Gragson shines with a dominant victory at Phoenix

Following three consecutive top-three results three races into the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, Noah Gragson broke through the win column after scoring a dominant victory in the United Rentals 200 at Phoenix Raceway on Saturday, March 12.

The 23-year-old Gragson from Las Vegas, Nevada, started on the front row before leading seven times for a race-high 114 of 200 laps en route to his first Xfinity victory of the season after beating runner-up Brandon Jones by more than two seconds and becoming the fourth different winner through the first four scheduled events of the 2022 Xfinity season.

With on-track qualifying occurring on Saturday, Trevor Bayne notched his first Xfinity pole since Iowa Speedway in August 2014 after posting a pole-winning lap at 131.839 mph. Despite enduring a kill switch issue while trying to roll his car off of pit road, Bayne’s crew was able to repair the issue as he retained the top starting spot. Joining him on the front row was Noah Gragson, who posted a fast qualifying lap at 131.565 mph.

Prior to the event, Sam Mayer, Ryan Vargas, Justin Allgaier, Josh Berry and Stefan Parson dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to their respective machines. In addition, Anthony Alfredo took his No. 23 Our Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to the garage due to an early mechanical issue.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, the field fanned out through the dogleg turn as Bayne retained the lead and led the first lap ahead of Gragson, Brandon Jones and Ty Gibbs.

Through the first five laps of the event, Bayne continued to lead by half a second over Gragson followed by Jones, Gibbs and John Hunter Nemechek. Behind, Daniel Hemric was in sixth ahead of Ryan Sieg, rookie Sheldon Creed, AJ Allmendinger and Parker Retzlaff. 

Five laps later, Bayne stabilized his advantage to eight-tenths of a second over Gragson while Jones, Gibbs and Nemechek remained in the top five.

By Lap 20, Bayne extended his advantage to more than a second over Gragson, who was fending off Jones for the runner-up spot. Gibbs and Nemechek continued to run in the top five followed by Hemric, Allmendinger, Creed, Landon Cassill and Ryan Sieg. Meanwhile, Justin Allgaier, who started at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to his No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet Camaro, was up in 12th behind Jeb Burton.

A lap later, the first caution of the event flew when Riley Herbst spun and pounded the Turn 3 outside wall after his brake pedal fell to the floor, thus destroying his No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang as his event came to an early end. 

When the field restarted on Lap 33, Gragson challenged and emerged with the advantage over Bayne as the field fanned out and battled for positions. Meanwhile, John Hunter Nemechek, who made a bold move below the dogleg during the the restart, was in third ahead of Brandon Jones.

By Lap 40, Gragson stabilized his advantage to three-tenths of a second over Bayne while Jones, Nemechek and Gibbs were in the top five. 

Shortly after, a side-by-side battle for the lead occurred between Bayne and Gragson as Bayne challenged to reassume the top spot while Gragson refused to relinquish the lead. As they battled, Brandon Jones started to join the battle.

When the first stage concluded on Lap 45, Bayne edged Gragson to claim the stage victory and his second of his part-time campaign. Jones settled in third followed by Nemechek, Gibbs, Allgaier, Landon Cassill, Allmendinger, Josh Berry and Sam Mayer while Daniel Hemric fell back to 11th.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Jones emerged with the lead after exiting pit road first followed by JR Motorsports’ Gragson, Allgaier and Mayer while Bayne came out in fifth ahead of Gibbs. Following the pit stops, however, Mayer and Brandon Brown dropped to the rear of the field after both were busted for speeding on pit road.

The second stage started on Lap 54 as Jones and Gragson occupied the front row. At the start and with the field fanning out, Jones and Gragson battled dead even for the lead before Gragson peaked ahead. Just then, Gibbs, who was in the top five, spun after Josh Berry clipped Gibbs’ No. 54 Sport Clips Toyota Supra in Turn 2. As the field scattered to avoid hitting Gibbs, the caution returned.

When the race restarted on Lap 61, Josh Berry engaged in a battle with teammate Allgaier for third place as Brandon Jones used the outside lane to his advantage as he assumed the lead for the first time ahead of Gragson. 

