Noah Gragson outlasted the carnage and the competition through three overtime attempts to etch his name as a winner at Talladega Superspeedway after fending off Jeffrey Earnhardt on the final lap to win the Ag-Pro 300 on Saturday, April 23.
The 23-year-old Gragson from Las Vegas, Nevada, led twice for seven of 124 over-scheduled laps and was able to both grab the lead and maintain it ahead of AJ Allmendinger and the field during the third of three overtime attempts after teammate Justin Allgaier ran out of fuel and fell out of contention. From there, Gragson fended off a hard-charging Jeffrey Earnhardt to streak to his second victory of the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series season.
With on-track qualifying occurring on Friday, Jeffrey Earnhardt, who was piloting the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro for Richard Childress Racing on a one-race deal while having support from legendary crew chief and current FOX NASCAR analyst, Larry McReynolds, started on pole position for the first time in his career after posting a pole-winning lap at 182.560 mph in 52.454 seconds. Joining him on the front row was teammate and Xfinity rookie Austin Hill, who posted a fast lap at 182.351 mph in 52.514 seconds.
Prior to the event, Matt Mills, Brandon Jones, Ryan Ellis, Caesar Bacarella, Shane Lee, Riley Herbst and David Starr dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to their respective machines.
When the green flag waved and the race started, Earnhardt quickly moved his No. 3 ForeverLawn Chevrolet Camaro to the outside lane in front of teammates Hill and Sheldon Creed while Ty Gibbs was the lead competitor on the inside lane. Through Turns 3 and 4, however, Gibbs managed to muscle his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Supra to the lead as the field stacked up and started to fan out to multiple lanes through the tri-oval.
Through the first lap, Gibbs was leading ahead of Earnhardt while Landon Cassill and Hill battled for third place. Behind, a three-wide battle ensued between Creed, Daniel Hemric and Ryan Sieg.
By the fifth lap, Earnhardt moved into the lead for the first time followed by his Richard Childress Racing teammates Hill and Creed.
Five laps later, the first caution of the even flew when Ryan Ellis lost a left-rear tire and spun in Turn 2. Under caution, the entire field pitted as names like Anthony Alfredo, Ryan Vargas, Chandler Smith, JJ Yeley. Jeremy Clements, Mason Massey, Noah Gragson, Brandon Brown, Sam Mayer, Shane Lee and Alex Labbe took only fuel on their stops. The rest of the competitors elected for fresh tires.
On Lap 14, the race proceeded under green. At the start, teammates Hill and Earnhardt dueled for the lead as Hill had teammate Creed pushing him while Earnhardt had Cassill drafting him through Turn 2 and the backstretch. Then entering Turns 3 and 4, Hill moved his No. 21 Bennett Transp. and Logistics Chevrolet Camaro from the outside to the inside lane and managed to muscle ahead of teammate Creed to retain the lead.
With five laps remaining in the first stage, Creed drew himself in a side-by-side battle against teammate Hill for the lead through the tri-oval before Hill managed to pull in front of Creed’s No. 2 Whelen Chevrolet Camaro to retain the lead. A few laps later, however, Josh Berry managed to gain a run through the inside lane to lead a lap for himself.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 25, Berry, who managed to clear Hill and pull away from the field the lap prior, claimed his second stage victory of the season. Gibbs settled in second followed by AJ Allmendinger, Cassill, Hill, Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Anthony Alfredo, Sam Mayer and Brett Moffitt.
Under the stage break, some led by Berry pitted while the rest including Alfredo, Brandon Brown, JJ Yeley, Mason Massey and Alex Labbe remained on the track.
The second stage started on Lap 30 as Alfredo and Brown occupied the front row. At the start, the field fanned out to three lanes through the backstretch as Yeley made his way to the front followed by Gragson, Mayer, Alfredo and Brandon Jones while Massey drifted towards the back.
By Lap 35 and with the field still fanned out through three lanes and in a tight pack, Gragson’s No. 9 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro was leading ahead of Brett Moffitt, Berry, Brandon Jones and Alfredo.
