Gragson ties all-time Xfinity wins streak after victory in Playoff opener at Texas

Noah Gragson commenced the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs by making history with his record-tying fourth consecutive victory in recent weeks to claim the Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, September 24.

The 24-year-old Gragson from Las Vegas, Nevada, led three times for 85 of 200-scheduled laps and executed a pit stop under the green flag with less than 50 laps remaining to his advantage. He reassumed the top spot with 12 laps remaining and beat Austin Hill by more than a second to claim his seventh NASCAR Xfinity Series victory of the season.

Above all, Gragson became the first Playoff contender to punch his ticket into the Round of 8 in the 2022 Xfinity Series Playoffs.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Playoff contender Brandon Jones secured his fourth pole position of the 2022 season after posting a pole-winning lap at 185.637 mph in 29.089 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Playoff contender Noah Gragson, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 185.363 mp in 29.132 seconds.

Prior to the event, Playoff contender Ty Gibbs, as well as, Bayley Currey, David Starr, Akinori Ogata, Tommy Joe Martins, Stefan Parsons and JJ Yeley dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective cars. Garrett Smithley also dropped to the rear of the field due to an engine change.

When the green flag waved and the race began, Brandon Jones surged ahead with a brief advantage over Gragson entering the first turn. Then, he slipped sideways below the apron in Turn 1 off the front nose of Daniel Hemric’s No. 11 DaaBIN Store Chevrolet Camaro. As Jones tried to straighten his No. 19 Menards Toyota Supra below the apron, the field fanned out to avoid Jones and Gragson pulled away with the lead. He went on to lead the first lap by eight-tenths ahead of John Hunter Nemechek followed by Justin Allgaier, Hemric and Landon Cassill. Meanwhile, Jones, who managed to keep his car intact without drawing a caution, was all the way back in 20th behind Alex Labbe.

Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Gragson was leading by a tenth of a second over Nemechek, who challenged Gragson for the lead before claiming it during the following lap. He was followed by Allgaier, Hemric and Cassill while Ryan Sieg, Brandon Brown, AJ Allmendinger, rookie Austin Hill and Josh Berry, rounding out the top 10. Playoff contender Sam Mayer was in 11th, Jeremy Clements was in 13th, Riley Herbst was scored in 15th ahead of Brandon Jones as Ty Gibbs was mired back in 24th behind Brennan Poole.

Nine laps later, the first caution of the event flew when Jeffrey Earnhardt, who was battling Poole for a spot outside of the top 20, got into the side of Poole’s car entering the backstretch and his No. 26 YesWav/ForeverLawn Toyota Supra darted to the inside wall and wrecked hard, which ended Earnhardt’s event early. By then, Nemechek was still leading Gragson, Brandon Jones had recovered to 14th and Ty Gibbs was up in 18th behind Creed.

During the first caution period, some like Creed, Alex Labbe, Matt Mills, David Starr, Joey Gase, Garrett Smithley and Joe Graf Jr. pitted while the rest, led by Nemechek, remained on the track.

When the race restarted under green on Lap 24, Nemechek and Gragson dueled for the lead until Nemechek managed to clear Gragson for the top spot while the field jostled for positions. Behind the leaders, Sam Mayer, who got loose beneath Cassill entering Turn 1 and lost a handful of spots, hit the wall entering Turn 4 and fell to 16th. With the race proceeding under green, Gragson kept the runner-up spot ahead of Hemric, Allgaier and Allmendinger while Nemechek retained the lead.

At the Lap 35 mark, Nemechek’s No. 18 Romco Equipment Toyota Supra was ahead by nearly six-tenths of a second over Gragson’s No. 9 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro while Hemric, Allgaier and Allmendinger remained in the top five. By then, Gibbs carved his No. 54 Interstate Batteries Toyota Supra into 10th place while Berry, Weatherman, Hill and Nicholas Sanchez were in sixth through ninth, respectively.

Two laps later, the caution returned when CJ McLaughlin spun in Turn 2, though he managed to keep his car intact without hitting the wall. During the caution period, some of the drivers, led by Nemechek who slid through his pit box, pitted, while the rest, led by Hemric and Allgaier remained on the track. Playoff contenders Gragson and Gibbs were among the front-runners who also pitted along with Nemechek.

With three laps remaining in the first stage, the race restarted under green. At the start, Hemric retained the lead on the inside lane while teammate Allmendinger battled Allgaier for the runner-up spot. In Turn 3, however, Allmendinger got loose and fell back to fourth behind Allgaier and Hill. Behind, JR Motorsports’ Berry and Gragson battled for fifth while Hemric held on to the top spot.