Nine laps later, Gragson reassumed the lead after closing in and persevering in a battle with Jones while Allgaier settled in third. 

Through the first 75 laps of the event, Gragson was leading by less than three-tenths of a second over Jones while Allgaier, Bayne and Berry were in the top five. Behind, Allmendinger was in sixth ahead of Nemechek, Ryan Sieg, Hemric and Cassill while Sheldon Creed, Jeb Burton, Brett Moffit, Mayer and rookie Austin Hill were in the top 15. Meanwhile, Gibbs was mired in 26th ahead of JJ Yeley.

Despite encountering lapped traffic, Gragson was able to extend his advantage to more than a second and claim the second stage victory on Lap 90, thus claiming his third stage victory of the 2022 season. Behind, Allgaier overtook and fended off Jones to settle in second followed by Bayne, Berry, Nemechek, Allmendinger, Hemric, Cassill and Mayer, who rallied from speeding on pit road prior to the start of the second stage,

Under the stage break, the leaders returned to pit road and Allgaier emerged with the lead followed by Jones, Gragson, Allmendinger and Mayer. Following the pit stops, Bayne and Mayer were both busted for speeding on pit road and sent to the rear of the field.

With 101 laps remaining, the final stage started. At the start and with the field fanning out, Allgaier went wide and got loose through Turns 1 and 2 as Jones moved into the lead ahead of Nemechek and Gragson. Shortly after, Jones was being challenged by John Hunter Nemechek before the latter took over with 98 laps remaining.

With 90 laps remaining, Nemechek was leading by nearly half a second over Gragson while Jones, Allgaier and Berry were in the top five. Allmendinger was in sixth ahead of Kaulig Racing’s Hemric and Cassill while Gibbs was back up in ninth ahead of Ryan Sieg.

Three laps later, Gragson reassumed the lead over Nemechek.

Down to the final 75 laps of the event, Gragson extended his advantage to more than a second over Jones while Nemechek fell back to third. Teammates Allgaier and Berry were in the top five followed by Allmendinger, Hemric, Gibbs, Cassill and Bayne, who was trying to work his way back to the front. 

Fifteen laps later, Gragson stabilized his advantage to less than two seconds over Jones while Allgaier, Berry and Nemechek remained in the top five. Meanwhile, Bayne carved his way up in sixth place followed by teammate Gibbs while Allmendinger slipped back to eighth ahead of teammates Hemric and Cassill. Mayer was in 12th in between Ryan Sieg and Creed while Austin Hill was in 16th behind Jeb Burton.

Another 10 laps later and with the teams plotting their final scheduled pit stops of the event, Gragson continued to lead by more than two seconds over Jones.

With less than 40 laps remaining, pit stops under green commenced as Austin Hill pitted. Soon after, Allmendinger pitted along with Allgaier, Mayer, Creed, Berry, Jones, Bayne, Nemechek, race leader Gragson, Gibbs and others. During the pit stops, Mayer was busted twice for speeding on pit road on two separate occasions: once during his scheduled stop and again while serving his first penalty. In addition, Allgaier was penalized for running over an air hose on pit road.

Back on the track and with less than 30 laps remaining, Brandon Jones cycled to the lead by more than a second over Gragson. 

With 20 laps remaining, Jones, who encountered lapped traffic, continued to lead by half a second over Gragson, who continued to narrow the deficit behind Jones’ No. 19 Menards Toyota Supra.

Six laps later and following a close side-by-side battle with Jones amid lapped traffic, Gragson reassumed the lead.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Gragson started to extend his advantage to more than a second over Jones while third-place Berry trailed by more than three seconds. Bayne was up in fourth followed by Nemechek. Meanwhile, Kaz Grala scrapped the outside wall in Turn 4, but the race proceeded under green.

With five laps remaining, Gragson stabilized himself to more than a second over Jones with victory in sight.

When the white flag waved and the final lap commenced, Gragson extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Jones while Berry trailed by five seconds. Having no challengers narrow the gap between himself and victory, Gragson cycled his way back to the finish line as he claimed his first checkered flag of the season.