Five laps later, Hill, who reassumed the lead on Lap 39, was back out in front ahead of Alfredo, Brown, Gragson, Mayer, Jeb Burton, Brandon Jones, Massey, Earnhardt and Allgaier.
At the Lap 45 mark, all but one of the 38 starters, Josh Williams, were separated by six-and-a-half seconds as Mayer was out in front in a side-by-side battle against teammate Allgaier while Brandon Jones, Hill, Drew Dollar, Gibbs, Earnhardt, Creed, Jeb Burton and Alfredo were scored in the top 10.
Three laps later, the caution flew for a multi-car wreck that started when Massey lost a tire, shot up the track and bumped against Berry’s No. 8 PUBG Mobile Chevrolet Camaro entering Turn 2 before spinning through the infield, clipping Yeley and pounding the inside wall as his car briefly came off the ground before coming to a rest with a wrecked car. In the midst of Massey’s hard wreck, Berry and Yeley also collided and wrecked with Moffitt and newcomer Chandler Smith getting collected.
The incident concluded the second stage scheduled on Lap 50 under caution as Allgaier claimed his first stage victory of the season. Teammate Mayer settled in second followed by Hill, Brandon Jones, Gibbs, Dollar, Brown, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Myatt Snider and Jeb Burton.
Under the stage break, the field pitted. During the pit stops, Hill, Mayer, Gibbs, Snider, Jeb Burton, Herbst, Ryan Sieg, Herbst, Kaz Grala, Jeremy Clements and Gray Gaulding pitted for two tires while the rest of the field opted for four fresh tires. In addition, Brandon Jones was penalized for not remaining in a single file line with the field while entering pit road.
With 59 laps remaining, the final stage started as Hill and Mayer occupied the front row. At the start, Hill received a big push from Gibbs to retain the lead ahead of Mayer and the competitors running in the outside lane. When the field returned to the start/finish line and as the field fanned out to multiple lanes, Hill was leading ahead of Gibbs, Creed, Herbst and Allgaier with the top-five competitors breaking away from the side-by-side action while Mayer and Ryan Sieg battled for sixth place.
At the halfway mark between Laps 56 and 57, Hill continued to lead ahead of Gibbs, Creed, Herbst, Allgaier, Ryan Sieg, AJ Allmendinger, Alfredo, Cassill and Hemric.
With 45 laps remaining, the caution flew due to a rear bumper cover from Berry’s car being reported on the backstretch. At the moment of the caution, Hill remained the leader ahead of Gibbs, Creed, Allgaier and Gragson. During the caution period, the field returned to pit road for tires and fuel except for Ryan Sieg.
With 42 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Hill received a strong push from Gragson to move into the lead. When the field returned to the start/finish line, Hill retained the lead ahead of Gragson, Gibbs, Creed and Herbst.
Under the final 40 laps, Hill was placed on defense mode as he worked to fend off Gibbs on the outside lane and Gragson on the inside lane amid the tight pack running towards the front.
Then with 36 laps remaining, Gibbs, who went wide and lost touch with the leaders, made contact with Daniel Hemric through the backstretch before he veered sideways and made contact with teammates Brandon Jones and Drew Dollar along with David Starr, Sieg and Ellis before pounding the inside wall as his strong afternoon came to an end.
With 32 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, teammates Hill and Creed dueled for the lead as Hill had Gragson drafting him while Herbst tucked in behind Creed on the outside lane before Creed managed to stabilize himself into the runner-up spot on the inside lane through Turns 3 and 4. Soon after, Allmendinger moved up to fourth place followed by a side-by-side battle against Cassill and Herbst.
Under the final 30 laps of the event, the front-runners settled in a long single-file line as Hill was leading teammate Creed, Gragson, Allmendinger, Cassill and Snider. Not long after, Mayer started to formulate a line on the outside lane as he tried to challenge Snider for the sixth spot.
Down to the final 20 laps of the event and with the field fanning out to double lanes while in a tight pack, Hill was placed back on defense mode from the bottom to the inside lane as he retained the lead ahead of Allmendinger, Allgaier, Herbst, Creed, Mayer, Gragson, Alex Labbe, Moffitt and Cassill.
