Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 Cessna / Southern Tire Mart Chevrolet Camaro, had a promising run come to an early end in Saturday evening’s NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Texas Motor Speedway. Gragson was battling for position inside the top 10 with just over 50 laps to go before contact with the No. 18 through the quad-oval sent the JR Motorsports driver sliding through the infield, causing severe damage the nose of the Cessna / Southern Tire Mart Camaro. As a result of the incident, Gragson was relegated to a 30th-place finish and now sits eighth in the playoff seeding with one race remaining in the Round of 8.
Gragson took the green flag for the 200-lap event from the 10th position and remained inside the top 10 until contact with a lapped car in the left-rear forced the JRM driver to come to pit road under the first caution of the evening on lap 18 for four fresh tires. Undaunted by the loss of track position, Gragson charged forward, improving 13 positions over the final 20 laps of the opening stage to take the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 45 in 13th.
During the stage-ending caution, Gragson reported to crew chief Dave Elenz that he needed help with both the entry and the exit of the corner. With that feedback in mind, Elenz called the 21-year-old driver to pit road for four tires and a chassis adjustment, sending Gragson back out for the beginning of Stage Two in the 19th position. Once back underway the Las Vegas native again pressed forward, racing back up to the 11th position before a lap 78 caution period provided an opportunity for Elenz to play with some strategy. With a number of the leaders choosing to come to pit road, Elenz opted to keep Gragson out on the track in the hopes of gaining some track position. The strategy call paid off as Gragson moved up to sixth for the ensuing restart on lap 84. The driver of the Cessna / Southern Tire Mart Chevrolet remained in the sixth position as the green-and-white checkered flag waved to end Stage Two on lap 90, earning five valuable stage points in the process.
Prior to the beginning of the third and final stage, Gragson returned to pit road for four tires and another round of adjustments after reporting that he needed more help with rear-end security on the entry of the corner. Returning to the track following the stop in 15th Gragson once again moved forward, driving back up to 11th before a lap 127 caution gave Elenz another chance to make improvements to the Cessna / Southern Tire Mart Chevrolet. Following a quick four tire stop, Gragson lined up for the lap 134 restart in the ninth position and remained there until the caution flag was displayed once again on lap 138.
With the fuel window now open to make it to the end, Elenz called Gragson back to pit road for a fuel-only stop, sending the rookie-of-the-year contender back out for the ensuing restart in 11th as a handful of cars stayed on-track. Despite the loss of track position, Gragson marched on, utilizing a three-wide move to race back into the top 10 just one lap after the restart. Then, contact while battling for the seventh position with the No. 18 sent Gragson sliding through the infield, ultimately causing severe damage to the nose of the Cessna / Southern Tire Mart Chevrolet. The subsequent damage left Gragson unable to continue, relegating the JRM driver to a 30th-place finish.
With the result, Gragson sits eighth in the playoff seeding with one race remaining in the Round of 8.
Christopher Bell earned the victory, with Ross Chastain, Austin Cindric, Brandon Jones and John Hunter Nemechek rounding out the top five.
Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 Cessna / Southern Tire Mart team
“It’s really unfortunate that our night was cut short tonight with our Cessna / Southern Tire Mart Chevrolet. I just want to thank everyone on this JR Motorsports team for all of their hard work. We know what is ahead of us next week in Phoenix and I can’t think of a stronger group of guys to go to battle with to do what we can to make the Championship 4 in Homestead. We’re going to give it all we can and see what we can do.”