With the victory, Gragson, who blew both of his rear tires during his victorious burnout before climbing the fence and saluting the fans, claimed his first win at Phoenix, the first win of the 2022 season for JR Motorsports and his sixth NASCAR Xfinity Series career triumph in his 106th series start. In addition, Gragson claimed his first win with new crew chief Luke Lambert, who joined JR Motorsports prior to the season and claimed his first Xfinity victory as a crew chief since 2012. 

“It feels great to get the 50th anniversary Bass Pro Shops Camaro in Victory Lane,” Gragson said on FS1. “Most importantly, thank you all you race fans for coming out. You guys are awesome. You guys are loud. We love you. Thanks for coming to Phoenix. This team, the pit crew, everybody who makes this possible…The pit crew executed great. This team’s been on a roll so far this year. All top three finishes [through the] first four races. [I] Can’t thank everybody enough for all their hard work and try to keep in going.

Jones, a former winner at Phoenix, claimed his first top-five result of the season after finishing in second place followed by Berry, who claimed his third consecutive top-five result of this season.

“This is, first off, exactly what this No. 19 team needed,” Jones said. “To kind of turn the season around. We’ve had speed at all these race tracks so far. Just haven’t quite got finishes yet that we need. It’s really early in the season still. I thought when we came out of the pits there and came ahead of [Gragson] there that it was gonna be pretty good because aero situations were pretty tough today. It seemed like whoever was leading the race kind of was difficult to pass…Still all in all, really happy to come home second. I think this is the right momentum we need to turn this deal around.”

Trevor Bayne recorded his second top-five result in his second start of this year’s Xfinity season in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota Supra by finishing fourth while Nemechek came home in fifth place while driving Sam Hunt Racing’s No. 26 Toyota Supra.

Gibbs, Allmendinger, Hemric, Cassill and Allgaier completed the top 10 on the track as the top-10 competitors were the only competitors to finish on the lead lap.

Notably, Creed and Austin Hill finished 14th and 17th while Mayer, who was busted with four pit road speeding penalties, settled in 22nd place.

There were 16 lead changes for six different leaders. The race featured four cautions for 33 laps.

With his victory, Noah Gragson continues to lead the regular season standings by 39 points over Ty Gibbs, 42 over Justin Allgaier, 43 over AJ Allmendinger and 53 over Josh Berry.

Results.

1. Noah Gragson, 114 laps led, Stage 2 winner

2. Brandon Jones, 30 laps led

3. Josh Berry

4. Trevor Bayne, 38 laps led, Stage 1 winner

5. John Hunter Nemechek, 11 laps led

6. Ty Gibbs

7. AJ Allmendinger

8. Daniel Hemric

9. Landon Cassill

10. Justin Allgaier, five laps led

11. Ryan Sieg, one lap down, two laps led

12. Jeb Burton, one lap down

13. Brandon Brown, one lap down

14. Sheldon Creed, one lap down

15. Brett Moffitt, one lap down

16. Ryan Ellis, one lap down

17. Austin Hill, one lap down

18. Jeremy Clements, one lap down

19. Alex Labbe, one lap down

20. Bayley Currey, one lap down

21. Stefan Parsons, two laps down

22. Sam Mayer, two laps down

23. Mason Massey, two laps down

24. Myatt Snider, two laps down

25. JJ Yeley, two laps down

26. Nicholas Sanchez, two laps down

27. Joe Graf Jr., three laps down

28. Jade Buford, three laps down

29. Ryan Vargas, three laps down

30. Kyle Weatherman, three laps down

31. David Starr, four laps down

32. Kyle Sieg, four laps down

33. Kaz Grala, four laps down

34. Jeffrey Earnhardt, four laps down

35. Josh Williams – OUT, Ignition

36. Parker Retzlaff – OUT, Fuel Pump

37. Anthony Alfredo, 53 laps down

38. Riley Herbst – OUT, Accident

Next on the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is the series’ first of two visits to the newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway. The event is scheduled to occur on Saturday, March 19, at 5 p.m. ET on FS1.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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