Gragson wins the battle at Bristol; Allmendinger clinches 2022 Xfinity Series regular-season championship

In a late attrition between two Xfinity Series regulars to cap off the regular-season stretch on a strong note, Noah Gragson came out of top over a late battle against Brandon Jones to win the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday, September 16.

The 24-year-old Gragson from Las Vegas, Nevada, led the final 25 laps and benefitted through a 20-lap dash to the finish while on old tires to fend off a hard-charging Jones and capture his sixth NASCAR Xfinity Series victory of the season and third in a row in recent weeks at Thunder Valley. The victory enabled Gragson to collect additional bonus points toward the 2022 Xfinity Series Playoffs as he commences the pursuit of his first NASCAR national touring series championship.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, Ty Gibbs claimed his fifth career pole position and fourth of the season after posting a pole-winning lap at 122.584 mph in 15.563 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Josh Berry, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 122.100 mph in 15.715 seconds.

Prior to the event, Joe Graf Jr. and Stefan Parsons dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective cars.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Gibbs and Berry dueled for the lead while AJ Allmendinger, who started fourth, briefly went up the track and struggled to come up to pace after having a gear shifting issue. By the completion of the first lap, he was mired back in eighth while Gibbs was out in front ahead of Berry, Justin Allgaier, Sammy Smith, Sam Mayer and Daniel Hemric.

On the fifth lap, the first caution flew when Nick Sanchez blew a right-front tire entering the backstretch as he fell off the pace and managed to keep the No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet Camaro off the wall. At the moment of caution, Gibbs was out in front by more than a second followed by Berry, Allgaier, Sammy Smith and Mayer while Jeb Burton, Ryan Sieg, Noah Gragson, Daniel Hemric and Brandon Jones were in the top 10.

When the event restarted under green on Lap 10, Gibbs launched ahead with the lead while Allgaier moved his No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet Camaro into the runner-up spot over teammate Berry. Behind, Mayer rocketed his No. 1 Huck’s Market Chevrolet Camaro into fourth place after overtaking Smith while Jeb Burton was in sixth ahead of a side-by-side battle between Gragson and Brandon Jones.

Three laps later, however, the caution returned when Riley Herbst made contact against rookie Sheldon Creed’s No. 2 Whelen Chevrolet Camaro entering Turn 4 while battling for a spot in the top 15 as he spun before his No. 98 Resorts World Ford Mustang went below the apron and continued without sustaining any significant damage.

During the following restart on Lap 18, Gibbs rocketed away with another strong restart in his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Supra while Allgaier fended off teammate Berry for the runner-up spot. Behind, Sammy Smith maneuvered his No. 18 Pilot Flying J Toyota Supra around Mayer for fourth while Gragson battled Jeb Burton for sixth place.

Through the first 25 scheduled laps, Gibbs was leading by nearly a second over Allgaier followed by Berry, Smith and Mayer while Gragson, Jeb Burton, Brandon Jones, Hemric and Landon Cassill were in the top 10. By then, Allmendinger was black in 11th ahead of Ryan Sieg, rookie Austin Hill, Creed and Jeremy Clements while Anthony Alfredo, Bayley Currey, Brandon Brown, Jeffrey Earnhardt and JJ Yeley were in the top 20.

Eleven laps later, the caution flew when Sanchez spun in Turn 4 as this marked his second incident of the night. During the caution period, few names like Brandon Jones, whose window net was loose, and Creed pitted while the rest led by Gibbs remained on the track.

When the race proceeded under green on Lap 41, Gibbs and Allgaier dueled for the lead through the first two turns until Gibbs managed to clear and fend off Allgaier with the lead. Behind, a trio of JR Motorsports competitors including Berry, Gragson and Mayer battled for third while Jeb Burton retained sixth ahead of Allmendinger, Smith, Hemric and Hill.

Four laps later, the caution returned when Brandon Brown got loose entering the backstretch as he spun, pounded the inside wall and damaged the rear end of his car.

Another five laps later, the race restarted under green. At the start, Gibbs and Allgaier dueled for the lead again through the first two turns before Gibbs retained the top spot on the outside lane in Turn 2. Behind, Gragson was in third followed by teammates Berry and Merry while Allmendinger was locked in a battle with Jeb Burton and Hemric for sixth.

By Lap 60, Gibbs continued to lead by six-tenths of a second over Allgaier while Gragson, Berry, Mayer, Allmendinger, Jeb Burton, Hemric, Smith and Ryan Sieg were running in the top 10. Meanwhile, Austin Hill was in 11th followed by Cassill, Clements, Currey and Kyle Weatherman while Creed, Herbst and Brandon Jones were in 20th, 21st and 24th, respectively.