Then with 16 laps remaining and as the intensity towards the front pack continued to brew, the caution flew when Matt Mills hit the Turn 1 wall after blowing a right-front tire as he shredded debris across the track.
With 12 laps remaining, the race proceeded under green. At the start, Hill and Allmendinger battled dead-even for the lead through the first two turns as Allmendinger had Mayer drafting him while Hill had support from Allgaier. With the field locked in a side-by-side battle, Hill managed to clear the field through Turns 3 and 4 and he went to work to defend the lead through both lanes.
During the following lap, Mayer made a bold three-wide move on Allmendinger to move him out of the way in his bid to the front as Ryan Sieg and Jeb Burton also charged to the front. Meanwhile, Hill retained the top spot ahead of Allgaier.
Then with nine laps remaining, the caution returned due to a heavy multi-car wreck in Turn 1 that involved Brandon Jones, Snider, Drew Dollar, Joe Graf Jr., Brandon Brown, Kaz Grala and Ryan Vargas.
Down to the final four laps of the event, the race restarted under green. At the start, Hill and Allgaier dueled for the lead with Jeb Burton pushing Hill while Allgaier had teammate Mayer and Allmendinger drafting him. Then through the backstretch, Mayer got loose off the front nose of Allmendinger and veered into Hill as both competitors were sent sideways into the inside wall with Mayer suffering heavy front nose damage and Hill, who led a race-high 67 laps, sustained left-side damage. In the midst of the incident, Allgaier emerged with the lead followed by Allmendinger, Creed, Jeb Burton and Cassill as the field was sent into overtime.
At the start of the first overtime attempt, Allgaier and Allmendinger dueled for the lead through Turns 1 and 2 before Allmendinger emerged with the lead through the backstretch ahead of Allgaier and Jeb Burton. Then, the event was sent into a second overtime attempt due to a hard incident in Turn 3 that involved Creed and Caesar Bacarella.
During the second overtime attempt, Allgaier and Allmendinger dueled until Allgaier broke free from the pack with the lead through the backstretch. Then the event was sent into a third overtime attempt when Clements ran out of fuel as his car came to a stop below the apron between Turns 1 and 2.
At the start of the third overtime attempt, Allgaier, who restarted on the front row and on the outside lane, ran out of fuel and pulled his car out of line while teammate Gragson, who received a strong start, rocketed to the lead ahead of Allmendinger, Ryan Sieg and the field.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Gragson was leading ahead of Allmendinger, Sieg, Jeb Burton, Jeffrey Earnhardt and the field. In Turn 1, Sieg nearly got turned off the front nose of Jeb Burton, but he managed to straighten his car and proceed forward without wrecking. This allowed Earnhardt to gain a run on Allmendinger for the runner-up spot as Herbst, Moffitt and Cassill made their move to the front.
Then in Turns 3 and 4, Allmendinger and Herbst rubbed fenders, which allowed Earnhardt to make a bold three-wide move to move into second place as he tried to challenge Gragson for the win. With Earnhardt unable to gain a draft from the field to overtake Gragson for the top spot, Gragson was able to stabilize himself through both lanes and streak across the finish line in first place with the victory by 0.131 seconds over Earnhardt.
The victory was the seventh of Gragson’s Xfinity Series career and the second superspeedway victory for him after he won at Daytona International Speedway in February 2020. He also became the second Xfinity Series regular to achieve multiple victories this season alongside Ty Gibbs.
“Our 50th anniversary Bass Pro Shops Chevy Camaro was awesome,” Gragson said on FS1. “This JR Motorsports team, they never quit. Thanks to everybody back at JR Motorsports. The Fab shop. Everybody that helps get all four [JR Motorsports] cars to the race track. We had four really fast cars. [Crew chief] Luke Lambert and the rest of this Bass Pro Shops team. They called one hell of a race. It came down to fuel strategy. There’s one point where I was like, ‘Man, I can’t get up there.’ We just don’t have the car fast enough, but we never quit. That’s the most important thing…I’ve got to run in the Cup race [on Sunday], but the Talladega Boulevard looks a lot more enchanting right now and inviting, so I might have to go out there and then throw some beads. We’ll go have some fun tonight, baby.”
