If there was one competitor who left both NASCAR Xfinity Series events of this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway with disappointment and feelings of déjà vu, it was Noah Gragson. The Las Vegas native driving for JR Motorsports had the car to beat in both racing events in Miami. Then like a bomb, his dominating performance en route to victory was halted by late-race cautions that would flip the cards on the table and allow his fellow competitors to emerge with late-race victories. While Saturday’s loss was difficult, Sunday’s loss came with a hard, bitter ending for Gragson.
Starting 13th, Gragson started at the rear of the field in a backup car but proved that he had a race-winning car when the green flag dropped. After carving his way through the field, Gragson was able to race up to sixth when the competition caution flew on Lap 20. Twelve laps later, Gragson was able to make his way into the top five when the caution returned following a two-car wreck on the backstretch. In the final four laps of the first stage, Gragson would be overtaken by two competitors for two positions and would finish in sixth.
The second stage was where Gragson flexed his muscles as he restarted in the top five but started to make his move to the front. Gragson spent a good portion of the stage battling hard with teammate Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones and Harrison Burton for the runner-up spot before making his charge for the lead, occupied by Austin Cindric. On Lap 68, Gragson took the lead and was gone as he kept his car rim-riding towards the outside lane and toward the wall to gain speed from the corners to the straightaways, which allowed him to extend his lead. Like yesterday’s event, Gragson was uncontested and won the second stage while also collecting his fifth stage win of the season.
Following a smooth pit stop from his pit crew, Gragson retained the lead for the start of the final stage with 78 laps remaining. For the start of the final stage, Gragson would battle Cindric for the lead before the latter gained the upper advantage. With 61 laps remaining, Cindric made an unscheduled pit stop due to sustaining a flat tire as a result of making contact with the outside wall, which allowed Gragson to reassume the lead. By then, he was more than three seconds over runner-up Chase Briscoe and continued to stretch while remaining close to the wall to gain more speed.
Following green-flag pit stops and exiting second on track, Gragson returned to the lead with 36 laps remaining and was maintaining a healthy lead over Briscoe. He was cruising his way to another win of the season, redemption following his loss on Saturday and his second consecutive $100,000 bonus from the Dash 4 Cash program when déjà vu struck and the caution flew with two laps remaining when Cindric cut another tire and spun in Turn 3.
Under caution, Gragson fell to second as Briscoe’s pit crew got Briscoe ahead of him exiting the pits. On the first overtime attempt, Gragson slipped to third as Jones moved into second, moments before the caution returned for a multi-car wreck that knocked out Gragson’s teammates Hemric and Michael Annett. In the second overtime attempt, Gragson was unable to mount a rally back to the front as he settled in fifth, the highest-finishing JR Motorsports competitor, after being passed by two more competitors. Teammates Annett and Justin Allgaier finished 18th and 22nd while Hemric, who was unable to finish following his late wreck, settled in 31st.
While Gragson parked his No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro on pit road, he watched as Briscoe celebrated his third race win of the season while AJ Allmendinger was awarded the second Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus.
“[I’m] Gonna have to start working on myself because that’s unacceptable on my standards,” Gragson said on MRN. “[Crew chief] Dave Elenz and the rest of the team, they did an unbelievable job to set up the car. We had the lead there at the end and the caution [fell] with a lap and a half to go. These guys, they work their tails off and it’s not to run fifth. It’s to win these races. Gonna keep on focus, keep positive. Super thankful for this team and them sticking behind me. Gonna keep working on myself and try to be better next time, just learn from the opportunity and just take the positives from today.”
With his seventh top-10 result of this year’s Xfinity Series season to go along with two race victories, the bonus points for winning the second stage and leading a race-high 81 laps, Gragson leads the regular-season standings by 18 points over Briscoe and 45 over Burton.
Gragson, along with his fellow competitors, will return for the next series race at Talladega Superspeedway on June 20, where the race will air at 5:30 p.m. ET on FS1.