Noah Gragson parked his No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet at the finish line, emerged through his car’s roof flap and raised his arms in triumph taking in the loud cheers from the Texas Motor Speedway grandstands as he celebrated a historic fourth consecutive NASCAR Xfinity Series victory Saturday afternoon in the Andy’s Frozen Custard 300.
It was a series best and career-high seventh win on the season for the 24-year old Las Vegas native and automatically reserves his spot in the next round of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs. That fourth consecutive victory is significant historically as well – tying one of the longstanding records- set in 1983 – by Sam Ard.
Could he push this to No. 5?
Next up is Talladega. Gragson won the last race there this past April…
Although it was a tumultuous Playoff opener for many of the championship contenders, Gragson was out front often and ultimately when he needed to be. He didn’t win a Stage, but led a race best 85-of-200 laps and held off fellow 2022 Playoff contenders Austin Hill and Ty Gibbs by 1.238-seconds to earn the big trophy – and even more momentum at just the right time of the calendar.
“This No. 9 team, man, they’re on fire and all you fans, you keep us motivated,’’ Gragson told the cheering grandstands. “We’re gonna come back and win more races for you. You guys are awesome and we appreciate you. Thanks for coming out.
“Just this team, I mean the pit crew’s done awesome and our car was as fast as Xfinity internet all day and I’m just so thankful for the opportunity.’’
“Such a relief,’’ he continued. “We lost this race back in 2020 and just executed a great race [today],’’ he continued.
Saturday’s win was Gragson’s 4th top 7 finish in his last 5 Texas starts including a runner-up in this race in 2020 and 3rd last year. He also led 3 times on Saturday for a race-best 85 laps which pushes his season total to 736. That moves him from 3rd to 1st on the season lap leaders chart besting teammate Justin Allgaier (726) by 10.
This was also his 2nd career playoff win, both coming in the last 3 races at that. He’s the only driver in the field to have multiple trips to victory lane in the postseason now.
Austin Hill was closing in on Gragson in the end but came up short by 1.238-seconds. Ty Gibbs was 3rd while AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst rounded out the top 5 on a steamy Saturday afternoon in North Texas.
For Gibbs, Allmendinger and Herbst, this was their 1st career top 5 finishes on the 1.5-mile track.
Gibbs was 12th this past May in his lone Texas start. Allmendinger was a combined 0-for-23 between his Cup and Xfinity Series experiences while Herbst’s previous finishes were 36th, 32nd, 12th, 12th and 8th respectively.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Riley Herbst was fifth, followed by Playoff driver Josh Berry (JR Motorsports), Sheldon Creed, Playoff drivers Sam Mayer (JR Motorsports) and Ryan Sieg (Ryan Sieg Racing). C.J. McLaughlin was 10th – the first Top-10 of his career.
Wild Race For Playoff Drivers
While 8 of the 12 Playoff cars finished in the Top-10, it was a crazy day for most of the playoff drivers, however. It all started before the race even got going in fact. Ty Gibbs had to drop to the rear due to unapproved adjustments. Then, on the drop of the green flag, Brandon Jones went from first to 20th after getting sent sideways by Daniel Hemric in Turn 1.
Not too long after, Noah Gragson battled a loose wheel early and a vibration after. Sam Mayer then got into the outside wall. Jeremy Clements had a mechanical failure. Josh Berry had an uncontrolled tire penalty.
All this just in the first two stages.
Then, 8 cars were involved in a crash on Lap 110, including regular season champion AJ Allmendinger, whose No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet – only a few laps removed from the Stage 2 victory – was damaged. Quick repairs returned him to the track and the positions he lost during the pit stop actually proved to be advantageous as he missed the next accident up front after returning to the race.
It was a similar scene on the ensuing restart, only this time the accident started at the front. John Hunter Nemechek, who had led a race best 60 laps – at that point – got loose at the front of the pack, his Toyota colliding with Justin Allgaier’s Chevy.
The hard contact sent them both hard into the wall and caused another chain-reaction accident that ended up collecting nine cars in all – including Playoff drivers Brandon Jones, the race polesitter, and 2021 series champion Daniel Hemric (who won Stage 1) in addition to Allgaier.
As with that Playoff trio, it was the end of the day for Nemechek, a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship driver who was driving the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at Texas as part of the owner’s championship chase.
“The 7 (Allgaier) chose the top behind me, and I haven’t seen the replay of it, but the 7 chose the top behind me and started pushing,’’ Nemechek said. “The 21 (Austin Hill) made it three-wide on the 9 (Gragson) and I was three-wide at the top being able to be in the race and I think we ended up four-wide at one point which doesn’t really work aero-wide in the pack. The resin was up there as well and I don’t know. It sucks.
