MARTINSVILLE, VA — Noah Gragson called his shot. He said pre race that he was going to put his No. 9 Chevrolet into victory lane for Saturday’s Dead On Tools 250 at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway. He’d do just that in earning his fifth career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory, three of which coming this season alone. It came in walk off fashion as he had to win the final race of the semifinal round and he did just that.
Gragson, entered the race -24 and winds up going to the Phoenix Raceway a week from now with a shot at a championship.
The JR Motorsports driver ran a clean race by doing so and got a lifeline via Justin Haley spinning on Lap 243. At the time, Daniel Hemric had a .905-second lead over Gragson and pulling away. Hemric, was seven laps from winning his first career NASCAR race.
He entered 0-for-216 with being winless in 38 Cup Series starts, 117 Truck Series races and now 118 Xfinity Series appearances. It was disappointing for him to being so close at ending a long drought despite stamping his name into the Championship 4 via points too.
Hemric, has 10 runner-ups in his career which is tied with Dale Jarrett for most all-time before scoring a first career win. On the restart, the choose rule wound up being king.
Hemric, obviously chose the low lane while Gragson elected to go on the outside.
“Winners take the front row,” they said on Gragson’s team radio prior to the restart.
While the low lane is the preferred lane around the .526-mile Virginia short track, Gragson had to make a go for it. Why choose Row 2 behind Hemric when you could have the front row along side.
It paid off.
Gragson beat him off the restart and was leading when another caution flew on the first lap of overtime for Josh Berry and Riley Herbst. It would set up another restart. Would Gragson now choose the same line that helped him the restart prior?
He didn’t. He chose the low lane.
What would Hemric do? He elected to go to the inside behind Gragson instead of outside of him. Austin Cindric took second as a result and would hold Hemric off on the restart and set his sights set on a fierce battle with Gragson for the win. He would pull alongside in the third and fourth corners but Gragson won a drag race to the finish line by .064-seconds and now enters as one of the favorites to win the title next weekend.
Gragson, has 10 top seven’s on the year in his last 11 races including three top three’s this postseason. Last year, he had six top three finishes in seven playoff races but it was the 36th place result in the Round of 8 opener at Kansas as to what kept him out of the final round.
Now, he’s in it and will go against Cindric who beat Gragson in last year’s race at Phoenix.
Gragson, has two short tracks wins in his last three tries while Cindric has four top two’s in seven short tracks starts this season including a runner-up on Saturday night for his first career Martinsville top five.
Cindric, scored 16 stage points and secured his way into the Championship 4 after the second round. He will attempt to defend his title next weekend as he said he didn’t want to crash Gragson to win on Saturday.
Hemric finished third for his seventh top six in his last 10 races and advances to the Championship 4 for the third time of his career while Sam Mayer finishes fourth in his No. 8 Chevrolet. Justin Allgaier rounds out the top five in his No. 7 Chevrolet to give JRM three of the top five finishers but it wasn’t enough to advance him to his third straight Championship 4 and fourth in the last five years.
Allgaier, had four top fives in seven playoff races and 11 straight top 10’s on the season to go along with 14 in the last 15 races, but didn’t get by due to stage points and Gragson’s win.
Allgaier, entered Saturday +9 but they went on the wrong pit strategy. He didn’t pit on Lap 48 and went for stage points then. That netted him eight of them. Hemric scored nine though. In the second stage, he and Hemric were among the ones to pit on Lap 63. It cost him points. He’d not score any while Hemric rebounded to finish sixth in that stage.
That was the difference.
You get four different teams in the Championship 4 with all very hot drivers.
Cindric has 14 top 10’s in his last 17 tries including eight top eight’s in his last nine for Team Penske.
AJ Allmendinger has 10 top seven’s in his last 13 tries for Kaulig Racing in their second straight Championship 4.
Gragson earns his first Championship 4 appearance with 10 top seven’s in his last 12 for JR Motorsports.
Hemric, has seven top six’s in his last 10 for Joe Gibbs Racing.
The thing is, Allmendinger and Gragson have won recently while Cindric hasn’t won in his last 11 races and Hemric has never won.
Too Many Cautions On Saturday
We saw 257 laps of racing in the Xfinity Series race and 204 in the Truck Series. Combined, they had 27 cautions fly. 14 flew in the Truck race and 13 in the Xfinity race. Totaling the two, that’s 36% of the day being run under caution. Most came in the final stage when in the Truck Series, the drivers raced with no respect and too much aggression. For the Xfinity Series race, a lot of the drama was stemmed from the 52 car that stayed out on old tires and stacked up the field. It created two cautions by himself.
Still, for not quite 500 laps on the day, 27 cautions is too much. It’s hard to get any momentum from this.
Gragson Should Earn Respect From Martinsville
Noah Gragson can rub some people wrong. I get that. But, how he raced everyone on Saturday night should also gain him some respect too. See, with him needing to win to get in, he could have bulldozed everyone in front of him. He could have ran Daniel Hemric wrong in the end. He could have punted Austin Cindric who made a move at him for the win on the final lap.
Instead, he chose to not make any contact or rub them in any way. He was clean and respectful and earned a championship saving win on Saturday.
Gragson, is at his best at Martinsville with him having a win in the Truck Series here in 2017. He was third in this race last year, second in the spring and had four top sevens in as many tries in the Trucks overall.
That’s six top fives in seven tries on the paperclip.
Burton/Jones Have Rough Round of 8
Harrison Burton and his JGR teammate of Brandon Jones had to win Saturday’s NXS race at Martinsville in order to get by to the Championship 4. Instead, neither was much of a factor. Yes, Burton was up front for a lot of it, but bad luck caused him to strike his teammate Ty Gibbs on Lap 200 which saw his title hopes essentially end in contact. He’d limp home in 20th. He only had one finish better than fifth over the last 17 races on the season.
Jones, finished sixth for his fourth top six in seven playoff races run, but this round saw him finish 10th and 11th in the other two races. He also only scored three total stage points with Burton having 17 total himself.
Burton, graduates up to Cup racing next year while Jones is back with JGR again.