FORT WORTH, Texas — Noah Gragson parked his No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet at the start-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.
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].”
Eight playoff cars finished in the top 10. 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.
Compared to his closest competitors, Gragson‘s day was more a matter of holding serve. Several other race contenders and playoff competitors had busier days of survival and the power of positive thinking.
Both Gibbs, who finished third and regular-season champion AJ Allmendinger, who finished fourth, had to rally to those finishing positions. Gibbs started from the rear of the field after unapproved adjustments before the race. And the two-time regular season champion Allmendinger? He just had a hectic afternoon overcoming in-race setbacks.
Two multi-car accidents on mid-race restarts eliminated the winning opportunity for several playoff drivers, placing them in catch-up mode only one race into the postseason push.
Eight cars were involved in a crash on Lap 110, including 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 pole-sitter, 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 postseason 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-wise 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.”
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 the second event 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.