A week after having a top-five result at New Hampshire Motor Speedway stripped due to a failed post-race inspection to his car, Noah Gragson rebounded with vengeance after fending off Ty Gibbs to win the Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 at Pocono Raceway on Saturday, July 23.
The 24-year-old Gragson from Las Vegas, Nevada, led three times for a race-high 43 of 90-scheduled, including the final 21, as he overtook teammate Josh Berry for the top spot. From there, he fended off a hard-charging Gibbs, including a final lap side-by-side duel with Gibbs through the Long Pond straightaway, to retain the top spot and claim his third victory of the 2022 Xfinity Series season by more than two-tenths of a second.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Justin Allgaier, winner of last weekend’s Xfinity event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, started on pole position after clocking in a pole-winning lap at 168.669 mph in 53.359 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Ty Gibbs, who posted a fast qualifying lap at 168.319 mph in 53.470 seconds.
When the green flag waved and the race started, Allgaier and Gibbs dueled for the top spot entering the first turn as Allgaier managed to fend off Gibbs and Brandon Jones to lead the field through the Long Pond straightaway. Behind, newcomer Sammy Smith and AJ Allmendinger dueled for fifth ahead of Josh Berry and Richard Childress Racing’s rookies Sheldon Creed and Austin Hill.
During the following lap, the first caution flew when Rajah Caruth made contact with Alex Labbe entering the frontstretch as both were sent spinning and colliding against the inside wall. Despite the hard accident, both competitors emerge uninjured from their wrecked race cars.
When the event restarted under green on the sixth lap, Allgaier rocketed his No. 7 Hellmann’s Chevrolet Camaro with the lead on the outside lane as he fended off Gibbs’ No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Supra. Shortly after, Brandon Jones overtook teammate Gibbs for the runner-up spot followed by Allmendinger and Creed as Gibbs was stuck n a side-by-side battle with Hill on the inside lane with no momentum.
Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Allgaier was leading by more than a second over Brandon Jones’ No. 19 Menards Toyota Supra followed by Allmendinger, Creed and Gibbs while Hill, Noah Gragson, Berry, Daniel Hemric and Sammy Smith were in the top 10. Riley Herbst was in 11th ahead of Santino Ferrucci, Cole Custer, Landon Cassill and Ryan Sieg while Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brett Moffitt, Myatt Snider, Sam Mayer and Anthony Alfredo were in the top 20.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 20, Allgaier captured his sixth stage victory of the season as he was leading by more than a second over Brandon Jones. Allmendinger settled in third followed by Gibbs, Creed, Berry, Gragson, Sammy Smith, Hemric and Hill.
Under the stage break, Anthony Alfredo remained on the track while the rest led by Allgaier pitted. During the pit stops, Allgaier dropped out of the top five due to a slow pit stop and an issue with his jack as Brandon Jones was the first competitor to exit off of pit road.
The second stage started on Lap 25 as Alfredo and Brandon Jones occupied the front row. At the start, Alfredo took off with the top spot followed by a hard-charging Gragson as Gragson assumed the lead through the Long Pond straightaway. As the field, which was fanned out, returned to the start/finish line, Gragson was out in front ahead of Gibbs, Berry, Brandon Jones and Creed while Allgaier was mired in ninth in between Hemric and Sammy Smith.
By Lap 35, Gragson’s No. 9 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro was out in front by four-tenths of a second over Gibbs’ No. 54 entry while Brandon Jones, Creed and Berry were in the top five. Allgaier was back in sixth while battling teammate Berry as Allmendinger, Hemric, Landon Cassill and Hill occupied the top 10. Meanwhile, Sam Mayer, who had pitted a few laps earlier due to suffering a flat tire, was back in 36th and off the lead lap from the leaders.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 40, Gragson notched his seventh stage victory of the season while Gibbs fended off teammate Brandon Jones for the runner-up spot. Creed, Berry, Allgaier, Allmendinger, Cassill, Hemric and Hill were scored in the top 10 at the stage’s conclusion.
Under the stage break, names like Hill and Myatt Snider remained on the track while the rest led by Gragson pitted as Gragson was the first competitor to exit off of pit road.
