DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — The NASCAR Xfinity Series is in a transition season. The last two years, the “Big 3” of Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer dominated. They won both titles — each by Reddick and won 21 of the 33 races a year ago and 34 of the last 99 overall.
For 2020, all three are rookies in the NASCAR Cup Series. That leaves the door open for someone new to come in and shine. With the season opener at the Daytona International Speedway, it’s a grand stage during Speedweeks for someone to stand out.
That someone did.
Noah Gragson earned his first career NXS victory in dramatic fashion on Saturday as he took his No. 9 Chevrolet to victory lane for the first time in 37 career starts. Gragson, 21, dominated all day in running in the top five for most of it, becoming just the second driver to ever win this race in coming from the 12th starting spot.
Gragson, took over the lead following the final round of stops when his crew got him into the top spot among the leaders when exiting pit lane. He and five other drivers would run in tow knowing that all the cars in front of them had to pit.
The group would end up catching all the leaders as Gragson took the top spot with 25 laps remaining in Saturday’s NASCAR Experience 300. It appeared that they were well on their way to winning because the six car group had a large lead over seventh.
Unfortunately for them, Josh Bilicki lost control of his No. 99 Toyota in Turn 4 and slip and slided his way through the corner. Jeremy Clements slowed up to avoid him but Justin Allgaier couldn’t slow down in enough time and got into the back of Clements’ No. 51 Chevrolet.
That brought out the caution that they didn’t need with 11 laps-to-go. Then, on the restart with five to go, we saw the “Big One” when Gragson and Chase Briscoe made contact with one another while battling for the lead and Jeb Burton moved from the high line on the backstretch to the low line in thinking they were going to crash. Burton, didn’t see Brandon Jones there and the two made contact which sent Burton spinning back up the track in Turn 3. He got into the outside SAFER barrier when climbing the banking and collected Austin Cindric and 11 others in a 13 car pileup.
The red flag would get displayed for a little more 7-minutes before getting a three lap shootout for the win.
Gragson, pulled by Briscoe on the white flag lap and cruised to his first career win and JRM’s third straight in this race. It was also their fourth in the last five years and fourth in the last six. The only non JRM driver to have won this race since 2014 was Ryan Reed (2015, 2017).
Harrison Burton moved up into second on the last lap with drafting him from Timmy Hill as they finished second and third respectively. Jones, wound up fourth while Briscoe rounded out the top five.
The race ended under caution as Michael Annett was involved in his second crash of the day when he was turned on the backstretch and made heavy contract with the outside wall. NASCAR had no choice but to throw the yellow to get safety dispatch to the incident. Luckily, all drivers were cleared and okay.
JR Motorsports is always the biggest threat to win each Daytona Speedweeks in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition. Three straight wins and five in the last seven years speaks volumes. But, they also dominated the race in general on Saturday.
JRM won both stages with two different drivers and went 1-2-3-4 in Stage 1 and 1-3-7 in Stage 2.
Combined, they led 64 of the 120 laps run. What’s more impressive is, they’ve won all five races since 2014 with five different drivers.
The young drivers were on display in the final finishing order on Saturday. 21 year old Noah Gragson won. 19 year old Harrison Burton came home second. 22 year old Brandon Jones was fourth, 25 year old Chase Briscoe fifth and 20 year old Justin Haley sixth.
This is a promising young group that’s going to take over the next wave of great Xfinity Series drivers now that the championship is wide open with the “Big 3” now departing to Cup.
Kaulig’s Weird Day
Last time the Xfinity Series raced at Daytona, Kaulig Racing was crossing the finish line 1-2-3. Despite going 2-3-4 in practice on Friday, they struggled in qualifying on Saturday. Mechanical issues with Ross Chastain’s No. 10 Chevrolet and AJ Allmendinger’s No. 16 Chevrolet cost him a starting spot in the 36 car field.
Due to provisionals reverting back to last year’s final standings, the 10 and 16 cars didn’t have enough points since they weren’t full time a year ago.
So, initially Allmendinger and Chastain failed to make the show. But, with Chastain being a full time driver this year, Kaulig had to go and buy a ride. They found one with RSS with Chastain taking over the No. 38 Chevrolet from Jeff Green.
“Ross Chastain didn’t make the race, they had some issues in qualifying,” Green told FS1 before the race. “So we were able to work a deal with them, they worked a deal with us and for Sieg Racing that is probably the best step forward. We had a pretty fast race car. I always look forward to these races. My role in this sport is a little bit different this year. I’ll be doing a lot of crew chiefing on the No. 93 car so I’ll reverse over to that today.”
Chastain, comes to the Xfinity Series following a second place finish in the 2019 Truck Series points.
“This was not even a thing, a mean we talked about,” Chastain said about the possibility of missing the race. “We were in the mid-20s in owners points so we thought that would be good. Now, I wish we had gotten our points back in January.”
Chastain, got into an incident on pit road with a teammate but would rebound to finish the race in 22nd. For Justin Haley, he would bring the only Kaulig car in the field a sixth place result.
Timmy Hill Rebounds To 3rd Place Finish After Rough Morning
Timmy Hill said on Thursday that he was nervous for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race but felt like he had a fast hot rod under him. He would run in the top 10 for most of the day and bring home his No. 66 Toyota third in the 2020 season opener.
But, Hill had an interesting morning.
Prior to qualifying for Saturday’s race, Hill’s MBM Racing Toyota failed inspection for officials deeming that they manipulated the bodywork of the nose on the car. As a result of that, crew chief Sebastion Laforge was immediately suspended which will last six weeks and ejected from the garage. The team also was fined $50k and docked 75 points from the owners standings too.
Hill, qualified with a new car and started 26th.
NASCAR Racing Experience 300 Results
- 9 Gragson
- 20 Burton R
- 66 Hill
- 19 Jones
- 98 Briscoe
- 11 Haley
- 68 Brown
- 07 Black Jr.
- 39 Sieg
- 36 Labbe
- 1 Annett OUT
- 52 Yeley
- 0 McLeod
- 78 Miller
- 47 Nemechek
- 74 Harmon
- 15 Lyons
- 6 Starr
- 4 Little OUT
- 13 Finchum
- 99 Bilicki
- 38 Chastain
- 8 Burton OUT
- 02 Moffitt OUT
- 22 Cindric OUT
- 92 Williams OUT
- 93 McLaughlin OUT
- 51 Clements
- 90 Bacarella
- 7 Allgaier OUT
- 5 Mills OUT
- 18 Herbst R OUT
- 21 Snider OUT
- 25 Cockrum OUT
- 61 Hill OUT
- 08 Graf Jr. OUT