At the end of a wild afternoon of drafting and shuffling at NASCAR’s biggest track, Mother Nature prevailed over the NASCAR Xfinity Series, but Jeb Burton prevailed over the field in Saturday’s rain-shortened race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Burton took the lead on lap 82 just before the final caution of the day came out for the final caution came out for a multi-car wreck coming out of turn 2, and just as the race was getting ready to go back to green, the skies opened up, forcing NASCAR to call the final 23 laps of the race off.
“I want to win races for myself, for my family,” Burton said “I know I can do it. The partners that are behind me now are unbelievable. That’s where that emotion comes from. I try not to cry; it means a lot to me. I put every ounce of energy into trying to make it in this sport.”
Burton’s winning no. 10 Chevrolet is owned by Kaulig Racing, the organization which has now won the last three Xfinity Series races at Talladega and four of the last five on superspeedways. Burton also became the fourth first-time winner in 2021.
Austin Cindric, who won at Daytona in February, led a race-high 24 laps and came just one position shy of another win.
The race had 22 lead changes between 12 drivers and was run under caution four times for a total of 15 laps.
The race was also the second round of Xfinity’s Dash 4 Cash program for 2021. Noah Gragson in the JR Motorsports no. 9 Chevrolet finished sixth to win the $100,000 bonus for the second week in a row. The other Dash 4 Cash eligible drivers this week — Josh Berry, Daniel Hemric and Brandon Jones — finished 31st, 12th and 37th, respectively. Gragson will be eligible for the Dash 4 Cash again at Darlington along with Burton, Cindric and AJ Allmendinger.
When the NASCAR Xfinity Series heads to its next race on Saturday, May 8 at 1 p.m. ET, the field will be embracing the sport’s past for Darlington Raceway’s throwback weekend, which will feature some fan-favorite paint schemes from NASCAR’s past.
Stage 1 – 25 laps
After the threat of rain diminished, Austin Cindric led the field to the green flag under partly cloudy skies. On the outside, Daniel Hemric took a shot at Cindric for the lead, and with some help from Harrison Burton, Hemric took the lead on lap 2.
Not far behind Hemric, Justin Haley, winner of the last two Xfinity Series races at Talladega and winner of three of the last four superspeedway races in the series, was using the inside line to work his way up toward the front of the field. By lap 10, Haley was running third, side-by-side with Burton.
Shortly after Haley reached third, many drivers on the inside began to go to the outside, creating a long, single-file line, and within a few laps, it was evident that drivers wanted to simply preserve their cars by running single-file, a normal practice at Daytona and Talladega, but after a few laps, some drivers grew impatient. Noah Gragson, with some help from other Chevrolet teams, reformed the inside line and got side-by-side with Hemric for the lead with just 10 laps to go in the stage.
For a brief moment, Hemric was clear of Gragson, and Cindric, the second car on the outside, used a momentous push to jump in front of Gragson to take the lead, but Gragson kept fighting back against Cindric’s Ford.
With the middle line now developing, the outside line began to struggle, allowing Gragson to lead Haley clear of the field. Haley, with a push from his teammate behind him, cleared Gragson on the closing lap of the stage and won the stage over Gragson.
The top-10 finishers in stage 1 were Haley, Jeb Burton, Gragson, Cindric, Harrison Burton, AJ Allmendinger, Hemric, Brandon Jones, Brandon Brown and Justin Allgaier.
Stage 2 – 25 laps
The stage-end caution brought drivers down pit road. Jeb Burton jumped past his teammate to get off pit road first and take the lead from Haley. Haley came off pit road second, followed by Hemric, Cindric and Brandon Jones.
Jeb Burton led the restart on lap 30 and immediately jumped in front of Haley in order to not allow Hemric to take advantage of the draft. On the top side of the track, a line of Chevrolets formed to battle the Fords and Toyotas that occupied the bottom side of the track, but as drivers shuffled and side-drafted, a new line formed in the middle, led by JR Motorsports teammates Gragson and Justin Allgaier. The middle and inside lines blended together behind Cindric, and Cindric was pushed to the lead on the inside.
With the laps winding down, the urgency to get to the front became clear. Ty Dillon and Jeb Burton took Cindric three-wide with 9 laps to go, only for Cindric to surge out front again, thanks to the help of Haley. Who took the lead on the outside with 6 to go in the stage for just a brief moment before Cindric took the top spot back.
On the final lap, Gragson got to Cindric’s quarter panel and, with an assist from Allgaier, was able to clear Cindric on the frontstretch, taking the stage win away in the final few-hundred yards of the closing lap.
In stage 2, the top-10 finishers were Gragson, Allgaier, Cindric, Jones, Dillon, Myatt Snider, Hemric, Moffitt, Michael Annett and Brown.
Race to the finish – 63 laps
Gragson got off pit road first to defend his lead under the stage-end caution with Myatt Snider, Cindric, Jones and Martinsville winner Josh Berry behind him.
Gragson led the restart, but Snider took the lead, and once again, the 190 mph game of chess began. Gragson was shuffled out of line and fell to the back of the top-15 as Cindric took the lead back with the help of Berry and Harrison Burton.
After a handful of dicey laps, the field strung out into a single-file line to try and keep their cars clean for the long haul.
With 45 to go, many of the series’ big names came to pit road for their final stops for the day, including Gragson, Cindric, Allgaier and others. Another group, including Harrison Burton, Snider, Jones, Haley and Hemric came one lap later.
During the cycle of stops, Berry lost a tire in turn 3, bringing the caution out on lap 75. Berry did not hit anything and no one else was collected, so after putting four new Goodyear tires on, the no. 8 team was back on the track, but a lap down.
Harrison Burton cycled around to the lead for the restart with 34 to go after the last few cars pitted who had not already done so. His cousin Jeb, however, wanted to lead and went to the inside for the lead. Jeb took the lead and Harrison fell behind Cindric.
Behind the leaders, Joe Graf, Jr. had a tire go down, and as he went up the track, he collected Michael Annett, Jones and Ty Dillon. Jones’ Toyota was totaled, ending his hopes of winning the bonus $100,000. Annett suffered only a little door damage and continued on with Ty Dillon, who suffered from damage as well. Berry got the free pass and was able to get back on the lead lap, and his quest for the Dash 4 Cash bonus was back on track.
Crew chiefs told their drivers to drive hard on the restart, but the restart didn’t come with 23 laps to go. The rain finally reached Talladega and forced NASCAR to stop the race with Jeb Burton leading Cindric, Allmendinger, Riley Herbst and Ryan Sieg.
Shortly after the race was stopped, the track was covered in rain. With daylight gone and no lights at Talladega, NASCAR knew they didn’t have enough time to dry the racetrack and complete the race, so they made the call: the race was over. Jeb Burton won.
Featured photo credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images