Fifteen laps later and at the Lap 75 mark, Gibbs stabilized his advantage to less than half a second over Allgaier, who kept teammate Gragson behind in his rearview mirror, while Mayer and Berry remained in the top five. Behind, Allmendinger retained sixth as he was slowly catching Berry for position.

When the first stage concluded on Lap 85, Gibbs, who had to navigate his way through lapped traffic while also keeping Allgaier behind him, captured his sixth stage victory of the 2022 season. Allgaier settled in second while Gragson, Mayer, Allmendinger, Berry, Jeb Burton, Hemric, Cassill and Ryan Sieg were scored in the top 10. By then, Creed was mired in 17th as he was unable to record a stage point in the first stage compared to his rivals (Hemric, Cassill and Sieg) vying for the final Playoff berths.

Under the stage break, nearly the entire field led by Gibbs pitted while Creed and Jeffrey Earnhardt remained on the track.

The second stage started on Lap 94 as Creed and Jeffrey Earnhardt occupied the front row. At the start, Creed took off with the lead on the outside lane followed by Gibbs and Allgaier while Earnhardt struggled to launch on the inside lane. During the following lap, Allgaier overtook Gibbs for the runner-up spot before he went to work on Creed for the lead. 

Soon after, a tight side-by-side battle for the lead between Creed and Allgaier ignited as Creed refused to give up the top spot. With both competitors refusing to give up and making contact, Creed managed to pull away with a steady lead of half a second while Allgaier was being challenged by Gibbs for the runner-up spot. 

At the Lap 110 mark, Creed was leading by a tenth of a second over Allgaier followed by Gibbs, Mayer and Gragson while Brandon Jones, Smith, Allmendinger, Earnhardt and Hill were in the top 10. By then, Cassill, who came into the event holding the final transfer spot to the Playoffs, made an unscheduled pit stop under green. Soon after, Cassill, who then had smoke coming out of the right front of his No. 10 Voyager Chevrolet Camaro upon returning to the track with the driver reporting a brake hub issue, took his car to the garage as his Playoff hopes were placed in jeopardy.

Fifteen laps later, Allgaier prevailed in his intense battle with Creed as he moved into the lead while Creed was left to fend off Gibbs and Gragson for the runner-up spot. Another three laps later, however, disaster struck for Creed when Gragson bumped into the rear of Gibbs as Gibbs went up the track and collided with Creed and both competitors smacked the outside wall hard in Turn 2. The wreck was enough to eliminate Creed from the event as his hopes of making the Playoffs evaporated. Gibbs was also eliminated from the event while Gragson continued. 

When the race proceeded under green on Lap 138, Allgaier took off with the lead on the outside lane while teammate Gragson retained the runner-up spot in front of Brandon Jones, who was racing on two fresh tires. Soon after, Mayer bolted his way into third place while Allmendinger went to work in battling Jones for fourth. 

At the halfway mark on Lap 150, Allgaier was leading by more than half a second over teammate Gragson followed by Mayer, Allmendinger and Brandon Jones while Hill, Herbst, Jeb Burton, Hemric and Smith were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Ryan Sieg was in 12th in front of Berry, who got into the outside wall earlier, while Cassill was still mired in 37th and undergoing repairs in the garage.

Ten laps later, Allgaier extended his advantage to nine-tenths of a second over teammate Gragson while Mayer, Allmendinger and Brandon Jones remained in the top five. By then, Sieg remained in Playoff contention as he was in 13th place.

Then with four laps remaining in the second stage, the caution flew when Mayer, who tried to pull a three-wide move on both CJ McLaughlin and JJ Yeley, entering Turn 1, made contact with Yeley as both spun through the turn and below the apron while being dodged by Gragson. 

The incident involving Mayer was enough for the second stage to conclude on Lap 170 as Allgaier captured his eighth stage victory of the 2022 season. Teammate Gragson settled in second while Allmendinger, Brandon Jones, Herbst, Hill, Jeb Burton, Hemric, Mayer and Sammy Smith were scored in the top 10. By then, Hemric and Sieg, who settled in 11th, were above the top-12 cutline while Cassill remained in the garage and in 37th place. In addition, Allmendinger locked up the 2022 Xfinity Series regular-season championship for a second consecutive season.

Under the stage break, nearly the entire field led by Allgaier pitted and Allgaier retained the lead after exiting pit road first followed by Gragson, Brandon Jones, Hill, Allmendinger and Herbst. Back on the track, however, Bayley Currey and Joe Graf Jr. remained on the track.

