JR Motorsports came to the twinbill at the Kentucky Speedway this week with high hopes. Unfortunately, the start and end of Thursday night’s Shady Rays 200 was frustrating for them.
Jeb Burton lost control of his No. 8 Chevrolet in Turn 2 of the 1.5-mile race track and crashed on the opening lap. After pitting several times for repairs, Burton returned to the track to make as many laps as he could before the determination was made that the damage was too severe to continue, ultimately relegating Burton to a 34th-place finish.
“I hate that the incident happened on the opening lap,” said Burton. “These guys on this No. 8 team worked really hard today with our Rocky Boots Chevrolet and I hate that we couldn’t get to really show the speed we had. I just can’t thank JR Motorsports enough and I’m ready to rebound from this and get after it in Texas.”
The laps after though looked stout. Noah Gragson led a career-high 87 laps and captured two stage wins, netting the 21-year-old two additional playoff points for the 2020 season. He had THE car to beat.
Prior to the final stage though, Gragson came into the pits for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment to help remove the chatter from the right front corner of the No. 9 Camaro. Following the stage-break, Gragson restarted from first and led until a lap 88 caution. Gragson came down pit road for four tires and fuel during this yellow and restarted third as the top two cars only took two tires. The bottom line on restarts proved to be extra difficult with the top being the preferred lane and Gragson quickly dropped to eighth following the restart. A single-car incident on lap 102 brought out another caution flag period and caught Gragson in the eighth position. Restarting on the high side with less than 30 laps remaining, Gragson was able to power his way into the top five on lap 117 as another yellow flag flew.
The No. 9 Camaro stayed on track and restarted from fifth with nine laps remaining and Gragson used a power move to jump within the top three. Shortly after Gragson made his way into the third position, the field was slowed for another caution, creating a green-white-checkered restart. Taking the final green flag of the evening from the inside lane, Gragson drove into Turn 1 and the car slipped out from underneath him, causing him to fall outside of the top 10, ultimately crossing the finish line in the 11th-position.
Gragson, became the fourth driver on the year to sweep both stages as he has a series leading seven stage wins in 2020, but like two others, he didn’t win.
Brandon Jones won both stages back in March at Fontana but finish 30th. Austin Cindric swept both stages in Atlanta and came home 16th. Gragson, finishes 11th.
Kyle Busch is the only one of the four to even get a top 10 as he also won in Charlotte too.
“My JR Motorsports team brought me a great Switch Chevrolet and I thought we were going to be able to grab that checkered flag today,” said Gragson. “Restarting from the bottom with less than 40 laps remaining destroyed our momentum as we couldn’t get the grip that the outside groove had from the PJ1 that was laid down before our race. We dropped back and we were able to get back to within the top three before having the air taken away on the restart and almost losing control of the car which dropped us outside of the top 10, but I want to thank everyone for giving me a car that was capable of winning. We will come back tomorrow and try to put it all together.”
For Justin Allgaier, he finished eighth in Stage 1 and sixth in Stage 2, but he was involved in a last lap crash on the backstretch which saw him get hospitalized after for a non racing related medical issue. He’s since been released from a local hospital but his condition for tonight’s race is unknown at this time.
Unfortunately, Allgaier suffered another finish of 20th or worse though too.
The leader of the JRM camp was Michael Annett who earned his second straight top five finish in Kentucky.
At the start of the 67-lap final stage, Annett went back to what had been working before. He passed Ryan Sieg for seventh the second time by, but lost two spots at the bottom of Turn 1 on the next lap to run ninth. He was eighth at lap 88 when the caution waved again for Brown’s crash, and Mack called him back to pit road for four tires and fuel to the end. He came off pit road in 11th position, as different strategies played out in terms of tires. Chastain was penalized on the stop and Annett would take the green again from 10th place on the preferred outside groove. When the cars crossed the line under the green, Annett was up to ninth, and the race leader got caught on the low line ahead of him. That jammed up the pack and Annett sailed around the logjam to pick up four spots to fifth the next time by. He was still fifth on lap 102 when Chastain and Brett Moffitt tangled on the front straightaway to bring out the caution flag. He remained on the track in fifth position for the restart, telling Mack that he felt like his No. 1 Chevrolet was the best car out there. Haley, who had taken two tires on the previous pit stop, was ahead of him when the green flag waved, and when Annett tried to go to the high side into Turn 1, Haley moved with him. That stalled Annett’s run and cost him three positions before the lap was over.
Annett held station in eighth until lap 121, when Colby Howard spun into the wall to bring out the caution flag after a door-banging battle with Anthony Alfredo. With little time remaining in the race, Annett stayed out under caution. When the green waved again at lap 125, Annett began a battle with Harrison Burton that raged for four laps until Burton spun while battling the No. 1 machine. The resulting caution flag put the race into overtime. Annett told Mack that he had tightened up on that run with the cooling temperatures, but could not give up the track position to pit. Lining up eighth for the two-lap shootout, Annett was able to sweep to fifth position as the field battled ahead of him and he held it to the checkered, nipping Alfredo at the line for the spot.
“We got a good restart there at the end in the overtime, and the TMC Transportation Chevrolet was really solid all night long,” Annett said. “We had some trouble the restart before with a car on older tires, and we were able to get him on the last one. It was a good night here in Kentucky, we scored points in both stages and finished in the top five again. We get to do this again tomorrow night, and we’ll know a lot more about what we have to start with. Good day in the points, and good for our momentum.”