One week after snapping a 49-race winless drought at Darlington Raceway, Noah Gragson benefitted through a handful of late-race restarts and four fresh tires to lead the final 14 laps and win the Go Bowling 250 at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 11.
The victory made Gragson the fourth multi-winner of this year’s Xfinity Series season as he claimed his fourth career win in the Xfinity circuit. This also marked the first time in Gragson’s racing career where he claimed back-to-back victories across NASCAR’s top three national touring series.
The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Xfinity event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Xfinity race. With that, Austin Cindric started on pole position and was joined on the front row with Harrison Burton. Prior to the event, Ty Dillon and Bayley Currey started at the rear of the field due to driver change of their respective machines. Akinori Ogata also dropped to the rear for missing driver introductions.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Cindric jumped ahead with an early advantage over Harrison Burton to lead the first lap. Behind, Justin Haley boosted his way to third place followed by teammate Jeb Burton and Noah Gragson.
Through the first five laps of the event, Cindric was leading by a narrow margin over Harrison Burton. Jeb Burton was up in third followed by Gragson and Justin Allgaier while Haley fell back to sixth. AJ Allmendinger, Jeremy Clements, Ryan Sieg and Daniel Hemric were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was making his lone Xfinity scheduled start of the season, was up in 24th after starting.
By Lap 10, Cindric continued to lead by nearly half a second over Harrison Burton. By then, NASCAR crew members and fans paused for a moment of silence through Laps 9 to 11 and saluted with American fans in remembrance of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Through Lap 20 and when the competition caution flew on Lap 35, Cindric was still out in front of the field. Under the competition caution, the leaders remained on the track. During this time, Jeb Burton’s car was pushed to pit road due to a battery issue.
When the race restarted on Lap 43, Allmendinger and Harrison Burton challenged Cindric for the top spot, but Cindric maintained his ground and continued to lead. Two laps later, however, Allmendinger made his move beneath Cindric to take the lead. Shortly after, Allgaier and Harrison Burton moved up to second and third while Cindric slipped to fourth in front of Ty Gibbs.
By Lap 70, Tommy Joe Martins, who pitted for fresh tires under the competition caution, emerged with the lead over Allmendinger.
When the final lap of the first stage occurred, Martins was still leading by a narrow margin over Allmendinger. Then in Turn 3, Martins got briefly stalled behind the lapped car of David Starr. While Martins went high, Allmendinger went low and was able to edge Martins at the start/finish line to win the first stage on Lap 75 and claim his ninth stage victory of the season. Cindric rallied for third followed by Gibbs, JJ Yeley, Harrison Burton, Daniel Hemric, Gragson, Spencer Boyd and Patrick Emerling settled in the top 10.
Under the stage break, the leaders pitted for service. During the pit stops, Allmendinger got boxed into his pit stall while Allgaier encountered steering issues.
The second stage started on Lap 84 as Cindric and Hemric filled out the front row. At the start, Hemric battled dead even with Cindric for a full lap before the former prevailed the following lap. Then the following lap, the caution flew when Tommy Joe Martins, who had a strong run in the first stage, spun following contact from Spencer Boyd.
Five laps later, the race restarted and Hemric retained the top spot. By Lap 98, Ty Gibbs made his way to the lead.
With four laps remaining in the second stage, the caution flew when CJ McLaughlin spun and wrecked off the front nose of Jade Buford in Turn 3. The wreck was enough for the second stage scheduled on Lap 150 to conclude under caution as Gibbs claimed his third stage victory of the season. Allmendinger ended up in second followed by Harrison Burton, Gragson, Hemric, Cindric, Sam Mayer, Riley Herbst, Ryan Sieg and John Hunter Nemechek.
Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Hemric emerged with the lead followed by Gragson, Gibbs, Harrison Burton and Allmendinger.
With 92 laps remaining, the final stage commenced. At the start, Gragson managed to peak ahead of Hemric and Gibbs on the inside lane to take the lead for the first time.