When the first stage concluded on Lap 45, Hemric claimed his third stage victory of the 2022 season. Allgaier settled in a close second place followed by Hill, Gragson, Allmendinger, Berry, Nemechek, Ryan Sieg, Gibbs and Kyle Weatherman. By then, Playoff contenders Brandon Jones, Clements, Herbst and Mayer were in 12th, 13th, 26th and 27th, respectively.

Under the stage break, some of the drivers, led by Hemric, and including Allgaier, Hill, Gragson, Allmendinger, Berry, Ryan Sieg, Anthony Alfredo, Joey Gase, Matt Mills, Weatherman, Clements, Poole, Yeley, Mayer and Currey pitted while the rest, led by Nemechek, remained on the track.

The second stage started on Lap 51 as teammates Nemechek and Gibbs occupied the front row. At the start, Nemechek pulled ahead with the lead on the inside lane followed by Gibbs and Nicholas Sanchez while Brandon Jones was in fourth ahead of Cassill, Brown, Creed and Ryan Sieg.

Two laps later, Gibbs, who started the event at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to his car, assumed the lead for the first time. Another two laps later, however, Nemechek reclaimed the top spot. Behind, Gragson, who was trying to navigate his way back toward the front, overtook Creed for seventh place while Hemric was mired back in 12th.

By Lap 60, Nemechek was leading by half a second over teammate Gibbs while teammate Jones trailed by more than a second in third place. Cassill was in fourth followed by a hard-charging Gragson while Sanchez, Brown, Creed, Hemric and Hill, who reported a vibration to his No. 21 Bennett Chevrolet Camaro, were in the top 10. By then, Allmendinger was in 11th ahead of Berry and Allgaier, Herbst was back in 16th, Clements was in 20th, Mayer was in 22nd and Sieg was in 24th.

Fifteen laps later and at the Lap 75 mark, Nemechek continued to lead by six-tenths of a second over teammate Gibbs while Gragson was up in third place and trailing the two Joe Gibbs Racing leaders by more than a second. Jones and Cassill remained in the top five while Hemric battled teammate Allmendinger for sixth ahead of Hill, Sanchez, Allgaier and Berry.

Three laps later, the caution flew when veteran David Starr lost a right-front tire and pounded the outside wall in Turn 2 and slowly limped his car back to pit road. During the caution period, the No. 51 Straitline Chevrolet Camaro piloted by Playoff contender Jeremy Clements received a push from a wrecker after losing power as he fell out of the lead lap category. The issue was eventually enough for Clements’ crew to push the car to the garage area for further analysis. Once pit road opened for the field, some of the drivers, led by Nemechek, pitted, while the rest, led by teammates Hemric and Allmendinger, remained on the track. Following the pit stops, Berry was sent to the rear of the field due to an uncontrolled tire violation along with Cassill, who sped on pit road.

With five laps remaining in the second stage, the race restarted under green. At the start, teammates Hemric and Allmendinger dueled for the lead until Allmendinger managed to navigate his No. 16 Andy’s Frozen Custard Chevrolet Camaro into the lead. In Turn 3, Hemric was locked in a battle with Sieg for the runner-up spot while Sanchez, who briefly made a bid towards the front, got loose up the outside lane as he fell out of the top 10. Soon after, Akinori Ogata spun off of Turn 4, but the race remained under green.

Back at the front, Allmendinger continued to lead while Hemric led a four-car battle for the runner-up spot, featuring Sieg, Gragson and Nemechek.

When the second stage concluded on Lap 90, Allmendinger, the 2022 Xfinity Series regular-season champion, captured his third stage victory of the season. Gragson muscled his way into the runner-up spot while Nemechek, Hemric, Gibbs, Hill, Allgaier, Sieg, Brandon Jones and Mayer were scored in the top 10. By then, Herbst was in 12th and Berry was back in 22nd.

Under the stage break, some of the drivers pitted, led by Allmendinger and Hemric, while the rest, led by Gragson, remained on the track.

With 104 laps remaining, the final stage started. Gragson secured the lead on the inside lane as he slid in front of Nemechek and was followed by Gibbs, Hill and Allgaier while Brandon Jones challenged and overtook Creed for sixth place. With the battles around the circuit ensuing, Gragson stabilized a narrow advantage over the field with Nemechek slowly closing in.

At the halfway mark with 100 laps remaining, the battle for the lead between Gragson and Nemechek ensued with the latter attempting to intimidate the former as Gibbs, Hill and Allgaier remained in the top five. By then, seven of 12 Playoff contenders were running in the top 10 on the track and all but one were running in the top 16.

Four laps later, the caution returned when Akinori Ogata spun in Turn 2. With the field remaining on the track and the race proceeding under green with 91 laps remaining, Gragson rocketed with the lead followed by Nemechek and Hill while Gibbs and Allgaier battled for fourth. Not long after, the caution quickly returned for a multi-car wreck entering Turn 3. It began when Allmendinger got into Brown as Brown clipped Cassill and sent Cassill into the outside wall while Mayer barely escaped the carnage. Also involved in the carnage were Myatt Snider, Anthony Alfredo, Weatherman, Joey Gase, Sieg and Brown.

