Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 Switch Chevrolet Camaro, fought through a persistent loose-handling condition to record a hard-earned ninth-place finish in Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The result is Gragson’s fourth top-10 finish in just his fifth career NXS start.
Gragson took the green flag for the 163-lap event from the fourth position after rain cancelled Saturday morning’s qualifying session, causing the field to be set by owner points per the NASCAR rulebook. After initially battling for position inside the top five, Gragson reported to crew chief Dave Elenz that the Switch Chevrolet had become loose rolling through the corner. With the handling worsening throughout the caution-free opening stage, Gragson was ultimately shuffled back to the 13th position by the time the green-and-white checkered flag was displayed on lap 40.
In-between stages, Elenz called the Las Vegas, Nev. native to pit road for four tires and a chassis adjustment in the hopes of alleviating the loose-handling condition. Gragson returned to the track following the stop in the 12th position but continued to fight a Switch Chevrolet that was loose. Despite not handling to his liking, the 20-year-old driver remained inside the top 15 for the duration of the caution-free second stage, taking the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 80 in the 14th position.
The driver of the Switch Chevrolet returned to pit road prior to the beginning of the final stage for four tires and another chassis adjustment, lining Gragson up for the lap 87 restart in the 14th position. Once back under green, Gragson reported that the loose-handling condition had returned. Although the handling woes continued, Elenz opted to have Gragson stay out as long as possible during the lone round of green-flag pit stops, moving the JR Motorsports driver into the race lead before ultimately having to come to pit road on lap 134 for four tires and adjustments.
Gragson came back out following the stop in the 16th position, one lap down, but wasted little time moving into the free pass position. The driver of the Switch Chevrolet was then rewarded when an opportune caution on lap 155 moved Gragson back onto the lead lap. Elenz took advantage of this caution period to bring Gragson back to pit road for the last set of fresh tires as the field was set for a three-lap shootout to the finish.
Taking the final restart in 12th on lap 160, Gragson improved three positions in the closing laps to take the checkered flag in the ninth position. With the result, Gragson has now recorded a top 10 in four of his five career starts in the NXS.
Christopher Bell scored the victory, with Cole Custer, JRM teammate Justin Allgaier, Brandon Jones and Tyler Reddick rounding out the top five.
Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 Switch team
“We battled hard today with our Switch Chevrolet and I can’t thank everyone on this JR Motorsports team enough for all of their hard work and for never giving up. We were able to come away with a top-10 finish and can build off of that for sure next weekend at a place I’m very comfortable at, Las Vegas. I’m ready to go.”