Five laps later, Gragson was leading by seven-tenths of a second over Hemric, who was pursued by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Gibbs and Harrison Burton. Behind, Sam Mayer was in fifth followed by Allmendinger, Cindric, Allgaier, Earnhardt Jr. and John Hunter Nemechek.
Another three laps later, Gibbs made a move to the outside of Gragson to reassume the lead. While Harrison Burton challenged Gragson for the runner-up spot, Hemric, meanwhile, fell back to 10th.
Nearing the final 80 laps of the event, the caution flew for a spin involving Bayley Currey. Under caution, Ryan Sieg pitted while the rest led by Gibbs remained on the track.
With 74 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Harrison Burton overtook teammate Gibbs to lead for the first time. While Mayer was up in third, Allgaier charged his way up to fourth after overtaking teammate Gragson.
Six laps later, the caution returned due to Landon Cassill coming to a stop at the pit road entrance. Under caution, some led by Harrison Burton and Gibbs pitted while the rest led by Mayer, Haley and Earnhardt Jr. remained on the track.
Under the final 63 laps, the race restarted under green. At the start, Mayer took off with the lead while the field bumped and fanned out to multiple lanes for a full lap between competitors on old or fresh tires. Meanwhile, Harrison Burton bolted his way up to third place on fresh tires after overtaking a multitude of competitors, including Earnhardt Jr.
With 58 laps remaining, Harrison Burton reassumed the lead. A few laps later, Ty Gibbs took over the runner-up spot while Allmendinger challenged Mayer for third. Joining the battle were John Hunter Nemechek, Haley and Cindric.
Down to the final 50 laps of the event, Harrison Burton was leading by a second over teammate Gibbs, with Allmendinger, Nemechek and Cindric in the top five. Allgaier was in sixth followed by teammate Gragson, Alex Labbe, Hemric and Sieg. Meanwhile, Haley was in 12th ahead of Michael Annett, Mayer and Riley Herbst while Myatt Snider was in 16th, Brandon Jones was in 18th and Earnhardt Jr. was in 21st behind Jeb Burton.
Ten laps later, Harrison Burton continued to lead by more than a second over teammate Gibbs. Meanwhile, Allmendinger continued to run in third followed by Nemechek, Cindric, Allgaier and Gragson. Behind the front-runners, Mayer and Earnhardt Jr. were in 20th and 21st.
With 27 laps remaining, the caution flew due to Josh Williams spinning and backing his car into the Turn 2 outside wall following contact with Akinori Ogata. Under caution, the leaders led by Harrison Burton pitted while Allmendinger, Cindric and Brandon Jones remained on the track. During the pit stops, Earnhardt Jr. was penalized for speeding while Jeb Burton was also penalized for an uncontrolled tire.
Down to the final 21 laps of the event, the rare restarted under green. At the start, Allmendinger peaked ahead with the lead and Cindric spun the tires on the outside lane while the field fanned out to multiple lanes entering the first turn and through the backstretch. Then, the caution returned for Martins wrecking in Turn 1.
With 14 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Allmendinger jumped ahead of Brandon Jones, who spun the tires, as the field fanned out to multiple lanes again through the first turn and the backstretch.
A lap later, the caution flew due to Clements spinning on the frontstretch after getting turned by Myatt Snider. During the incident, Earnhardt Jr. made contact with the frontstretch outside wall while battling Kyle Weatherman. By then, Gragson emerged with the lead followed by Nemechek while Allmendinger slipped back to third. Under caution, Cindric pitted for tires.
Down to the final seven laps of the event, the race restarted. At the start, Gragson retained the lead following a strong start followed by Nemechek and Allgaier while Allmendinger fell back to fourth ahead of Gibbs.
