Daytona Xfinity Recap: Noah Gragson

(Photo: Harold Hinson Photography)

Start: 16th
Finish: 15th

Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 Switch Chevrolet Camaro, had a strong run come to an abrupt end in Friday evening’s rain-delayed NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Daytona International Speedway after getting collected in a multi-car incident on lap 86 while battling for a top-five running position. The resulting damage from the incident ultimately relegated the JR Motorsports driver with a 15th-place finish.

Following a two-hour delay for heavy rain, Gragson took the long-awaited green flag in the 16th position and wasted little time drafting toward the front, taking advantage of the outside line to move into the top 10 by the completion of lap 2. The driver of the Switch Chevrolet maintained his track position until the first caution of the day on lap 8 provided crew chief Dave Elenz with an opportunity to bring Gragson to pit road for four tires and a chassis adjustment in the hopes of improving a loose-handling condition. Returning to the track following the stop in 27th, Gragson once again charged forward, improving 19 positions to eighth before the caution flag was displayed once again on lap 23.

Opting to stay out during this caution period, the Las Vegas native found himself scored in seventh for the two-lap shootout to end Stage One. After initially having his run stalled out, Gragson utilized the inside line to draft into the top five and up to the fourth position by the time the green-and-white checkered flag was displayed on lap 30, netting the JRM driver seven valuable stage points in the process.

During the stage-ending caution, Gragson was called back to pit road for fuel-only while a handful of cars chose to remain on-track. As a result of this decision, the driver of the Switch Chevrolet lined up for the beginning of Stage Two in seventh. Once back underway, Gragson pressed forward, drafting up to as high as fourth before another incident slowed the field on lap 45. While under caution, Elenz decided to make a strategy call and brought Gragson back to pit road for four fresh tires in the hopes of not having to take new tires for the remainder of the night. With the majority of the leaders staying out, Gragson took the lap 50 restart in 17th and quickly worked his way back forward behind JRM teammate Justin Allgaier. The duo methodically drafted back into the top 10 in the final laps of the second stage before ultimately taking the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 60 in the seventh position. The stage result also earned Gragson an additional four stage points.

Prior to the beginning of the third and final stage, Gragson returned to pit road for another fuel-only stop, sending the driver of the Switch Chevrolet back out for the lap 65 restart in the second position. After swapping the lead back-and-forth with teammate Allgaier, Gragson settled in to third before a lap 72 caution bunched the lead pack back together. On the ensuing restart, Gragson continued to draft with Allgaier until a multi-car incident broke out on lap 86 down the back straightaway, leaving the 20-year-old driver with nowhere to go and severely damage the right-side of the Switch Chevrolet.

After pitting several times for repairs, Gragson was scored in 20th but was able to steadily move forward in the final 10 laps to take the checkered flag in the 15th position.

Ross Chastain earned the victory, with Justin Haley, Christopher Bell, Austin Cindric and Stephen Leicht rounding out the top five.

Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 Switch team

“We had a really fast Switch Chevrolet tonight and I can’t thank Dave (Elenz, crew chief) and all of my guys on this team for their hard work. We drafted up to the front several times and got to take the lead at one point. But it’s just unfortunate that we had nowhere to go and got collected in that wreck on the backstretch. We were working our way back forward and just couldn’t miss them all. It’s a tough break but we are ready to get back after it and have a strong run next week in Kentucky.”