With 121 laps remaining, the final stage started under green as Currey and Graf occupied the front row. At the start, Currey launched ahead followed by Allgaier while Graf struggled to get up to speed on the inside lane. When the field returned to the frontstretch, Allgaier navigated his way around Currey as he reassumed the lead. Shortly after, Brandon Jones moved into second place while Currey retained third ahead of Hill, Herbst and Gragson. 

Down to the final 100 laps of the event, Allgaier retained as the leader by a tenth of a second over future teammate Brandon Jones while Currey, Hill and Gragson were scored in the top five. By then, Sieg was in 10th on the track behind Hemric and scored six points above the cutline over Cassill, who was in 37th place and more than 90 laps down.

Twenty-five laps later, Allgaier extended his advantage to more than a second over Brandon Jones, who started to have Hill pressure him for the runner-up spot, while Gragson and Herbst were running in the top five. Behind, Allmendinger was in sixth ahead of Mayer, Ryan Sieg, Currey and Stefan Parsons. By then, Cassill, who was back on the track, was 112 laps behind the leaders while Sieg continued to hold possession of the 12th and final transfer spot to the Playoffs. Hemric, who was back in 15th, also continued to remain above the top-12 cutline.

With less than 60 laps remaining, Gragson overtook Brandon Jones for the runner-up spot while Allgaier continued to extend his advantage to more than two seconds. By then, Hemric, who was mired back in 22nd and off the lead lap category, was reporting power steering issues to his No. 11 AG1 Chevrolet Camaro.

Down to the final 35 laps of the event, the battle for the lead started to intensify as Gragson closed in to the rear bumper of teammate Allgaier in his bid for the lead. 

Then with 30 laps remaining, the caution flew when Yeley, who made contact with the leader Allgaier as Allgaier was trying to lap Yeley and Alex Labbe with a three-wide move, spun and pounded the inside wall in the backstretch as his event came to an end. During the caution period, some led by Allgaier pitted while the rest led by Gragson remained on the track Following the pit stops, Allgaier and Jeffrey Earnhardt were sent to the rear of the field for speeding on pit road. 

With 20 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Gragson rocketed his No. 9 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro to the lead ahead of Brandon Jones’ No. 19 Menards Toyota Supra while Hill started to challenge Jones for the runner-up spot. Behind, Herbst was in fourth followed by Mayer, Berry, Stefan Parsons and Ryan Sieg, who was trying to finish the event to make the Playoffs.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Gragson stabilized his advantage to seven-tenths of a second over Brandon Jones followed by Hill, Herbst and Berry while Sieg remained in ninth and in contention to make the Playoffs.

With five laps remaining, a tight battle for the lead ignited between Gragson and Brandon Jones, with the former remaining out in front by a hair over the latter as both also navigated his way through lapped traffic.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Gragson retained the lead by a tenth of a second over Brandon Jones. Entering Turn 3, Jones gained a strong run on Gragson in a final bid for the lead, but the run was not enough as Gragson retained the top spot. From here, he made his way back to the frontstretch and beat Jones to the finish line by a tenth of a second to grab his sixth checkered flag of the 2022 season and his third in a row in recent weeks.

With the victory, Gragson achieved his 11th career win in the Xfinity Series, his second at Thunder Valley and the 12th victory of the season for JR Motorsports. By accumulating six victories along with a bevy of points throughout the 26-race regular-season stretch, he will commence the Playoffs with the top seed and with 2,051 points as he pursues his quest of winning his first Xfinity title.

Photo by Jim Barnes for SpeedwayMedia.com.

“Man, three [wins] in a row,” Gragson said on USA Network. “That last caution came out. I knew if we could bring the top [lane], it was gonna be hard for [Jones] to get there. [I] Appreciate Brandon Jones for racing us clean. He fed us the bumper with two [laps] to go. I was hanging on, scrubbing the fence, but we won here at Bristol in 2020. There was no fans here. This is 10 times cooler. [I] Appreciate you, Bristol. Thank you, all you fans, for coming out. You guys are awesome. Man, I’m just so thankful. What a great opportunity to race here for our fans and having the opportunity to win a race. Man, our car was fast all day. Once we got out to the top, we were rolling. Man, I had a blast.”

Brandon Jones, who is set to join JR Motorsports to pilot the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro in 2023, trailed Gragson and his future ride to the finish line by a tenth of a second as he settled in second place for the second time of the season and for his sixth top-five result of the season. He will line up in seventh place in the Playoff standings with 2,010 points as he also commences his pursuit for his first Xfinity title.

