Gragson ignites the 2020 season with first Xfinity win

Gragson ignites the 2020 season with first Xfinity win
Dave Biro/DB3

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Noah Gragson gave new meaning to burn out as he set the track afire—literally—as he celebrated his first Xfinity Series win on Saturday.

The 21-year-old driver fanned the flames as the fans cheered him on at Daytona International Speedway.

Gragson took the lead on the final restart and held the point to win the NASCAR Racing Experience—the third-consecutive victory for JR Motorsports in the race and the organization’s seventh overall at Daytona

“We were wide open all day and managed to control the group behind us really well,” Gragson said. “My spotter, Earl Barban, did a great job. He led me to this victory.

“Very, very thankful to everybody at JR Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports for the great power and building this new chassis. Without everybody like that, it just wouldn’t be possible.”

Harrison Burton, Timmy Hill, Brandon Jones, Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley, Brandon Brown, Ray Black Jr., Ryan Sieg and Alex Labbe rounded out the top 10. For Hill, who lost his crew chief Sebastion Laforge for a rules infraction prior to the race, it was his first top-five finish in 186 starts.

Myatt Snider won the pole in his first-career Xfinity start and led the first 13 laps. Snider traded spots with Harrison Burton for a lap before Jeremy Clements triggered the first caution on Lap 19 when his hood flew off of the No. 51 Chevy. When the race restarted on Lap 24, Jeb Burton took the lead with a push from Austin Cindric and held on to win Stage 1. Michael Annett, Justin Allgaier, Gragson, Haley, Cindric, Snider, Harrison Burton, Labbe and Briscoe completed the top  10.

When the field pitted on Lap 31, Gragson was busted for speeding on pit road and was forced to drop to the rear of the field. He recovered to 19th by the third caution on Lap 38 when Annett got loose in Turn 2 and collected Riley Herbst, Austin Hill and Joe Graf Jr.

“Just trying to stay focused, stay positive when we threw it away on that speeding penalty after that first stage. But I’m so, so proud to be on this team. We stayed till 9:30 the night before we came down here working on the hauler. The team chemistry is better than its ever been. And I’m ready to go and do this deal some more.”

Allgaier won Stage 2 on Lap 60 as a wreck erupted behind him in Turn 3 involving Harrison Burton and Josh Williams and ending Snider, Riley Herbst and Chris Cockrum’s days. Haley finished second followed by Jeb Burton, Ryan Sieg, Cindric, Brandon Brown, Chastain, Jones, Gragson and Briscoe rounded out the top 10. Allgaier led the cars down pit road for service, but had problems in the pits and lost five positions. He lined up behind Jeb Burton, Cindric, Gragson, Briscoe and Haley when the race returned to green on Lap 67.

Burton led the lead pack to the pits on Lap 81. Timmy Hill momentarily took the lead before Alex Labbe cruised to the lead. After 19 laps at the point, the No. 36 pitted and Gragson cycled to the front followed by Jeb Burton, Briscoe, Cindric, Jones and Sieg with 20 laps remaining. Allgaier, Haley, Annett and Hill trailed the front runners by 12-seconds.

Coming to Lap 107, Josh Bilicki spun in Turn 4, Jeremy Clements slammed on his brakes and Allgaier plowed into the No. 51 Chevrolet and destroyed his car.

Gragson and Jeb Burton lined up side-by-side for the Lap 113 restart with two Fords—Briscoe and Cindric behind—and seven circuits to decide the contest. The pack didn’t make it to Turn 3 before Briscoe moved out into the lead. He blocked Gragson as Burton attempted to drop down and bounced off of Jones then spun into Cindric and collected 11 cars on the backstretch.

“Everyone is trying to make moves happen,” said Cindric, who finished 25th. “It’s Daytona. Everyone is in a pack. Everyone is pushing hard. The 98 (Briscoe) jumped up in front of the pack. The 9 (Gragson) car jumped in front of the top lane, so it really compressed us. I thought I gave the 8 (Burton) the right push at the right spot in the bumper, so I don’t really know why he got loose there.  Maybe he was trying to move, but overall it was unfortunate. 

“We had a fast MoneyLion Ford Mustang. We ran up front all day and just could never get me and Chase synced up to where we could help each other.  You were usually just fighting teammates, so that’s what was difficult about today, but we’re going to Vegas and start our season.”

The race was red-flagged for 7-minutes, 50-seconds with six to go and parked the field. Briscoe took the inside lane with three to go and 11 cars remaining on the lead lap. Coming to Turn 3 on Lap 119, Gragson took the lead followed by Burton and Hill, who restarted third. After the pack took the white-flag lap, Brandon Brown hooked Annett and sent Labbe and Jesse Little into the grass on the backstretch.

NASCAR waved the yellow—and the checkers—as Gragson wheeled the No. 9 Chevrolet across the finish line.

"There are so many people who have made this possible for me,” Gragson added. “Everybody that has helped me get to this point. I spent a lot of time with Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) this week talking with him for about two hours, wanting to be a better speedway racer. He told me, 'Go have fun. Wreckers or checkers, you got to manage your gaps. Be there at the end and just go lead the damn thing.' So, that's what we did.

"Thanks to all the fans. We did it!" 

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