Michigan Xfinity Recap: Noah Gragson

(Photo: Getty Images)

Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 Switch Chevrolet Camaro, overcame damage sustained to the left-front fender coming to pit road prior to the beginning of the final stage to improve 23 positions over the final 49 laps to earn a second-place finish in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Michigan International Speedway. With the result, Gragson has now tied his career best finish in the NXS and has recorded a top-10 in three consecutive races dating back to Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 25.

Gragson lined up for the 125-lap event from the fourth position and maintained his track position inside the top five throughout the opening stage, despite reporting to crew chief Dave Elenz that the Switch Chevrolet had shifted toward the tight-side over the course of the run. Although not handling to his liking, Gragson powered through and took the green-and-white checkered flag to end Stage One on lap 30 in the fifth position, earning six valuable stage points in the process.

During the stage-ending caution, Elenz called the Las Vegas native to pit road for four tires and a chassis adjustment in the hopes of improving the handling of the Switch Chevrolet. Gragson returned to the track following the stop in fourth, but was forced to the outside groove going into Turn 2 on the ensuing restart and was shuffled back to 12th. Undeterred by the loss of track position, Gragson pressed forward and drove back into the top 10 in the closing laps of the caution-free second stage, ultimately taking the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 60 in 10th and earning an additional stage point.

Once back under caution, Elenz called Gragson back to pit road in preparation for the final stage for four tires and another round of adjustments. However, just before getting to his stall, Gragson and the No. 19 of Brandon Jones made contact, damaging the left-front fender of the Switch Chevrolet and forcing an elongated stay on pit road for repairs. Despite returning to the track following the repairs in 23rd, the 20-year-old driver charged forward, improving 13 positions to 10th before the caution flag was displayed once again on lap 71. Opting to play with some strategy, Elenz made the decision to bring the driver of the Switch Chevrolet back to pit road to top-off on the fuel in the hopes of making it to the end without stopping.

As a result of the fuel-only stop, Gragson took the green flag on lap 76 in 25th but was able to take advantage of a quick caution on the restart to move up to 19th.  Then, with the majority of the race leaders choosing the come to pit road, Gragson remained on the track, moving the Switch Chevrolet up to the ninth position for the lap 81 restart. Now back inside the top 10, Gragson’s climb forward continued as the rookie driver methodically took advantage of a long green-flag run to work his way up to the fourth position by lap 115.

The driver of the Switch Chevrolet’s march toward the front didn’t stop there as Gragson took advantage of the draft to work past Paul Menard and JRM teammate Michael Annett in the closing laps to take the checkered flag in the second position.

The result is Gragon’s third top-five finish of 2019 and his third-consecutive top-10 dating back to Charlotte.

Tyler Reddick earned the victory, with Gragson, JRM teammate Annett, Paul Menard and JRM teammate Justin Allgaier rounding out the top five.

Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 Switch team

“Today was a really good and solid day for everyone on this Switch team. These guys never give up and keep fighting and we were able to take a bad situation with that damage on pit road and turn it into another good day. We have some really good momentum on our side right now and I feel like everything is really coming together. I just can’t thank these guys enough and I can’t wait to get to Iowa.”