Gragson Earns Stage Points, Finishes 11th at Phoenix

(Photo: Harold Hinson Photography)

Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 Switch Chevrolet Camaro, earned valuable stage points at the end of both Stage One and Two before ultimately taking the checkered flag in the 11th position in Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Xfinity Series event at ISM Raceway. With the result, Gragson improves to eighth in the championship standings, just 39 markers behind leader Tyler Reddick.

Gragson took the green flag for the 200-lap event from the sixth position after advancing to the final round of knockout qualifying on Saturday morning. After initially racing into the top five, the driver of the Switch Chevrolet reported to crew chief Dave Elenz that the car had gone to the tight-side from the center to the exit of the corner. Despite not handling to his liking, Gragson maintained his top-10 track position until a lap 32 caution period provided Elenz with the first opportunity to bring the rookie driver to pit road for four tires and adjustments. Returning to the track in 11th, Gragson charged forward, needing only four laps to race back into the top 10 and up to the seventh position by the completion of the opening stage on lap 45, earning four valuable stage points in the process.

Elenz elected to have Gragson stay out during the stage-ending caution, moving the JR Motorsports driver up to fifth for the beginning of Stage Two on lap 53. The Las Vegas, Nev. native fought for position inside the top five throughout the caution-free second stage, taking the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 90 in the fifth position and earning an additional six valuable stage points.

Following the completion of Stage Two, Gragson reported that the handling of the Switch Chevrolet had improved over the short run but was still tight from the center to the exit of the corner as the run progressed. As a result, Elenz called the JRM driver back to pit road prior to the beginning of the third and final stage for four tires and another round of chassis adjustments. Gragson returned to the track following the stop in the seventh position, but was shuffled back to 14th on the ensuing restart as the handling had once again gone to the tight-side. Although the handling woes persisted, Gragson never gave up and remained inside the top 15 until the caution flag was displayed once again on lap 130.

After pitting for the final set of sticker tires, Gragson lined up for the lap 142 restart in 12th and wasted little time moving forward, utilizing a three-wide move through the dogleg on the frontstraightaway to drive back into the top 10. Gragson continued to fight for position in the closing laps with John Hunter Nemechek and Ryan Sieg before ultimately taking the checkered flag in the 11th position.

With the result, Gragson improved two positions to eighth in the championship standings and trails leader Reddick by just 39 points.

Kyle Busch brought home the victory, with JRM teammate Ryan Truex, Reddick, Cole Custer and Austin Cindric rounding out the top five.

Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 Switch team

“We fought hard today with our Switch Chevrolet. Dave (Elenz, crew chief) and everyone on this JR Motorsports team worked hard all weekend long and I can’t thank them enough for everything. Today wasn’t the end result we were looking for but we learned a lot that can help us moving forward, especially when we get back here at the end of the season.”