With five laps remaining and the field fanning out across the track, Gragson continued to lead by half a second over Nemechek as Allgaier challenged Nemechek for more.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Gragson was ahead by half a second. Behind, Haley made his way to second followed by Nemechek, Allgaier and others. While Haley had a late charge established, Gragson was able to retain the lead and come back around to claim his second consecutive checkered flag of this season and his first at Richmond.
After celebrating with his burnout, Gragson, who saluted the fans with an American flag, took a moment to pay tribute to the victims and those affected by the September 11 attacks 20 years ago today.
“I knew [Haley] had tires, but the thing that really kept us alive were those two cautions at the end,” Gragson said on NBCSN. “Today’s not about this team or this win. It’s about everybody who lost their life 20 years ago. You got a lot of heavy hearts. At least in America, we can come together on this day. [I] Appreciate all you race fans for coming out. Man, it’s an emotional day. It’s a special day, but it’s not about us today.”
“It’s really special to be able to come here to Richmond, to beat Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., which is pretty cool,” Gragson added. “I never thought I’d say that. We’re starting to get momentum at the right time. Appreciate everything, for sure. Very emotional.”
Haley, winner at Daytona International Speedway in late August, finished in second place at Richmond for a second consecutive season while Nemechek, making his second Xfinity start of the season in the No. 26 Sam Hunt Racing Toyota Supra, finished third.
“I was fully prepared to do anything it took to win,” Haley said. “We had better tires. We were so fast. We showed a championship-caliber team there coming back through the field, taking a bad day and making it okay. That one’s definitely tough. It hurts, it stinks.”
Allgaier placed fourth followed by Riley Herbst. Hemric, Gibbs, Brandon Brown, Harrison Burton and Jeb Burton finished in the top 10.
Mayer finished 12th while Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 14th in his lone NASCAR start of the season.
Cindric and Allmendinger shuffled back to 16th and 18th while Brandon Jones, Annett, Josh Berry, Snider and Clements finished 20th, 22nd, 24th, 25th and 26th.
There were 15 lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured nine cautions for 58 laps.
AJ Allmendinger continues to lead the regular-season standings by five points over Austin Cindric. With their top-20 runs, Jeremy Clements, Brandon Jones and Riley Herbst occupy the final three open spots to the 2021 Xfinity Series Playoffs with one regular-season event remaining. Herbst, the 12th-place competitor in the standings, is ahead by 66 points over Michael Annett, 93 over Ryan Sieg, 109 over Brandon Brown and 198 over Josh Williams.
1. Noah Gragson, 22 laps led
2. Justin Haley
3. John Hunter Nemechek
4. Justin Allgaier
5. Riley Herbst
6. Daniel Hemric, 17 laps led
7. Ty Gibbs, 67 laps led, Stage 2 winner
8. Brandon Brown
9. Harrison Burton, 43 laps led
10. Jeb Burton
11. Ty Dillon
12. Sam Mayer, seven laps led
13. Ryan Sieg
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
15. Kyle Weatherman
16. Austin Cindric, 50 laps led
17. Mason Massey
18. AJ Allmendinger, 39 laps led, Stage 1 winner
19. Alex Labbe
20. Brandon Jones
21. Matt Mills
22. Michael Annett
23. Josh Williams
24. Josh Berry
25. Myatt Snider
26. Jeremy Clements
27. Bayley Currey
28. David Starr, one lap down
29. JJ Yeley, two laps down
30. Jeffrey Earnhardt, two laps down
31. Joe Graf Jr., two laps down
32. Patrick Emerling, two laps down
33. Spencer Boyd, two laps down
34. Akinori Ogata, three laps down
35. Ryan Vargas, four laps down
36. Jade Buford, four laps down
37. Tommy Joe Martins – OUT, Accident, five laps led
38. Stephen Leicht, 30 laps down
39. Landon Cassill – OUT, Ignition
40. CJ McLaughlin – OUT, Accident
Next on the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is Bristol Motor Speedway, the final regular-season event of the season and where this year’s Xfinity 12-car Playoff field will be determined. The event is scheduled to occur on Friday, September 17, at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.