Gragson full-backs promise to win Xfinity Championship
MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) – Noah Gragson said he would win at Martinsville Speedway to earn a spot in the Xfinity Series championship and did just that on Saturday night in NASCAR’s most compelling title race.
Gragson, the confident 23-year-old from Las Vegas, had to win at Martinsville to advance to the Xfinity Final and made it into two overtime before joining the crowd in celebration. He drank a beer handed to him through the Martinsville fence by a spectator while getting fans to cheer more.
“We’re going to the Final Four, baby!” Grangson yelled into the TV camera after browsing through his emotions after the victory.
Gragson defeated Austin Cindric in a drag race to join the defending champion in the Xfinity Series title race. He then burned the tires on his Chevrolet in the victory celebration and led his JRM team as they scaled a spectator fence.
Gragson stood on top of the wall along the stands and accepted the beer, encouraged the crowd to over-enthusiastically, then drank the beer and threw the can out towards the crowd.
Breathless, Gragson was moved as he showed off some of what made the Xfinity Series championship race more fun than the Cup and Truck Series. Kyle Larson is the overwhelming favorite to win the Cup championship, and no one knows what might happen in the trucks after favorite and dominant driver John Hunter Nemecheck looks deliberately destroyed by non-eliminatory driver Austin Wayne Self.
Nemechek has always been ahead, but drivers top to bottom of the grid have complained about bad etiquette on the track and amateur races.
In the Xfinity series, the third round of the playoffs had been a wildcard with all four slots open in Martinsville. AJ Allmendinger, Cindric scored points at the end of the second stage and Daniel Hemric was the fourth driver to qualify with Gragson for the final.
Justin Haley was knocked out with a brake light and then Gragson, who said he would do anything to win, spun leader Ty Gibbs to take control of the race. Title contender Harrison Burton was eliminated when he couldn’t avoid hitting Gibbs’ broken down car.
But Hemric did not finish and took the lead from Gragson with 19 laps to go. Hemric was strong enough to start for the first victory of his career, but a warning with six laps remaining sent the race into overtime.
Hemric chose his starting line as the leader and chose the bottom line. Gragson said he also wanted to be in the front row.
They were side by side and Gragson timed his movement perfectly to pass Hemric and take the lead.
Another warning resulted in a second overtime and Gragson this time took the inside lane as the leader. But instead of taking the outside line alongside the leader, Hemrick opted to start in the second row behind Gragson. The decision fell through when Gragson set off for victory.
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