DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Tyler Reddick needed five overtimes, a brief red flag and the closest finish in NASCAR history to take Dale Earnhardt Jr. to victory lane.
Reddick won the Xfinity Series’ season-opening race by beating JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler in a photo finish. The margin of victory was 0.000 seconds, breaking the mark set by Butch Miller when he beat Mike Skinner by 0.001 seconds to win the Truck Series race July 15, 1995 at Colorado National Speedway.
“How do I protest that? It’s a tie, and it should go to the elder,” joked veteran Sadler of the win that went to the 22-year-old Reddick.
Reddick later joked a protest was still a winning proposition for the organization.
“Either way, JR Motorsports wins, right?” Reddick said. “That was insane. I saw a picture of it 10 minutes ago and it was just enough.”
It was a nail-biting and tense opener at Daytona International Speedway for NASCAR’s second-tier series, which celebrated its 100th race sponsored by Xfinity on Saturday.
The victory came in Reddick’s debut race for JR Motorsports, the team in part owned by Earnhardt Jr. This is Earnhardt’s first season in retirement from full-time racing and his presence at the race track is still strong through his race team.
JR Motorsports has won five of the last nine Xfinity Series races at Daytona, and Reddick’s victory led a 1-2 sweep for the company.
“Either way, fine with me,” Earnhardt said of the finish. “I watched the whole thing, it was incredible. I was surprised by the amount of overtimes. Fans want to see a green-flag finish and NASCAR tries everything it can to give them that opportunity.”
Sadler was temporarily crestfallen. Sadler finished second in the 2002 Daytona 500 and was passed for the lead right before the rain came in the abbreviated 2009 race. His best finish in all three of NASCAR’s national series at Daytona is second.
“This one hurts a lot,” said Sadler. “I don’t know how many more starts I’ll have at this race track. I really want to get one of the trophies here at this place.”
For Reddick, it was his second Xfinity victory and in the biggest race to date of his career. He won once last year driving a partial schedule for Chip Ganassi, then moved to Earnhardt’s team this season.
“A hell of a way to start the year off with JR Motorsports,” Reddick said.
Ryan Reed was third, and Kaz Grala fourth, in Fords. Garrett Smithley was a career-best fifth and Daniel Suarez was the highest finishing Toyota driver in eighth.
“Was it only five overtimes? It felt like a dozen,” Grala said.
The race was zipping right along and dominated by the combination of Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Chase Elliott. Then a late accident sent the race to overtime.
Larson, who led a race-high 61 laps, tried to block Aric Almirola after the restart and the contact caused Larson to spin and trigger an 18-car accident. Logano, who had led 28 laps, was also knocked out in the race.
It was a task to complete the race after that accident as restart after restart in overtime was halted by another accident. During the caution period following the third overtime, Elliott was black-flagged because the right-side window panel had fallen from his car. As he sat on pit road, cameras followed a crew member make a mad dash on foot back to the team hauler, where he directed a second crew member back to pit road with the needed part.
Another camera filmed members of another JR Motorsports team cheering on the effort.
Elliott, who led 17 laps, finished 12th.
The five overtimes – and a red flag of five minutes, 27 seconds – pushed the race 23 laps past the scheduled distance and forced teams to desperately conserve fuel after each caution.
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