the halfway point of the race. The 24-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico would continue to be a mainstay inside the top five for the remaining portion of the race, ultimately crossing the finish line in the fourth position for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) veteran Kyle Busch and the No. 18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota team started from row one, a first-place qualifying lap at 180.735 mph captured in 29.878 seconds. Busch led the field nine times over 154 event circuits and was in strong contention for another checkered-flag capture, his ninth of the year, when late in the race, car damage from a wall scrape caused tire damage and a subsequent spin. The No. 18 NOS Energy Drink Camry came home in 13th place while teammate Erik Jones proceeded to grab the checkered flag.
The top-15 finish added to the team’s strong season performance that has documented 10 wins, 16 top-five finishes, 18 top-10 finishes eight poles and 1,905 laps led this year. Busch’s next No. 18 NOS Energy Drink competition will be October 1 at Dover International Speedway for the Drive Sober 200 XFINITY Series event.
In two practice sessions on Friday over the 1.5-mile Illinois racetrack, Busch and team had a difficult time initially with their Toyota Camry. In the first practice session that afternoon, they blew a motor and lost the remainder of that practice session to make the fix. In practice two later on Friday the No. 18 Toyota started to come to life, still needing adjustments, but by the end of the final practice time they were posted fastest on the board.
Qualifying was successful for the No. 18 Toyota team when Saturday morning with a speed of 180.735 mph Busch posted the fastest lap of the field, earning the team their ninth pole of the season, Busch’s seventh first-place start. It was the veteran driver’s 55th pole in 326 XFINITY series races – a series high. At green flag start and from the pole-starting position the NOS Energy Drink Toyota battled initially among traffic, with teammate Daniel Suarez, and dropped to the second-place position. By lap five, however, Busch had regained the top spot and started to pull away from the field when the first race caution appeared. Another restart and again the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Suarez battled hard for position with Busch – taking the lead once more. Busch passed his teammate back once more and again maintained the top position when the competition caution appeared by NASCAR. Busch noted a ‘vibration’ and the team came to their pit box for four new Goodyear tires and Sunoco Racing fuel. They remained in first place with the restart on lap 29 of 200 scheduled event laps. The vibration feeling went away but Busch advised his crew chief Chris Gayle that his Toyota Camry was now beginning to feel tight in the center of the turns. “Exit of one and two is our only problem,” Busch relayed to Gayle. A green-flag pit stop ensued and the team didn’t feel they needed to make any car adjustments. At race halfway, Busch and the NOS Energy Drink team were still leaders. Past the mid-race mark, Busch relayed further to his team about a loose condition with turning in the front and center of the turns. Another pit-road visit and while the No. 18 team elected to replenish four Goodyear tires, other competitors either stayed on the race track or took only two new tires. The No. 18 team restarted in the fourth position but eventually regained the race lead. When asked if he liked the car handling after the last pit stop Busch remarked, “It’s turning better, but it’s not the adjustment I wanted. We’ll be good for short runs but we’ll see how restarts go.” The race momentum changed for the No. 18 team when on lap 148 Busch tried to give room to a lapped car and got pushed up towards, and into the wall, which caused damage to the right rear of the NOS Energy Drink Toyota. “The car will probably go tight now, so don’t make any changes to it. Geez I barely touched it, but it must have really damaged the car, all the rivets are popped out,” Busch relayed to Gayle. Pit road visits occurred at lap 153 and again at lap 161 but the damage forced further issues for the team when on lap 180 they blew a tire. Forced to visit pit road one more time, the No. 18 team replenished tires once more. With the last pit stop at lap 186 NASCAR advised the No. 18 team their crew members made car adjustments by jumping over the wall “too soon.” The penalty was for Busch to restart the final race green flag at the tail end of the line. With only 11 laps remaining to complete the race, Busch didn’t have time to recover and brought his NOS Energy Drink Camry home with a top-15 result, in 13th place.
Saturday’s XFINITY Series event recorded an average speed of 120.576 mph and saw 22 lead changes across 11 drivers. Busch led the field nine times for a race-high 154 laps. There were eight caution periods for 38 laps of the 300-mile event. With Saturday’s 13th-place finish the No. 18 NOS Energy Drink team moves to second place in the series Owner’s Championship competition, now two markers behind the No. 02 Richard Childress Racing team.