With 45 laps remaining, the final stage started as the event reached its halfway mark. At the start and as Myatt Snider took his car to pit road with a flat right-rear tire, Hill and Gragson dueled for the lead before Gragson rocketed with the lead on the inside lane as Hill was being challenged by Brandon Jones and Gibbs for the runner-up spot.
Then as the field made their way back to the frontstretch, the caution flew when Santino Ferrucci got sideways entering the frontstretch and triggered a multi-car wreck as he was hit hard by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Then as Stenhouse’s wrecked No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet Camaro slid towards the inside wall, he was hit by an oncoming Jeb Burton, who was running towards the inside wall to avoid the incident as Burton was sent upside down as his No. 27 Our Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro slid across the frontstretch before coming to a rest just past the start/finish line while the car remained on its roof. Other competitors that were involved in the wreck included Jeremy Clements and Ronnie Bassett Jr. Despite the incident, all competitors, including Burton, emerged uninjured as the event was red-flagged for more than eight minutes.
When the red flag lifted and the race proceeded under green with 40 laps remaining, Gibbs powered his No. 54 entry to the lead followed by Creed’s No. 2 Whelen Chevrolet Camaro as Brandon Jones battled Gragson for third place. Through the Tunnel Curve, Gragson held on for third place as Hemric challenged Jones for fourth place.
Two laps later, the caution returned when Sammy Smith got loose underneath Cassill in Turn 1 and backed his No. 18 Pilot Flying J Toyota Supra into the outside wall with significant damage. During the caution period, the field led by Gibbs pitted and Gibbs exited with the top spot followed by Berry, Allgaier, Alfredo and Creed, all of whom opted for only fuel to their respective cars, while most of the field opted for two tires. During the pit stops, Creed nearly made contact with David Starr and Stefan Parsons while trying to exit his pit stall. Following the pit stops, Allgaier was penalized for speeding on pit road.
With 34 laps remaining, the race restarted under green as Riley Herbst and Brett Moffitt, both of whom remained on the track, occupied the front row. At the start, Herbst took off with the lead and Berry carved his way into the runner-up spot as the field fanned out through the Long Pond straightaway.
Four laps later, Berry rocketed his No. 8 Tire Pros Chevrolet Camaro to the top of the leaderboard over Herbst’s No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang as Creed and Gragson duked for third place in front of Gibbs.
Another nine laps later, Gragson, who had stalked and intimidated teammate Berry for the lead, seized an opportunity and returned to the lead while Gibbs remained in third place. By then, Brandon Jones had made a pit stop under green due to a flat right-rear tire to his car. Shortly after, Gibbs muscled his way into the runner-up spot after he overtook Berry.
With 15 laps remaining, Gragson was leading by four-tenths of a second over Gibbs followed by Berry, Allmendinger and Creed while Hill, Mayer, Allgaier, Herbst and Hemric occupied the top 10. Meanwhile, Cassill was in 11th ahead of Cole Custer, Brandon Brown, Ryan Sieg and Myatt Snider while Brett Moffitt, Anthony Alfredo, Kyle Weatherman, Josh Williams and Sage Karam were in the top 20.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Gragson continued to lead by nearly four-tenths of a second over Gibbs. Berry remained in third, trailing by nearly four seconds, while Allmendinger and Creed settled in the top five. Filling out the top 10 were Hill, Sam Mayer, Allgaier, Hemric and Cassill while Herbst fell back to 11th.
Then with six laps remaining and with the leaders making their way through lapped traffic, Gragson and Gibbs dueled for the lead through the frontstretch, but Gragson managed to retain the top spot. Both competitors went at it for the lead during the following lap, but Gibbs could not seal the deal as Gragson remained as the leader.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Gragson remained as the leader by a tenth of a second ahead of Gibbs, who was setting up for a final lap challenge for the victory. Entering the Long Pond straightaway, Gibbs then gained a huge run and managed to pull himself alongside Gragson’s No. 9 entry as both went side-by-side and made little contact. Through the Tunnel Curve, hover, Gragson managed to pull ahead on the outside lane while Gibbs nearly got loose on the inside lane. With Gibbs unable to launch another attack for the win, Gragson cycled his way back to the frontstretch and cross the finish line to win by nearly three-tenths of a second over Gibbs.
