NEWTON, Ia. — The American Ethanol E15 250 eventually became a game of survival of the fittest race car Saturday night at Iowa Speedway.
As favorite after favorite continued to peel off, William Byron capitalized on good timing and zoomed his No. 9 Chevrolet to his first career win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
And although the 40-car field began without a regular Cup Series driver, there certainly was star power helping the winner — Byron drives for team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., and it was Earnhardt’s pit crew that helped keep the driver up front most of the night.
Now Byron joins a long line of Xfinity Series winners here who made early-career marks in Newton — Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones, among others.
While this was Byron’s first Xfinity win in 14 starts in his rookie campaign, it was his third win in three years at Iowa. He won in the K&N Pro Series East here in 2015, then in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016.
“It’s so cool to run full-time in this series,” Byron said. “Everything’s come full-circle for me.”
A caution with 31 laps to go took out leader and pole-sitter Christopher Bell, and helped Byron trap several other contenders, including teammate Justin Allgaier, a lap down.
“We definitely got a huge break the way the caution fell there,” Byron’s crew chief, David Elenz, said during the Fox Sports broadcast.
Bell perhaps received a little racing karma as it looked like he would be the young driver to capture his first career Xfinity win. The driver of the No. 20, which won last week at Michigan International Speedway with Denny Hamlin, was clipped by Ross Chastain and suffered extensive damage.
It was Bell, the Stage 1 winner, who earlier took out one of the race favorites. He made contact with Sam Hornish Jr., a two-time winner here who was running third, and sent Hornish’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford into the Turn 2 wall on lap 79.
“This is one of my favorite places to come to,” said Hornish, who finished 37th. “I run real good here. To get taken out that early. I’m frustrated.”
Another favorite was KO’d in Stage 2 as rookie Kyle Benjamin — who started second and whose No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was fast in practice — spun on lap 113 and took out Xfinity newcomer Ty Majeski with him.
Brendan Gaughan, one of five Richard Childress Racing drivers in the field, wound up with the unlikely Stage 2 win after staying out during the Benjamin-caused caution while the leaders came to pit road to change tires.
The final 130-lap stage, though, was for Byron.
A week ago, he suffered a crushing loss by inches (.012 seconds) to Hamlin at Michigan.
On Saturday night, he was celebrating.
It was a night for the underdogs. Everyone in the top five collected a career-best finish: Ryan Sieg (second), Tyler Reddick (third), Ross Chastain (fourth) and Dakoda Armstrong (fifth).
“I couldn’t believe I was running for second on that last restart,” Sieg said.
Reddick conceded: “One of the best cars won tonight.”
Des Moines native Michael Annett piloted his No. 5 Chevrolet to sixth, his best finish of the season.