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Gragson Drives to Xfinity Victory at Darlington

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 5 2021

Noah Gragson celebrates Saturday in Darlington. (Photo by Jared East/Getty Images)

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Noah Gragson’s performance in Darlington Raceway’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW Help A Hero 200 guaranteed him a berth in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series Playoffs, but corralling his first victory this season made the day much sweeter.

“This not only does a lot for my confidence as a driver, but the confidence of the team,” said Gragson, who re-signed earlier in the week with JR Motorsports for the 2022 season.

 “This is a performance-based industry. We haven’t had the best of seasons and it’s kind of taken a toll, not really on our team … everything is great on the team end, but from my side, you kind of second guess yourself. Are you good enough to do this or should you get a regular job?”  

Any doubts Gragson possessed were erased with Saturday’s victory at the 1.366-mile speedway, but until Labor Day weekend it definitely had been a frustrating season for the 23-year-old Las Vegas native.

 Gragson’s disappointments began at Homestead in February when he suddenly slammed into the rear of a slower car driven by David Starr while leading with two laps remaining. That incident relegated him to 33rd, meaning that in the season’s first three races his best finish had been 28th

A fifth-place finish at Las Vegas came next and then a 39th at Phoenix. A string of four top-10 finishes were interrupted briefly by a disqualification at Darlington which was overturned upon appeal. Finally, in mid-June at Texas Gragson’s inconsistency ceased with a seventh-place finish. In the last 11 races, Gragson has finished outside the top 10 only once. Saturday’s victory at Darlington gave JR Motorsports a sweep of this year’s Xfinity races at the tough historical track. JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier won Darlington’s May Xfinity race.

“Junior Motorsports has taken a big leap of faith on me,” said Gragson, who celebrated his first victory since June 2020 at Bristol by climbing the frontstretch fence with some of his crew members.

“Dale (Earnhardt Jr.), L.W. (Miller) and Kelley (Earnhardt Miller) all believe in (me). It just solidifies it a bit for them. It’s really rewarding. It’s Darlington. It doesn’t get much better than this.”

With only two races remaining in the Xfinity Series regular season, eight drivers have now clinched a position in the playoffs. They are defending series champion Austin Cindric, A.J. Allmendinger, Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Harrison Burton, Justin Haley and Jeb Burton. It also appears the regular season championship won’t be determined until the finale at Bristol in two weeks. With Cindric’s third-place finish and Allmendinger’s 20th on Saturday, Cindric closed to within one point of standings leader Allmendinger. 

The next Xfinity Series race is Sept. 11 at Richmond. It is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on NBCSN.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 5 2021
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