NASCAR Xfinity: Noah Gragson claims fourth-straight win

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By AMANDA VINCENT

After closing out the regular season with three-consecutive wins, Noah Gragson kicked off the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs by winning the Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday. A fourth-consecutive Xfinity race win tied Gragson with series legend Sam Ard for most-consecutive wins. Saturday’s victory also was Gragson’s series-leading seventh win of the season.

“This number 9 team, man, they’re on fire,” Gragson said. “Luke Lambert (crew chief) and the boys executed a great race.”

Austin Hill finished second, Ty Gibbs third, A.J. Allmendinger fourth, and Riley Herbst finished fifth.

“Honestly, we were just a little tight coming through there,” Gibbs said. “We fired off really, really free and it set the tone for the rest. They adjusted for what I asked for, but I asked for a little too much, so it’s my fault. Thank you to my team, Interstate Batteries, Monster Energy, Toyota. Thank you to the Man Above, all glory to Him. We will keep working on it and head to Talladega, which is a yard sale.”

Gragson dominated the second half of the 200-lap race and led a race-high 85 laps, overall.

Gragson gave up the lead for the last time to pit during the races only cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 156. A small handful of drivers, including Allmendinger and Jeb Burton, stayed out several laps later and took fuel only on their stops. Allmendinger gave up the lead to pit on lap 183, and Gragson passed Burton on the track to retake the top spot for good on lap 189.

The early laps of the second half, or third stage, of the 200-lap race included a rash of four cautions in close succession, including two for multi-car crashes involving several playoff drivers.

A six-car crash on a lap-110 restart collected playoff drivers Allmendinger and Ryan Sieg, along with Brandon Brown, Landon Cassill, Joey Gase and Stefan Parsons. A nine car-crash on the next restart on lap 117 collected playoff drivers Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, and Brandon Jones. Other drivers involved in that crash included John Hunter Nemechek, Brennan Poole, Joe Graf Jr., Kyle Weatherman, Josh Williams and Mason Massey.

“The 7 (Allgaier) chose the top behind me, and I haven’t seen the replay of it, but the 7 chose the top behind me and started pushing,” Nemechek said. “The 21 (Austin Hill) made it three-wide on the 9 (Gragson), and I was three-wide at the top, and I think we ended up four-wide at one point, which doesn’t really work aero-wide in the pack.”

Nemechek led 60 laps in the first half of the race and was second to Gragson before crashing out of the race.

Another playoff driver, Jeremy Clements, already had retired from the race because of an electrical issue in the first 100 laps.

Daniel Hemric won the first of two 45-lap stages after being among 12 drivers who stayed out during a caution for a C.J. McLaughlin spin on lap 37.

Nemechek led more than half of the opening stage after taking the lead from Gragson on lap 11. He gave up the lead to pit during the McLaughlin caution. Gragson started on the front row and took the lead when pole sitter Jones got sideway on lap one.

Nemechek, then, stayed out after stage one to restart with the lead for stage two. Despite pitting during the lap-37 caution, Gragson pitted, again, after stage one to tighten lug nuts.

Allmendinger won the second stage that ended on lap 90 in much the same fashion as Hemric before him — through pit strategy. Allmendinger was among eight drivers who stayed out during a caution for David Starr on lap 78 and restarted second to Hemric. When the race restarted on lap 86, Allmendinger took the lead.

Hemric was fourth at the end of stage two.

Nemechek also led the bulk of the second stage before giving up the lead to pit during the Starr caution. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Gibbs passed Nemechek for the lead on lap 53, but Nemechek retook the position on lap 56.

Gibbs dropped to the back at the start of the race because of an unapproved adjustment. After utilizing the same early-race pit strategy as Nemechek, Gibbs restarted second to Nemechek for the second stage.

Gragson and Nemechek were among the drivers who pitted during the lap-78 caution and got up to second and third in the running order by the end of stage two. They, then, stayed out after the stage to restart first and second for the second half of the race with Gibbs in third.

Josh Berry finished sixth. Sheldon Creed was the highest-finishing non-playoff driver in seventh. Sam Mayer and Sieg finished eighth and ninth.

A second non-playoff driver, C.J. McLaughlin, notched his first-career top-10 finish, 10th.