E.A. Sports Today

Spencer celebrates

Gallagher wins Sparks Energy 300 on the last lap of overtime, the only lap he’s ever led in 49 career Xfinity races

Spencer Gallagher jumps for joy in Victory Lane after winning the Sparks Energy 300 for his first career Xfinity win. (Photos by B.J. Franklin)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA – Spencer Gallagher told the world he plans to celebrate his first Xfinity series victory by partying like it’s 1999. Don’t call the fire department. They may be fully involved.

Gallagher made a last-lap overtime move to take the lead and then held off Brandon Jones down the stretch to win the Saturday’s Sparks Energy 300 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He had never led a lap in 48 previous Xfinity starts until he moved in front of the last lap. He is the ninth winner in nine races this season.

Race winner Spencer Gallagher goes over some last-minute details with crew chief Chad Norris.

“This is a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Gallagher said at the start of an entertaining and reflective post-race interview. “Today was the culmination of what we at GMS have worked for for years. It was an overwhelming moment.”

Justin Allgaier was third, while Noah Gragson and points leader Elliott Sadler completed the top five. Allgaier held as much as a 25-second lead on the field before polesitter Daniel Hemric blew a tire with nine laps to go and brought the field back together for the typically wild Talladega finish. Hemric hadn’t put on right tires since Lap 28.

Allgaier had been staying on the track, running at the end of the cars on the lead lap, gambling on his fuel. He did that four laps from the end while the race was under caution, got a push into the pits, got back in the race and had a shot to win.

Austin Cindric wasn’t so fortunate. He took the lead when Allgaier ran out of gas, but he fell out for the same reason just as the race went green to start overtime and dropped way back. He finished 30th.

“The turn of events couldn’t have been more crazy,” Allgaier said.

It moved Tyler Reddick to the lead. The jockeying for the front left an opening on the bottom groove and Gallagher jumped on it. He cleared Reddick coming out of Turn 1, pulled out front of the pack and blocked the field the final half lap.

“The only thing going through my mind was I hope to hell this works,” Gallagher said. “Once I heard that magical word ‘clear,’ it’s make your car as wide as humanly possibly. You’re either going to find the fence or you’re going to find the checkered flag. That’s the choice you have to make as a driver.

“You can’t lift and you can’t choose not to block. You have to choose to win. You can’t choose to lose. That is the only options you’re presented with in that situation. It was thrilling.”

His quirky personality has made Gallagher a hit with racing writers, but even with a truck series championships and other wins to his credit he admits they came into the sport with Kick Me signs on their back. But they’re off now.

Over the last 12 months he has gained a lot of respect in the Xfinity and Cup garages. He had two top 10 finishes this season prior to Saturday’s victory.

“I’d say in the last 12 months, from last year’s Talladega race to this Talladega race, he’s probably the most improved driver in the whole garage because he’s finishing races,” Sadler said. “He’s being consistent, he’s not tearing his cars up and with that comes confidence and knowing the limit of your race car. I think he’s understanding how to put it all together right now and it’s showing on the track. He’s somebody you trust a lot more, I trust a lot more, than I did 12 months ago – 100 percent.”

“It’s been a long road for us at GMS,” Gallagher said. “At every level of motorsport we’ve had to struggle. We’ve had to find our speed. We had to make our own way . It’s never been easy, but that’s the point of this business. The best rise to the top and if you work hard enough you can count yourself among them. It’s humbling to watch the ascension of this team and how much we’ve been able to accomplish in this amount of time.”

In the race within the race, Sadler won the Xfinity Dash for Cash for the second week in a row. He made an incredible run on the final lap to come from 17th to fifth to collect the $100,000 bonus. Despite qualifying on the outside pole, he started in the back of the field because of an engine change.

Elliott Sadler (1) overcame being sent to the back, a pass-through speeding penalty and being 17th on the last lap to finish fifth and win the Dash for Cash for the second week in a row.

He won the second stage of the race and was running near the front with 36 laps to go when his fortunes changed by the letter of the law. That’s when he got hit with a pass-through penalty for speeding entering the pits as he sped up to smartly avoid wrecking with John Hunter Nemechek, who went careening after hitting a patch of water near the entrance to pit road.

It was an unfortunate outcome for an instinctive move to avoid a wreck and cost him a shot to win the race, but it was an infraction nonetheless.

The win gets Gallagher in the Xfinity playoffs. It also puts him in the Dash next week with Sadler, Jones and Allgaier. If he wins, Gallagher has special plans for the winnings.

He’s going to take his entire GMS organization out for steak, he said, “until I’m out of money or they’re out of cows, whichever comes first.”

Now that’s a party.

To see a photo gallery from Saturday’s race, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

Justin Allgaier (7) rides contently at the end of the lead lap with a 25-second lead as he tries to conserve fuel for the end of the race. A caution took all of his lead, he eventually ran out of gas, but got back in the race and finished third.

Daniel Hemric (21), John Hunter Nemechek (42), Justin Allgaier (7) and winner Spencer Gallagher (23) all were in contention down the stretch.

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