Watkins Glen Xfinity Recap: Noah Gragson

(Photo: Harold Hinson Photography)

Start: 18th
Finish: 9th

Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 West Herr Automotive Group Chevrolet Camaro, overcame a penalty during the final round of green-flag pit stops in Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Watkins Glen International to come home with a ninth-place finish. The top-10 result is Gragson’s ninth in the last 10 NXS races and moves the JR Motorsports driver to 127 points ahead of the 12th and final cutoff position for the Playoffs.

Gragson methodically worked his way forward once the green flag waved for the 82-lap event, steadily driving from his 18th starting position up to the top 10 by the completion of lap 6. Gragson’s climb didn’t stop there, as a call to stay out during a lap 10 caution period further moved the driver of the West Herr Automotive Group Chevrolet up the leaderboard to seventh.  The 21-year-old driver never left the top 10 for the remainder of the opening stage, ultimately taking the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 20 in seventh and earning four valuable stage points in the process.

Prior to the beginning of Stage Two, crew chief Dave Elenz called the Las Vegas native to pit road for four tires and an air pressure adjustment after Gragson had reported that he needed some help with the rear-grip through Watkins Glen’s distinct corners. Gragson returned to the track following the stop in 17th due to a multitude of pit strategies among the race leaders and quickly raced back into the top 15 before utilizing a lap 33 caution period to return to pit road for four tires and another round of adjustments. Gragson lined up for the ensuing restart after the stop in 17th and pressed forward in the final four laps of the penultimate stage to take the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 40 in 12th.

During the stage-ending caution, Elenz opted to play with some strategy and chose to keep Gragson out on the track while several of the leaders came to pit road. The call to stay out proved fruitful as Gragson improved to eighth for the beginning of the third and final stage on lap 43. Once back underway, Gragson again began to patiently work his way forward, taking advantage of a variety of pit road strategies to move up the second position behind JRM teammate Justin Allgaier. The rookie-of-the-year contender maintained his position in second until the call was made to come to pit road for the final set of fresh tires under green on lap 60. However, a penalty following the stop for driving through too many pit stalls forced Gragson to make a return trip to pit road in order to serve a pass-through penalty under green.

Utilizing a never-give-up attitude following the penalty, Gragson quickly worked to regain the lost track position, needing only three laps to race back into the top 20 and up to 19th before an opportune caution on lap 68 closed the field back together. While under caution, Elenz once again chose to work with some strategy and decided to keep the driver of the West Herr Automotive Group Chevrolet out on the track while the majority of the leaders came to pit road. The strategy call once again worked to the advantage of the No. 9 team as Gragson lined up for the lap 72 restart in eighth.

Gragson continued to fight for position inside the top 10 for the final 10 laps and survived an additional restart to cross the finish line for the final time in the ninth position.

With the result, Gragson has now scored a top-10 finish in nine of the last 10 NXS races, dating back to Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.

Austin Cindric recorded the victory, with Christopher Bell, JRM teammate Allgaier, Ryan Blaney and Tyler Reddick rounding out the top five.

Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 West Herr Auto Group team

“We fought hard today. We again proved how we never give up and were able to overcome that penalty on pit road to come away with another top-10 finish. I can’t say enough for all these guys on this JR Motorsports team. They make it fun to come to the track each week and they give it their all when it counts. I also can’t thank West Herr Automotive Group enough for coming on board for this weekend. Now it’s on to Mid-Ohio and I am really looking forward to getting out there and seeing what we can do.”