“I thought we were going to have a shot to win the race and repeat from last year. It didn’t work out. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds.”
Overall, that’s 9 of the 12 drivers with problems. The only ones not was Austin Hill, Ryan Sieg and Riley Herbst.
With two more races remaining in this opening Playoff round – at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and the Charlotte ROVAL road course – Gragson’s win is an automatic berth into the next Playoff round. Allmendinger and Gibbs are second and third in the standings, 26 and 27 points – respectively behind Allmendinger.
Eight of the 12 Playoff drivers will advance following the ROVAL race.
Riley Herbst (-1), Hemric (-8), Jones (-13) and Jeremy Clements (-29) whose car retired early with an engine issue, now find themselves in the bottom four of the Playoff standings going to Talladega.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for Round 2 of the Playoffs, the Sparks 300 on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Brandon Brown is the defending race winner.
Rebound Day For Allmendinger
AJ Allmendinger thought his No. 16 Chevrolet was going to be a contender on Saturday. He turned more laps than anyone in practice and truly felt like this was going to be his day. Then his handling went awry early. He held on to finish 5th in Stage 1. By going on an opposite strategy in the second stage. he’d end up getting the win and a playoff point as a result.
Unfortunately, he collected heavy left side damage in that Turn 3 accident on Lap 110. It looked like he would just be lucky to limp home with a top 10. Instead, he scored his first career Texas top 10 finish and his 9th consecutive top 7 finish on the season, 6 of which in the top 4.
Allmendinger is sitting in a good spot heading to Talladega, a place he finished 3rd at this past spring. Then it’s to the ROVAL to where he’s won each of the last 3 years there.
Austin Hill Quietly Good At Texas
Austin Hill has to be feeling good about himself right now not only in terms of coming off of a runner-up in Saturday’s race at Texas, but his championship hopes are looking really good too. The Richard Childress Racing driver now has 2 straight top 3 finishes and 11 top 5’s overall in his rookie season in the series. Not only that, Hill sits +30 in the standings heading to a place most drivers dread.
However, Hill won the season opener at Daytona back in February and was also 2nd and 1st respectively on another drafting track at Atlanta this season too. If he can replicate that next Saturday in Talladega then watch out.
On top of that, his finish in Texas goes to show that he’s actually pretty good here too. He was 5th in May also to go along with being 2nd and 4th in his final 2 Truck Series starts here too.
Tough Luck For Jones
All the signs were there for Brandon Jones to pick up the playoff opening win. He was coming off of a runner-up last weekend in Bristol, was starting on the pole and hoping to become the 5th different JGR winner to win their last 5 Fall Texas races.
Those thoughts were quickly shut out of his mind when he was pushed sideways by Daniel Hemric on the opening lap of the race. Jones fell from 1st to 20th. He’d end up 12th in Stage 1. In Stage 2, he was 9th.
While it was looking like a rebound type of day, he was collected in that big Turn 2 melee ending his day in 27th.
That was his 4th race in the last 5 that he’s finished 14th or worse. He now sits -13 heading to Talladega, a place he finished 26th at this past April.
Troubles For Hemric
The defending series champion has just 2 top 5 finishes all year. But, with a 3rd place starting spot in Saturday’s race at Texas, maybe it was time for a change of fortunes. He won the first stage and was 4th in Stage 2 totaling 17 stage points which was most among all playoff drivers. He too was a victim in that Turn 2 melee which ended all those efforts with a DNF in 30th. Hemric’s last 7 finishes have been 22nd, 8th, 31st, 10th, 13th, 15th and now 30th respectively. That has him -8 below the cutline.
- Coming into the year, the last 3 Xfinity Series winners here all started outside the top 5. That ended in 2022 with Tyler Reddick (2nd) and Noah Gragson (2nd) winning this year.
- However, in general, 18 of the last 22 races at Texas were won by a starter coming from the top 3 Rows.
- 10 of the last 11 races saw a different winner. Kyle Busch is the only repeat winner.
- Erik Jones (2017), Ryan Blaney, Cole Custer (2018), Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell (2019), Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton (2020), Busch, John Hunter Nemechek (2021), Tyler Reddick and Noah Gragson (2022) have won in this time frame.
- This was the 7th straight different Texas winner: Bell, Cindric, Burton, Busch, Nemechek, Reddick, Gragson.
- This was the 9th straight Fall race winner: Busch, Keselowski, Larson, Jones, Custer, Bell, Burton, Nemechek and Gragson.
- Chevy went 1-2-3-4-5-7 this past May and 1-2-4-6-7-8 on Saturday. They combined to lead 302 of the 367 laps led at Texas this season.
- 11 of the last 12 races saw the eventual race winner finish in the top 6 in Stage 2 including 5 top 2’s in the last 6 (1st, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 2nd).