When the race restarted under green with 81 laps remaining, Hill dipped his No. 21 Chevrolet below Gragson as both, along with Nemechek, went three wide for the lead. Then in Turn 2 and entering the backstretch, the caution flew when Nemechek got loose as he slipped sideways and clipped Allgaier, who was trying to make it a four-wide battle for the lead. Both collided against one another hard alongside the outside wall. The carnage did not stop there, however, as pole-sitter, Brandon Jones, collided into both with Poole, Joe Graf Jr., Weatherman, Josh Williams, Joey Gase and Sieg while Hemric smacked the inside wall. The wreck eliminated Jones, Nemechek, Allgaier and Hemric from further competition. Allmendinger, who dodged the wreck, moved back up to 14th as Gragson managed to keep the lead ahead of Hill, Berry, Gibbs and Herbst.

With 74 laps remaining, the race restarted under green as Gragson engaged in a tight battle with Hill for the lead before clearing him while Gibbs started to challenge Hill for the runner-up spot. Shortly after, however, the caution returned when Garrett Smithley got bumped and turned off the front nose of Weatherman through the backstretch while Stefan Parsons and Myatt Snider sustained damage after clipping Smithley.

Six laps later, the race restarted under green. At the start, Gragson retained the lead while Gibbs engaged in a tight side-by-side battle for the runner-up spot alongside Hill and Herbst battled Sanchez for fourth place.

With less than 60 laps remaining, Gragson was leading by eight-tenths of a second over Gibbs followed by Hill and Herbst while Allmendinger carved his way back into the top five in fifth. Sanchez was in sixth followed by Berry, Creed, Ryan Sieg and Mayer, rounding out the top 10. By then, eight of 12 Playoff contenders were running in the top 15.

A few laps later, Gibbs washed up the racetrack in Turn 3 and toward the outside wall as he lost momentum and was overtaken by Hill.

With 50 laps remaining, Gragson extended and stabilized his advantage to two seconds over Hill, who had Gibbs closing in for another challenge for the runner-up spot. Behind, Allmendinger was in fourth followed by Berry and Herbst while Creed, Sanchez, Mayer and Sieg were in the top 10.

Six laps later, Gragson surrendered the lead to pit under green followed by Gibbs. Once Hill pitted during the following lap, Allmendinger, who has yet to pit, assumed the lead followed by Berry, Herbst, Sanchez and Mayer. By then, Gragson, Hill and Gibbs were lapped by the field.

With less than 30 laps remaining, Allmendinger continued to lead followed by Berry, Mayer, Currey and Jeb Burton, all of whom had yet to pit. By then, Sanchez, Creed, Herbst and others had already pitted under green while Gragson was still a lap down, but running in the top 10 on fresh tires and with enough fuel for the finish.

Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Allmendinger retained the lead as one of four competitors who have not yet made a pit stop while Gragson was up in fifth and still a lap down, but gaining ground. Four laps later, however, Allmendinger surrendered the lead to pit along with Berry while Jeb Burton assumed the lead followed by a hard-charging Gragson, who un-lapped himself and went to work on closing back in on Burton for the lead. 

Then with 11 laps remaining, Gragson reassumed the lead as Jeb Burton pitted. By then, Hill made his way up to second followed by Gibbs, Allmendinger and Berry while Herbst was back in sixth.

Down to the final five laps of the event, Gragson extended his advantage to more than a second over Hill, with Hill losing ground to the leader, while third-place Gibbs trailed by more than three seconds. 

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Gragson remained as the leader by more than a second over Hill. With Hill unable to close on the leader, Gragson was able to navigate his No. 9 Chevrolet back to the frontstretch and claim his unprecedented seventh checkered flag of the season and his fourth in a row in recent weeks.

With his accomplishment, Gragson joined the late two-time Xfinity champion Sam Ard as the only competitors to win four consecutive Xfinity events. Gragson also secured his 12th career victory in the Xfinity circuit, his first at Texas and the 13th victory of the 2022 season for JR Motorsports. With an automatic ticket to the Round of 8, which will commence in October at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Gragson continues his pursuit to win the 2022 Xfinity title before moving up to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2023 for Petty GMS Motorsports.

