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Fresh from the announcement of his return to JR Motorsports next year, Noah Gragson rushed to victory at Darlington Raceway on Saturday and got a spot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.
After pre-race favorite Denny Hamlin was sent back under penalty for a foul on equipment during a pit stop under caution on Lap 139, Gragson grabbed the lead from Daniel Hemric on Lap 143 and held it the rest of the way.
Gragson’s victory in the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW Help a Hero 200 at the 1,366-mile speedway was his first of the season, his first in Darlington and the third of his career.
After waste from a Hemric spin on Lap 144 caused the eighth caution in the afternoon, sending the race into overtime, Gragson rose to the lead at the final restart, finishing .218 seconds ahead of second-place Harrison Burton.
Reigning league champion Austin Cindric ran in third place and closed to a single point his deficit to current league leader AJ Allmendinger, who finished 20th after pitting under the last caution due to a loose wheel.
“It’s been too long,” said Gragson, who celebrated by climbing the catch fence in the stretch with his team after climbing from his car. “I hate that 54 (Hamlin)… something happened to him on the pit road. It was pretty fun to drive there.
“We made good adjustments to the pit stops … And as you said, it’s been too long. A lot of frustration this year and things have not gone our way but we get some speed when we need it and I just can not thank everyone enough on this No. 9 team. ”
Hamlin appeared to be on track for his sixth win in the Xfinity series in Darlington when teammate Brandon Jones beat Turn 4 from lap 138 of a planned 147. At the ensuing pit stop for new tires, Hamlin’s crew was penalized for bringing equipment over the wall too early and ended the driver’s chances of a victory.
Hamlin – who made his first Xfinity Series start of the season – overcame early problems, spins out of the top spot at last in Phase 1 while trying to get around the slower car in Carson Ware. It gave Hemric the first win, gathering on fresh tires after his team remedied a loose spark plug wire shortly after the start.
Gragson took the checkered flag on Lap 152 at the end of the only overtime. The victory marked his fifth in a row finishing seventh or better.
Cindric took advantage of the late version of the Allmendingers to create a tight fight for the regular season championship with two races left before the 12-driver playoffs.
RELATED: Xfinity series schedule
“We did a solid job all day trying to perform, but we were not perfect,” Cindric said. “I’m proud of what we got today with the Snap-On Ford Mustang. It is definitely the best race I feel I have had in Darlington, just to have the strength and not have too many weaknesses.
“As a team, it takes a lot of conversations during the week to try to get it right, so we corrected a lot of wrong for me on this racetrack today. I’m fine with that. ”
Justin Haley, last weekend’s Daytona winner, finished fourth, followed by Kaulig Racing teammate Jeb Burton. Justin Allgaier, Tyler Reddick, Jeremy Clements, Myatt Snider and Alex Labbe completed the top 10.
There were eight warnings for a total of 41 laps and 19 lead changes among eight drivers. Hamlin, who finished 12th, led a race-high 43 laps. Gragson was out front in 40 circuits.
According to Cindric, the fresh coating strip in turn 2 seemed to gain traction during the race, but did not play a significant role in the result.
“When we showed up today, it was a construction site and now it’s a race track,” Cindric said. “It simply came to our notice then. It’s dirty. It’s new asphalt. We are the first cars to drive on it. It got a grip all day. It was cleaned all day. It became more racable during the day. I do not think it will be a big story tomorrow (in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race). ”
The Xfinity Series next race, Go Bowling 250, is scheduled for next Saturday, September 11 (14:30 ET, NBCSN / NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Richmond Raceway. There are only two events left in the normal season.
Comments: Follow-up checks were completed in the Xfinity Series garage without major issues, confirming Gragson’s victory. NASCAR officials announced that the cars from the top four finishers would be returned to the NASCAR R&D Center for further inspection and testing of the engine dynamometer. … Ty Dillon finished 13th as a late replacement in No. 02 Our Motorsports Chevrolet instead of Brett Moffitt, held off Saturday’s race for medical reasons.
Contribution: Employee reports