While Gragson celebrated with the fans on the frontstretch, Jeffrey Earnhardt was left with smiles on pit road as he notched a career-best second-place result in his 136th start in the Xfinity circuit and at a track instilled with a rich legacy towards the Earnhardt name, most notably towards Jeffrey’s late grandfather, Dale Earnhardt Sr., and uncle, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“[I needed] Just a push there at the end,” Earnhardt said. “Everyone spreads apart and it’s really hard to build a run by yourself without someone at the back. Unfortunately, our teammates got wiped out early. Man, I’m living a dream here. I’m so thankful to get this opportunity. So thankful for everyone to allow me to come do this…[Richard Childress Racing] for building this amazing race car. We were fast all weekend long. We just fell a little short there and I hate it, but congrats to Noah. He’s good at plate races. Fell up a little bit short, but hopefully, this will lead to a lot more to come in the future and we’ll be able to come back and give’em a run for their money. Just very thankful to even be here. I’ll forever be grateful for this opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Allmendinger Came home in third place and captured the third Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus, which was his second of this season.
“This place makes me shake,” Allmendinger said. “That last lap, I thought I wrecked at least seven times. The first thing, just to get out with a clean race car, finish in the top five was a big deal, but to win another Xfinity Dash 4 Cash [bonus]. Comcast, Xfinity, thank you so much for what you do. For allowing us to go for a hundred grand in these four races. To win two of them is a big deal…We get to do it again at Dover.”
Teammate Landon Cassill and Ryan Sieg finished in the top five as they will join Gragson and Allmendinger to battle for the fourth and final Dash 4 Cash bonus next weekend at Dover Motor Speedway. Alfredo, Herbst, Joe Graf Jr., Snider and Brett Moffitt finished in the top 10.
There were 25 lead changes for 14 different leaders. The race featured 10 cautions for 39 laps.
With his third-place result, AJ Allmendinger continues to lead the regular-season standings by 40 points over Noah Gragson and 45 over Ty Gibbs.
1. Noah Gragson, seven laps led
2. Jeffrey Earnhardt, 10 laps led
3. AJ Allmendinger, six laps led
4. Landon Cassill
5. Ryan Sieg
6. Anthony Alfredo, three laps led
7. Riley Herbst
8. Joe Graf Jr.
9. Myatt Snider
10. Brett Moffitt
11. Josh Berry, five laps led, Stage 1 winner
12. Alex Labbe
13. Drew Dollar, one lap led
14. Shane Lee
15. Jeb Burton
16. Joey Gase
17. Bayley Currey
18. Kyle Sieg
19. Josh Williams
20. Ryan Vargas
21. Gray Gaulding, one lap led
22. Justin Allgaier – OUT, Fuel pressure, 13 laps led, Stage 2 winner
23. Jeremy Clements, two laps down
24. Sheldon Creed – OUT, Accident, one lap led
25. Caesar Bacarella – OUT, Accident
26. Brandon Jones – OUT, Dvp
27. Austin Hill – OUT, Accident, 67 laps led
28. Sam Mayer – OUT, Accident, two laps led
29. Kaz Grala – OUT, Accident
30. Brandon Brown – OUT, Accident, one lap led
31. Matt Mills – OUT, Accident
32. Ryan Ellis – OUT, Dvp
33. David Starr – OUT, Dvp, one lap led
34. Daniel Hemric – OUT, Dvp
35. Ty Gibbs – OUT, Accident, five laps led
36. JJ Yeley – OUT, Dvp, two laps led
37. Mason Massey – OUT, Accident
38. Chandler Smith – OUT, Accident
Next on the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is the series’ lone event at Dover Motor Speedway in Dover, Delaware, where the fourth and final Xfinity Dash 4 Cash initiative will occur. The event is scheduled to occur on Saturday, April 30, at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1.