Las Vegas Xfinity Series Recap: Noah Gragson

(Photo: Getty Images)

Start: 36th
Finish: 6th

Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 Switch Chevrolet Camaro, earned a sixth-place finish in Saturday evening’s regular-season finale for the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With the result, Gragson heads into the 2019 NXS Playoffs as the eighth seed with seven top fives and 17 top 10s. The JR Motorsports driver trails series leader Tyler Reddick by just 50 points heading into the opening round of the playoffs next weekend in Richmond.

Gragson took the green flag for the 200-lap event from the rear of the field after an incident in qualifying prevented the Las Vegas native from completing his lap. Despite starting at the rear, Gragson charged forward, needing only five laps to improve 23 positions and race into the top 15. The rookie driver’s climb didn’t stop there, as Gragson methodically worked through traffic to drive up to the 12th position by the time the caution-free opening stage came to a close on lap 45.

During the stage-ending caution, Gragson reported to crew chief Dave Elenz that the Switch Chevrolet was loose rolling through the corner. With this knowledge in hand, Elenz opted to bring Gragson to pit road for four tires and a chassis adjustment, sending the JRM driver back out for the beginning of Stage Two in the ninth position. Once back underway Gragson continued to fight for position, racing up to as high as seventh before the loose-handling condition returned. This handling condition ultimately shuffled Gragson back to 11th by the time the green-and-white checkered flag was displayed to end the caution-free second stage on lap 90.

Prior to the beginning of the third and final stage, Elenz made the decision to call Gragson back to pit road for another round of adjustments in the hopes of improving the handling of the Switch Chevrolet. Returning to the track following the stop in 11th, Gragson again pressed forward, taking advantage of a caution on lap 111 to march back into the top 10. The 21-year-old driver continued to fight for position inside the top 10 throughout the green flag run that followed, moving up to as high as sixth before reporting that the persistent loose condition had returned. Despite not handling to his liking, the decision was made for Gragson to stay out during a lap 127 caution period, lining the playoff contender up in the 10th position for the ensuing restart.

Once back underway Gragson patiently went to work, taking advantage of a long green-flag run to drive up to seventh before a variety of pit strategies began to take place for the race leaders. Choosing to stay out a handful of laps longer than those in front, Gragson moved up to fourth before coming to pit road for his final stop of the day under green on lap 171. Gragson exited pit road following the stop in 12th but wasted little time driving back toward the front, utilizing the outside line to improve six positions in the final 25 laps to take the checkered flag in sixth.

With the result, Gragson has now scored a top-10 finish in 14 of the last 16 NXS races and enters the opening round of the 2019 playoffs as the eighth seed, 50 points shy of the series lead.

Reddick brought home the victory, with Christopher Bell, Brandon Jones, Cole Custer and JRM teammate Justin Allgaier rounding out the top five.

Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 Switch team

“I feel like I definitely learned a lot today with our Switch Chevrolet. We were able to overcome some obstacles throughout the day, starting with qualifying, and were able to come home with another really solid finish. I can’t thank all of the guys on this JR Motorsports team enough for everything they do. We are heading in to the playoffs with a lot of momentum on our side and hopefully we can carry that through each of these rounds and be there in the end down in Homestead.”