Chicagoland Xfinity Recap: Noah Gragson

(Photo: Harold Hinson Photography)

Start: 10th
Finish: 6th

Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 MagnaFlow Chevrolet Camaro, overcame a penalty early in Stage Three to earn a sixth-place finish in Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Chicagoland Speedway. The result is Gragson’s fifth consecutive top-10 finish and moves the JR Motorsports driver up to seventh in the championship standings.

Gragson took the green flag for the 200-lap event from the 10th position and continued to fight for position inside the top 10 until the first caution of the day came out on lap 11. Despite taking the ensuing restart in ninth, the driver of the MagnaFlow Chevrolet was shuffled back to the 13th position after getting forced four-wide entering the first corner. Undeterred by the loss of track position, Gragson took advantage of the green flag run that ended the opening stage to take the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 45 in the 12th position.

Prior to the beginning of Stage Two, crew chief Dave Elenz called the 20-year-old driver to pit road for four tires and a chassis adjustment after Gragson reported that the MagnaFlow Chevrolet needed more grip rolling through the corner. Returning to the track following the stop in 10th, Gragson maintained his top-10 track position until a lap 77 caution period provided Elenz an opportunity to play with some strategy. With a handful of the leaders choosing to come to pit road, the decision was made to keep Gragson out on the track in order to save a set of tires for the final stage. Although restarting in the fifth position as a result of the strategy call, the fresher tires prevailed as Gragson was shuffled back outside of the top 10 over the final five laps of Stage Two to take the green-and-white checkered flag in 15th.

During the stage-ending caution, Gragson returned to pit road for four tires and some slight repairs to the right-rear fender due to some minor contact with the outside retaining wall just prior to the end of Stage Two. As a result of the repairs, the driver of the MagnaFlow Chevrolet lined up for the lap 96 restart in 23rd and wasted little time charging forward, improving 12 positions to 11th before the caution flag was displayed once again on lap 110. While under caution, Elenz decided to call Gragson back to pit road for four fresh tires, but a penalty for an uncontrolled tire forced the JRM driver to fall to the rear of the field for the lap 115 restart.

Once again unfazed by the loss of track position, Gragson persevered, taking advantage of the long run that ensued to drive back up to the 11th position before the lone round of green flag pit stops commenced for the leaders. Knowing that the leaders would be pitting sporadically, Elenz opted to keep Gragson on-track for as long as possible in the hopes of catching an opportune caution. Then, with just a handful of laps remaining on fuel, the caution flag Elenz was looking for was displayed with Gragson scored in the second position on lap 172. Gragson returned to pit road during the caution for four tires and another round of chassis adjustments.

The driver of the MagnaFlow Chevrolet returned following the stop in the second position for what turned out to be the final restart of the afternoon. After initially getting forced three-wide heading into Turn 1, Gragson slid back to sixth but was able to maintain his track position for the final nine laps to earn his fifth-consecutive top-10 finish.

With the result, Gragson improves to seventh in the championship standings.

Cole Custer earned the victory, with Joey Logano, JRM teammate Annett, Brandon Jones and Austin Cindric rounding out the top five.

Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 MagnaFlow team

“I feel like we learned a lot today with our MagnaFlow Chevrolet. Dave (Elenz, crew chief) made some really good adjustments throughout the race that let us overcome a penalty to bring home another top-10 finish. I’m just really proud to be driving these racecars for JR Motorsports. These guys never quit and we are continuing to build some great momentum moving forward. Hopefully we can keep this going next week in Daytona.”