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Taylor Gray, Bubba Pollard capitalize during Xfinity debuts at Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. — Late Model racer Bubba Pollard and Truck Series driver Taylor Gray were rookies in the Xfinity series Saturday afternoon at Richmond, but they looked like series veterans as they raced their way to top-10 finishes.

Gray finished third. After starting 27th, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver moved into the top 10 at Lap 76 of the 250-lap race and ran there throughout the day. This was the best Xfinity debut since Ty Gibbs won at the Daytona Road Course in 2021.

Pollard started on the last row in the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. He finished sixth after working his way through the field on the final 67-lap green flag run. This final stretch played to Pollard’s strengths as he had to manage his tires like a Late Model race.

Saturday’s Xfinity race featured Toyota drivers at the front of the pack.

“It was a lot of fun,” Pollard said on pit road after the race. “I had to be patient. Man, you can drive those Supers (Late Model) cars I’m so used to, you can drive them so hard each and every lap.

“But you’ve really got to be disciplined to drive these (Xfinity cars). I’ve got a lot of respect for these guys that drive it each and every week.”

Starting from the rear of the field is not ideal for most drivers. Pollard is the exception. He said he was down on himself after qualifying, yet he embraced the work ahead of him when the green flag flew for Saturday’s race.

“I think it was good for me to start in the rear today,” Pollard said. “Give me that sense of where I need to be on the race track, braking points, things like that.”

Pollard didn’t have the smoothest journey through the field. He made a mistake in one corner and hit AJ Allmendinger, a move that Pollard said probably “ticked off” the Kaulig Racing driver.

Pollard also spent a considerable amount of time racing Parker Kligerman, which led to the two drivers sharing a moment on pit road after the race.

Gray’s experience was different than Pollard’s, as expected. He went from a Toyota Tundra to a Toyota GR Supra at a track where he already had two national series starts.

Yet the meaning of the third-place finish was not lost on Gray.

“It was huge, right,” Gray said after the race. “From never sitting in the car until last week and being able to come out and capitalize with my guys and get such a strong run going for the next couple weeks was really important.”

Gray faced a learning curve entering Saturday’s race and dealt with some setbacks. He said that he didn’t qualify as well as he should have and that he made too many mistakes during the race that kept him from contending for the win.

One of these mistakes was colliding with Sam Mayer on pit road, an incident that led to Mayer finishing 30th and Gray apologizing after the race.

Despite the issues, Gray left Richmond with a third-place finish and far more experience in the Xfinity car. He learned how the tire falloff worked and the major differences between the two NASCAR series.

Now he gets to take advantage of this learning experience as he competes in nine more races for Joe Gibbs Racing. Next up is Martinsville, another short track where Gray could capitalize with a fast Toyota and fewer mistakes.

“We’re going to have some fun the next couple weeks,” Gray said.

Pollard doesn’t know when — or if — he will return to Xfinity. Saturday’s race at Richmond was his lone scheduled start. If it is his last time in an Xfinity car, he can rest assured that he was able to contend with the best drivers in the series.

“I can’t thank you guys enough,” Pollard told the No. 88 team on the radio after taking the checkered flag. “Wish I could do it again. Thank you, guys. I had fun.”