Talladega Recap: Noah Gragson

(Photo: Harold Hinson Photography)

Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 Armour Vienna Sausage Chevrolet Camaro, won the second stage of Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Talladega Superspeedway and overcame an incident during the final stage to improve 11 positions over the final two laps to earn a hard-fought 11th-place finish. With the stage-two victory, Gragson has now earned one playoff point and has improved to ninth in the championship standings.

Gragson took the green flag for the 113-lap event from the 14th position and maintained his track position inside the lead pack until the first caution flag of the day was displayed on lap 7. During this caution period, crew chief Dave Elenz called the 20-year-old driver to pit road for four tires and a chassis adjustment, sending Gragson back out for the lap 11 restart in the 33rd position. Once back underway, the driver of the Armour Vienna Sausage Chevrolet wasted little time moving forward, taking advantage of the middle lane to improve 22 positions over the final 14 laps of Stage One to take the green-and-white checkered flag in ninth on lap 25. The stage-ending result also earned Gragson two valuable stage points.

Prior to the beginning of Stage Two, Elenz called Gragson back to pit road for fuel only, which moved the driver of the Armour Vienna Sausage Chevrolet up to the second position for the lap 31 restart. After initially battling for the race lead with JRM teammate Justin Allgaier, Gragson powered ahead with help from the outside lane to move into sole possession of the lead. Once out front, the Las Vegas, Nev. native took command over the pack, as the field followed in toe behind Gragson on the outside of a single-file line of cars. The field remained in that lock-step formation behind the JRM driver until the final lap of the caution-free stage. During the final lap, Gragson had to fend off challenges from both the inside and outside lanes to secure the stage victory and earn an extremely valuable playoff point.

However, Gragson’s run to the stage victory did come at a slight cost as the Rookie of the Year contender was forced to come to pit road immediately after taking the green-and-white checkered flag to get debris cleared off of the grill of an overheating Armour Vienna Sausage Chevrolet.

Due to the early stop on pit road, Gragson had to begin the third and final stage from the rear of the field in the 29th position. Despite finding himself now in the back of the lead pack, Gragson persevered, needing only four laps to improve 18 positions before a caution on lap 66 provided Elenz with another opportunity to bring the No. 9 back to pit road. Gragson lined up for the ensuing restart following the fuel-only stop in ninth and continued to fight for track position in the pack until contact with the No. 2 exiting the tri-oval on lap 85 sent the Armour Vienna Sausage Chevrolet sliding into the inside retaining wall, causing damage to the left-front fender and splitter.

After pitting several times for repairs during the subsequent caution, Gragson was scored in the 31st position, two laps behind the leaders. Utilizing a never-give-up attitude, Gragson once again pressed forward and raced into the free pass position despite being two laps down and was able to take advantage of consecutive cautions on laps 102 and 108 to get back on the lead lap.

Now back on the lead lap Gragson’s final charge began, as the driver of the Armour Vienna Sausage Chevrolet improved 11 positions in the final two laps to score an 11th-place finish.

With the result, Gragson now sits ninth in the championship standings following the first nine events of the NXS season.

Tyler Reddick earned the victory, with Gray Gaulding, Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric rounding out the top five.

Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 Armour Vienna Sausage team

“Today was a battle. We fought hard all race long and had a really fast Armour Vienna Sausage Camaro. It was great to get out front and lead some laps and get that stage win. It’s just unfortunate that we ran into that issue through the tri-oval. It was one of those things where there was nothing I could really do. I just want to thank Dave (Elenz, crew chief) and all my guys on this JR Motorsports team for all of their hard work and for never giving up. Today wasn’t the result we should’ve had, but it shows the fight this group has to rebound from the spin and damage to the fender to still come home 11th.”