Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 Suave Chevrolet Camaro, scored his fifth top-five in the last 10 NASCAR Xfinity Series races after taking the checkered flag in fifth on Saturday afternoon at the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The result is also Gragson’s 16th top-10 finish in the last 18 races, and moves the JR Motorsports driver to seventh in the NXS Playoff Grid, 15 points ahead of the eighth and final cutoff position with one race remaining in the Round of 12. Following the completion next weekend’s event at Dover International Speedway, the bottom four drivers will be eliminated from playoff contention.
Gragson initially qualified for the 67-lap event from the 12th position but had to take the green flag from the rear of the field following an incident in practice that forced the JRM team to unload the backup car for the race. Once underway Gragson charged forward, needing just two laps to drive into to the top-15 and up to as high as 12th before a variety of pit strategies began to playout among the race leaders. With several of the leaders choosing to come to pit road prior to the end of Stage One, crew chief Dave Elenz decided to keep Gragson on-track in order to gain the maximum amount of points possible. The decision paid off as Gragson moved into the top 10 in the final two laps of the stage to take the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 20 in ninth, earning two valuable stage points in the process.
Prior to the beginning of Stage Two, Elenz called the driver of the Suave Chevrolet to pit road for four tires and a chassis adjustment after Gragson had reported that he needed help with rear drive on the exit of the corners. Returning to the track following the stop in 13th, the Las Vegas native again moved forward, taking advantage of the caution-free second stage to race up to eighth before the leaders once again utilized a variety of pit strategies. Staying true to the game plan from Stage One, Elenz elected to have Gragson stay out while a handful of leaders came to pit road, ultimately moving the 21-year-old driver up to fifth by the completion of Stage Two on lap 40. The stage result also earned Gragson six additional stage points.
While under the stage-ending caution, Gragson reported to Elenz that he felt like there was an issue with the voltage coming from the battery inside the car. After surveying the issue on pit road, Gragson headed back out for the beginning of the final stage in 24th. Despite the loss of track position Gragson persevered, improving 11 positions while narrowly avoiding a multi-car incident heading into Turn 1 on lap 43 to rejoin the top-15. The driver of the Suave Chevrolet’s ascent toward the front persisted on the ensuing restart as Gragson raced to the eighth position before a lap 48 caution slowed the field once again.
The rookie-of-the-year contender then continued to fight for position inside the top 10 throughout a rash of cautions before ultimately moving up to fifth as the final caution flag of the afternoon was displayed on lap 61. Lining up as the third car on the inside line for the lap 64 restart, Gragson battled for position with JRM teammate Justin Allgaier for the remaining laps before taking the checkered flag in fifth.
With the result, Gragson’s top-10 finish streak improves to 16 out of the last 18 NXS races and moves the JRM driver to seventh in the NXS Playoff Grid with one race remaining in the Round of 12.
AJ Allmendinger scored the victory, with Tyler Reddick, Austin Cindric, JRM teammate Allgaier and Gragson rounding out the top five.
Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 Suave team
“I’m very thankful to be driving for this team and these guys on this Suave Chevrolet. I put them in a bind to start the weekend with our crash in practice but these guys worked tirelessly on this backup and it feels great to be able to reward that with a top-five finish. We did what we needed to do today and got as many points as we could so that we can keep building on that cushion in the points heading into Dover next week. Hopefully we can keep this momentum going and have a smooth weekend next week and move on to the next round of playoffs.”