Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 PUBG Mobile Chevrolet Camaro, was battling for the race lead with less than 10 laps remaining in Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Kansas Speedway before a flat right-rear tire in the closing laps ultimately relegated the JR Motorsports driver to a 13th-place finish. Gragson, who earned valuable stage points at the conclusion of both Stage One and Two, improves to seventh in the playoff seeding with the result, 17 points behind the fourth and final cutoff position with two races remaining in the Round of 8.
After taking the green flag for the 200-lap race from the 10th position Gragson charged forward, racing into the top five for the first time on lap 12 and up to third by lap 14. The driver of the PUBG Chevrolet remained inside the top three throughout the long green-flag run that concluded the opening stage, taking the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 45 in the third position. The stage-ending result also earned Gragson eight valuable stage points in the process.
Prior to the beginning of Stage Two, crew chief Dave Elenz called the JR Motorsports driver to pit road for four tires and a chassis adjustment after Gragson reported that he was free rolling through the corner. However, an issue during the pit top shuffled the Las Vegas native back to the 11th position by the time Stage Two went green on lap 51. Undeterred by the loss of track position, Gragson pushed on, rejoining the top 10 on lap 75. The driver of the PUBG Chevrolet continued his climb up the leaderboard as another long green-flag run developed, utilizing the outside line to drive up to the sixth position before the green-and-white checkered flag was displayed to end Stage Two on lap 90. With the stage result, Gragson earned an additional five stage points.
While under the stage-ending caution, Elenz called the rookie-of-the-year contender back to pit road for four tires and a chassis adjustment, sending Gragson back out for the beginning of Stage Three in the eighth position. Gragson maintained his position inside the top 10 throughout the beginning of the final stage before contact with the outside retaining wall on lap 122 forced the driver of the PUBG Mobile Chevrolet to make an unscheduled pit stop under green with a flat right-front tire. As a result of the stop, Gragson found himself one lap behind the race leaders in the 18th position. However, a quick caution just 12 laps later gave Elenz an opportunity to play with some strategy and keep Gragson out on track for the wave around while the leaders came to pit road. The strategy call paid off as Gragson was able to get back on the lead lap just prior to the lap 151 restart.
Despite being back on the lead lap, Gragson needed the help of an opportune caution on lap 162 to get back on the same tire cycle as the leaders. Now back on equal footing, Gragson methodically moved forward, taking advantage of the outside line to race up to sixth before an incident involving the first and second-place cars slowed the field once again on lap 183. As a result of the incident, Gragson found himself lining up as the second car on the outside line in fourth for the ensuing restart. Then, while battling four-wide for the race lead off of the second corner, Gragson sustained contact that ultimately cut the right-rear tire and forced the 21-year-old driver to return to pit road.
In the closing laps, Gragson battled to regain as many positions as possible before taking the checkered flag in the 13th position.
With the result, Gragson improves to seventh in the NXS Playoffs with two races remaining in the Round of 8.
Brandon Jones scored the victory, with Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe and JRM teammates Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier rounding out the top five.
Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 PUBG Mobile team
“We had a shot to win today with our PUBG Mobile Chevrolet. It’s just unfortunate that we had the right-rear tire go down when we were avoiding the leaders off of Turn 2. But everyone on this No. 9 team should be really proud of themselves. We had a great Camaro all race long and I can’t thank Dave (Elenz, crew chief) and everyone on this JR Motorsports team enough. Although the end result didn’t go as planned, today gives me a ton of confidence heading into Texas.”