With the victory, Gragson earned his eighth NASCAR Xfinity Series career victory, his third of the season and his first since winning at Talladega Superspeedway in April. He also recorded the eighth Xfinity victory of the season for JR Motorsports and he became the third Xfinity regular to achieve three-plus victories throughout the season.
“That was probably the best I’ve ever driven there,” Gragson said on USA Network. “Man, I’m worn out. It really wasn’t that long of a race. Just working my ass off there to keep [Gibbs] back. He’s pretty fast. [Crew chief] Luke Lambert and the rest of this 50th anniversary Bass Pro Shops, Black Rifle Coffee, True Timber team did an unbelievable job with coming down pit road there, putting four tires on. Man, I had to work for it. It was tough. Just getting tight, tight, tight. I didn’t think with 15 [laps] to go, I didn’t think I could hold him off. We just keep digging. This team is unbelievable. I’m fired up. Our third win of the year. It’s a dream come true and it doesn’t get any better than in front of you badass race fans out here. I wanna thank you, guys, for coming out, baby!”
Ty Gibbs settled in the runner-up spot for the second time of this season and for a second consecutive season at Pocono while Berry, Allmendinger and Creed finished in the top five.
“It definitely hurt us being on a tire advantage, but also so surprised to be able to hang with [Gragson] when he was on rights,” Gibbs said. “Great car, just didn’t put it together. I wanna say that was, I feel like, on my part. I just made some mistakes, but we’ll come back at it next weekend. I just put myself in a bad position there, but I always love racing out here. Congratulations to [Gragson]. We both went in [the Tunnel Curve] side-by-side. I just lost my side force and got loose under him, but that’s racing. I put myself in that position, but I feel like I definitely have to look back and see what other options I had. Thank you to everybody that’s a part of this deal. I had a great time”
There were nine lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 18 laps.
With seven races remaining in the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series regular-season stretch, AJ Allmendinger continues to lead the regular-season standings by 16 points over Justin Allgaier, 22 over Ty Gibbs, 87 over Josh Berry and 90 over Noah Gragson.
Ty Gibbs, Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Noah Gragson, Josh Berry, rookie Austin Hill and Brandon Jones are currently guaranteed spots for the 2022 Xfinity Playoffs based on winning once throughout the regular season stretch while Sam Mayer, Riley Herbst, Daniel Hemric, Ryan Sieg and Landon Cassill occupy the remaining vacant spots to the Playoffs based on points. Sheldon Creed trails the top-12 cutline to make the Playoffs by 47 points, Brandon Brown trails by 66, Anthony Alfredo trails by 77, Brett Moffitt trails by 89, Jeb Burton trails by 123, Myatt Snider trails by 144, Jeremy Clements trails by 146, Myatt Snider and Alex Labbe trails by 171.
1. Noah Gragson, 43 laps led, Stage 2 winner
2. Ty Gibbs, three laps led
3. Josh Berry, nine laps led
4. AJ Allmendinger
5. Sheldon Creed
6. Sam Mayer
7. Justin Allgaier, 22 laps led, Stage 1 winner
8. Austin Hill, four laps led
9. Daniel Hemric
10. Cole Custer
11. Landon Cassill
12. Riley Herbst, four laps led
13. Brandon Brown
14. Myatt Snider
15. Ryan Sieg
16. Anthony Alfredo, three laps led
17. Brandon Jones
18. Brett Moffitt, two laps led
19. Kyle Weatherman
20. Sage Karam
21. Josh Williams
22. Kyle Sieg
23. Stefan Parsons
24. Mason Massey
25. Ryan Vargas, one lap down
26. Bayley Currey, one lap down
27. David Starr, one lap down
28. JJ Yeley, one lap down
29. Patrick Emerling, one lap down
30. Timmy Hill, one lap down
31. Sammy Smith – OUT, Accident
32. Jeremy Clements – OUT, Accident
33. Jeb Burton – OUT, Accident
34. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – OUT, Accident
35. Santino Ferrucci – OUT, Accident
36. Ronnie Bassett Jr. – OUT
37. Alex Labbe – OUT, Accident
38. Rajah Caruth – OUT, Accident
Next on the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is the series’ lone event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course as part of a NASCAR and IndyCar doubleheader feature. The event is scheduled to occur on Saturday, July 30, at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC.