By AMANDA VINCENT
Noah Gragson closed the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season Friday night by winning the Food City 300 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. It was Gragson’s third-consecutive win and his series-leading sixth of the season.
“Man, three in a row. I appreciate Brandon Jones racing us clean,” Gragson said. “What a great opportunity to race here in front of fans. I had a blast.”
Gragson also won at an empty Bristol Motor Speedway during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
On newer tires, Brandon Jones closed on Gragson in the closing laps of the 300-lap race but wound up second to the car he’ll be driving next season.
“I just caught him (Gragson) at the wrong time, every single time. I could get in deeper into the corner, and I could kind of get him in the middle, but I could never get him at the exit,” Jones said. “I had maybe two times where I had a shot maybe to try to get in his left rear, try to get him loose. I put maximum pressure on him. I gave it everything I had today, so that’s always a great thing to say that you’ve done. Big thanks to Jeld-Wen, Menards – so much they have done for my career. Toyota, this year has been really great, really special for me to be a part of it. We are getting close to the playoffs – this is the last one, so we are going to start doing that. Just a lot of momentum with these last couple of races that we had here lately. We are ready to light the wick for the playoffs.”
Austin Hill finished third. One of Gragson’s JR Motorsports teammates, Sam Mayer, finished fourth, and Riley Herbst rounded out the top-five.
A.J. Allmendinger finished sixth. Allmendinger, who entered the race with a sizable points lead, clinched his second-consecutive Xfinity Series regular-season championship after running third at the end of stage two.
Two playoff berths remained up for grabs at Bristol. Ryan Sieg claimed the 12th and final playoff spot with a 10th-place race finish. Reigning Xfinity Series champion Daniel Hemric claimed the other slot after battling a lack of power steering to a 20th-place finish. They join 10 drivers who had already clinched playoff berths ahead of Friday night’s race — Allmendinger, Ty Gibbs, Justin Allgaier, Gragson, Josh Berry, Hill, Jones, Mayer, Herbst and Jeremy Clements.
All four JR Motorsports drivers finished in the top-10 in the Bristol race with Berry in seventh and Allgaier in ninth. Allgaier led a race-high 148 laps before giving up the lead to pit during the eighth and final caution for a J.J. Yeley spin, resulting in contact from Allgaier on lap 271. Allgaier, then, was nabbed speeding on pit road.
“Really thought when the 7 (Allgaier) sped, I thought easy, piece of cake; we’ve got him easy, but the bottom didn’t take off great, but those newer, fresher tires certainly paid a dividend at the end,” Jones said.
Gragson, after running second to Allgaier, stayed out during the final caution and led the remaining laps.
Gibbs won the first of two 85-lap stage after starting on the pole and leading every lap of the stage. Allgaier ran second to Gibbs throughout the stage after starting the race in row two.
The yellow flag waved four times in the opening stage, including a caution for a spin by Herbst on lap 13 after contact from Sheldon Creed.
Allgaier won the second stage that ended at lap 170 with teammate Gragson in second. Stage two ended under caution as a result of a spin by another JRM driver, Mayer, on lap 167, just after passing Gragson for second.
After pitting during a lap-36 caution caution for a Nicholas Sanchez spin, Creed stayed out after stage one to restart with the lead for stage two. Despite older tires, Creed was able to stay up front until he was passed by Allgaier on lap 125.
Gibbs and Creed, then, fell out of the race after a crash on lap 129 when Gragson made contact with Gibbs that sent Gibbs into Creed.
“Very disappointed. We had a very fast Monster Energy GR Supra,” Gibbs said. “I was excited for the rest of the race. Thank you to Mitch Covington (Monster Energy) and Interstate Batteries. If it was God’s plan for us to win tonight, we would’ve. I feel like the guys made really good progress over the last year from this car, from what we had last year. I felt like we were a little off last race here last September. We came back, and I feel like we were one of the fastest, so very thankful for that.”
Bayley Currey stayed out after stage two, but when the race restarted on lap 180, Allgaier retook the lead.
Stefan Parsons also finished Friday night’s race in the top-10 in eighth.