Coming on the heels of a contract renewal with JR Motorsports, Noah Gragson scored his first win of the season on one of NASCAR’s most iconic tracks—Darlington Raceway.
Gragson led 40 laps and held off a late-race charge from Harrison Burton in overtime for his third-career win.
The driver climbed on the roof of his No. 8 JRM Chevy—and then climbed the front stretch fence with his team to celebrate his first victory at the Track too Tough to Tame.
“It’s been way too long,” Gragson said. “I hate that the 54 (Denny Hamlin)… something happened to him on pit road. It was pretty fun racing there.
“We made good adjustments on the pit stops… And like you said, it’s been way too long. A lot of frustration this year, and things haven’t gone our way, but we’re getting some momentum when we need to, and I just can’t thank everybody enough on this No. 9 team.”
Burton finished second followed by Austin Cindric, Justin Haley, Jeb Burton, Justin Allgaier, Jeremy Clements, Tyler Reddick, Myatt Snider and Alex Labbe.
Gragson led for the first time 25 laps into the contest. Daniel Hemric won the first stage after Denny Hamlin spun out of the lead in Turn 4 coming to the green-white-checkered flag. Allgaier, who had a tire going down at the time, nursed his car a 10th-place finish in the segment on Lap 46.
Hamlin’s troubles continued on pit road when he made contact with the No. 61 of David Starr. He restarted 12th for the second stage with Haley in the lead. AJ Allmendinger quickly took command but the race was slowed once again when Hemric punted teammate Brandon Jones while battling for fourth. After multiple stops for repairs, Jones restarted 36th.
Gragson grabbed the lead from Allmendinger on Lap 71 and held on to win Stage 2, 20 laps later. He maintained the point on the Lap 98 restart with Hamlin and Allmendinger in tow. Allmendinger cleared Hamlin and Gragson for the lead but the race was slowed again for a bizarre incident involving Riley Herbst and Tommy Joe Martins.
Herbst had a run coming off of the backstretch when he closed in quickly on Brandon Brown, who slid high to avoid Martins. With nowhere to go, Herbst plowed into the back of the No. 44 Chevy ending his day and Martins. Herbst limped to pit road where the No. 98 Ford burst into flames.
“I’m fine,” Herbst said after he was cleared in the infield care center. “I really want to see the replay before I comment any further, but I don’t know why they were stopping in the center of the straightaway at Darlington. That’s kind of crazy, but I think we’re 443 points or so and hopefully, we can go to Richmond with that cushion. Hopefully, we can gain a few more points there and then we’ll be a little bit more comfortable for Bristol.”
Hamlin assumed the lead for the Lap 116 restart. He held the point on the seventh caution on Lap 138, when Jones spun in Turn 4. Upon coming to pit road, the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing team was penalized for bringing equipment over pit wall too soon and Hamlin was forced to drop to 24th. With five laps remaining, Hemric appeared to be in good shape with the lead on the Lap 142 restart, but Gragson reclaimed the point and Hemric spun out of Turn 4 two laps later to trigger the eighth and final caution for debris.
Allmendinger, who restarted fifth after the previous caution, reported a tire going flat. With miscommunication on the No. 16 team’s radio, Allmendinger missed the pits and eventually finished 20th. He ended a four-race streak of first or second-place finishes. Nevertheless, Allmendinger held on to the points lead by one over Cindric with two races remaining in the regular season.
With Allmendinger and Hamlin out of the picture, Gragson’s main competition came from Cindric, who lined up alongside him for the green-white-checkered finish with Harrison Burton and Haley behind. Burton closed in on Gragson after taking the white flag, but the 21-year-old Las Vegas native held the high line and maintained a .219-second advantage at the finish.
“I’m just upset,” Burton said. “I really wanted to win here. This place means a lot to me. It’s fun to run well here, but it sucks to not win here. We’ll keep digging at it. This is a really resilient race team. We were without our crew chief, Jason Ratcliff who was at home today. Everyone stepped up on the race team and prepared the car well.
“Obviously, we were really fast today. Good job everybody at the shop and we’ll keep plugging away at it. These next few races are really good for us. This was one that I thought would be good for us as well. Our DEX Imaging Supra was good and just needed a better launch there at the end to stay close. Just frustrated.”