“I thought this [loss] hurts the most just because that was our race to win,” Jones said. “We fought so many different things tonight, adversity-wise. [I] Just kept piling back up and kept coming back. It was really cool to look at our race, in particular, as a whole to see where it started to where it ended for us. [I] Really thought when [Allgaier] sped [on pit road], I was like, ‘Aw man. Easy piece of cake. We got it.’ The bottom [lane] didn’t take off great. I didn’t have a great restart, but those newer tires, fresher tires, certainly paid a dividend at the very end. I just caught [Gragson] at the wrong time every single time. I could get in deeper into the corner and I could get him to the middle, but I just could never get to the exit. I got him, maybe, two times where I had a shot to try and get to his left rear and try to get him loose. I put maximum pressure on him. [I] Gave it everything I had today. Man, there’s a lot of momentum. These last couple of races we’ve had has really kicked it up here lately, so we’re ready. “

Hill came home in third place followed by Mayer and Herbst, all of whom have made the 2022 Xfinity Playoffs. Allmendinger settled in sixth place while Berry, Stefan Parsons, Allgaier and Ryan Sieg completed the top 10 on the track.

By clinching the 2022 Xfinity Series regular-season championship and being awarded an additional 15-point bonus towards the Playoffs, Allmendinger became the first Xfinity competitor to achieve multiple regular-season titles and the first to do so in back-to-back seasons. He will now line up in fourth place in the Playoff standings with 2,032 points as he pursues his first NASCAR title.

Photo by Christian Gardner for SpeedwayMedia.com.

“[I’m] Really proud of everybody at Kaulig Racing,” Allmendinger said. “[I’m] Frustrated at myself tonight, but all in all, great to win the regular-season championship two years in a row. To finish top six today, [I] really had a really fast car at the end of the race there. On long runs, I thought we had a shot to win the race. Short runs, we struggled a little bit, but overall, great regular season. We got to get ready for the Playoffs. We’ve been struggling a little bit. Tonight was a little bit of a boost and hopefully, get ready for Texas.”

Sieg’s 10th-place run was enough for him to claim the 12th and final spot to the Playoffs by five points over Cassill, who could only climb his way to 35th place on the track while 112 laps behind the leaders. Hemric also made the Playoffs despite finishing 20th as he will pursue his quest to defend his series title.

Noah Gragson, Ty Gibbs, Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Josh Berry, rookie Austin Hill, Brandon Jones, Jeremy Clements, Sam Mayer, Riley Herbst, Daniel Hemric and Ryan Sieg have made the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs. 

Landon Cassill and rookie Sheldon Creed join names like Anthony Alfredo, Brandon Brown, Brett Moffitt, Jeb Burton, Myatt Snider and Alex Labbe as the remaining competitors who did not make the Playoffs.

There were six lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured eight cautions for 58 laps.

Results.

1. Noah Gragson, 25 laps led

2. Brandon Jones

3. Austin Hill

4. Sam Mayer

5. Riley Herbst

6. AJ Allmendinger

7. Josh Berry

8. Stefan Parsons

9. Justin Allgaier, 148 laps led, Stage 2 winner

10. Ryan Sieg

11. Bayley Currey, four laps led

12. Jeffrey Earnhardt

13. Anthony Alfredo

14. Sammy Smith, one lap down

15. Jeb Burton, one lap down

16. Jeremy Clements, one lap down

17. Kyle Weatherman, one lap down

18. Sage Karam, one lap down

19. Ryan Ellis, one lap down

20. Daniel Hemric, two laps down

21. Josh Williams, two laps down

22. Myatt Snider, two laps down

23. Joe Graf Jr., two laps down

24. CJ McLaughlin, three laps down

25. Kris Wright, three laps down

26. Alex Labbe, three laps down

27. Patrick Emerling, six laps down

28. Ronnie Bassett Jr., six laps down

29. Nick Sanchez, six laps down

30. David Starr, seven laps down

31. Bobby McCarty, 12 laps down

32. Mason Massey – OUT, Oil line

33. JJ Yeley – OUT, Accident

34. BJ McLeod – OUT, Brakes

35. Landon Cassill, 112 laps down

36. Ty Gibbs – OUT, Accident, 89 laps led, Stage 1 winner

37. Sheldon Creed – OUT, Accident, 34 laps led

38. Brandon Brown – OUT, Accident

The 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs is set to commence next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. The event is scheduled to occur on Saturday, September 24, at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.



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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