“This No. 9 team, man, they’re on fire,” Gragson said on USA Network. “The pit crew’s done awesome. Our car was as fast as Xfinity internet all day. Just so thankful for the opportunity. Such a relief. We lost this race in 2020. Just executed a great race. [Crew chief] Luke Lambert and the rest of the boys, they did a great job. Last year, I was standing with Justin Haley and saw John Hunter [Nemechek] raising the Andy’s Frozen Custard trophy over his head. He said, ‘Man, I would’ve tried a little bit harder if I would’ve seen that trophy and knew what it was.’ That made me motivated. I was like, ‘Damn, I want that [trophy], too.’ We came back and the team did a great job. We’re on fire as a team right now.”

Playoff rookie Austin Hill notched a strong runner-up result for his 11th top-five of the season while Ty Gibbs emerged as the lone Joe Gibbs Racing competitor to finish the event by ending up in third place. Hill leaves Texas in fourth place in the Playoff standings and 30 points above the top-eight cutline to transfer to the Round of 8 while Gibbs is currently in third place and with a 46-point advantage.

“We were faster than [Gragson],” Hill said. “I don’t know if he was just kind of pacing there or not, but [I] just got too tight there at the end. I’m sure I could’ve done a better job coming to that green flag pit stop. The guys did an excellent job all day on pit road. Pit stops were fantastic. It’s nice to start the Playoffs like this and start it off right, but at the same time, we know that if we would’ve won the race, we wouldn’t have to worry about [Talladega] or the [Charlotte] Roval. A little frustrated, but at the same time, happy with the performance. We showed speed. We just needed that little bit more.”

“Honestly, we were a little bit tight,” Gibbs said. “[We were] fighting that all day. We fired off one run really free and just kept it tight for the rest. [The crew] adjusted what I asked for, but I asked for a little bit too much and that’s what we went to. It’s my fault. Thank you to my team. We’ll keep moving on to Talladega, which is a yard sale.”

Meanwhile, Allmendinger survived his late incident and made his late pit strategy work to perfection as he finished fourth while Herbst completed the top five. 

“I wished we could’ve won that race,” Allmendinger, who is 47 points above the top-eight cutline, said. “I thought we had a shot, but the way it could’ve been and the way it actually ended up to have a really good points day, we’ll take it.”

“This was our game plan,” Herbst, who is a single point below the cutline, added. “Just fall back on what we’ve been doing all year, consistency. We need to execute tremendously better if we want to advance. To come away out of Texas with a top five, it’s good and we’ll go battle with the Monster [Energy] guys at Talladega.”

Berry, Creed, Mayer, Ryan Sieg and CJ McLaughlin completed the top 10 on the track, with eight of 12 Playoff contenders finishing in the top 10.

There were 14 lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured nine cautions for 52 laps. Only eight of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.

Results.

1. Noah Gragson, 85 laps led

2. Austin Hill, one lap led

3. Ty Gibbs, three laps led

4. AJ Allmendinger, 34 laps led, Stage 2 winner

5. Riley Herbst

6. Josh Berry

7. Sheldon Creed

8. Sam Mayer

9. Ryan Sieg, one lap down

10. CJ McLaughlin, one lap down

11. Nick Sanchez, one lap down

12. Bayley Currey, one lap down

13. Stefan Parsons, one lap down

14. Tommy Joe Martins, one lap down

15. Jeb Burton, one lap down, five laps led

16. Matt Mills, two laps down

17. Alex Labbe, three laps down

18. Joe Graf Jr., three laps down

19. Anthony Alfredo, three laps down

20. Myatt Snider, four laps down

21. Parker Retzlaff, 10 laps down

22. Kyle Weatherman – OUT, Accident

23. Garrett Smithley – OUT, Dvp

24. Brandon Brown – OUT, Accident

25. Joey Gase – OUT, Dvp

26. Josh Williams – OUT, Accident

27. Brandon Jones – OUT, Accident

28. John Hunter Nemechek – OUT, Accident, 60 laps led

29. Justin Allgaier – OUT, Accident

30. Daniel Hemric – OUT, Accident, 12 laps led, Stage 1 winner

31. Brennan Poole – OUT, Accident

32. Mason Massey – OUT, Accident

33. Landon Cassill – OUT, Accident

34. JJ Yeley – OUT, Water pump

35. Akinori Ogata – OUT, Suspension

36. Jeremy Clements – OUT, Ignition

37. David Starr – OUT, Accident

38. Jeffrey Earnhardt – OUT, Accident

*Bold indicates Playoff contenders

Playoff standings

1. Noah Gragson – Advanced

2. AJ Allmendinger +47

3. Ty Gibbs +46

4. Austin Hill +30

5. Josh Berry +24

6. Justin Allgaier +20

7. Sam Mayer +1

8. Ryan Sieg +1

9. Riley Herbst -1

10. Daniel Hemric -8

11. Brandon Jones -13

12. Jeremy Clements -29

With the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs underway, the battle for the series championship in the Round of 12 will continue next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. The event is scheduled to occur on Saturday, October 1, at 4 p.m. ET on the 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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