Phoenix Xfinity Series Recap: Noah Gragson

(Photo: Harold Hinson Photography)

Start: 12th
Finish: 10th

Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 Lockheed Martin Chevrolet Camaro, earned a 10th-place finish in Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Xfinity Series event at ISM Raceway. Although finishing inside the top 10, Gragson’s bid to advance to the Championship 4 fell just short. Despite not advancing, the JR Motorsports driver did score his 18th top-10 in the last 22 races and his 21st of 2019 as the series heads in to next weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Taking the green flag for the 200-lap event in 12th, Gragson maintained his track position inside the top 15 through much of the opening stage despite reporting to crew chief Dave Elenz that the Lockheed Martin Chevrolet was loose all the way through the distinct corners at ISM. Undeterred by the handling condition, Gragson fought hard throughout the stage, ultimately racing up to the 11th position by the time the green-and-white checkered flag was displayed on lap 45.

While under the stage-ending caution, Elenz called the Las Vegas native to pit road for four tires and a chassis adjustment in the hopes of alleviating the loose-handling condition. Following a great stop by the Lockheed Martin crew, Gragson lined up for the beginning of Stage Two inside the top 10 in the seventh position. The rookie-of-the-year contender continued to fight inside the top 10 throughout the caution-free second stage, battling two and three-wide for position before taking the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 90 in ninth. The stage result also earned Gragson two valuable stage points in the process.

Once back under caution, Gragson reported to Elenz that the Lockheed Martin Chevrolet was still free rolling through the corners. As a result of the feedback, Elenz brought Gragson back to pit road for four tires and a trackbar adjustment. Another solid stop by the Lockheed Martin crew moved Gragson up to the sixth position for the beginning of the third and final stage on lap 98. After quickly moving into the top five following the restart, Gragson reported that the balance had now shifted toward the tight-side. Then, an opportune caution on lap 115 provided Elenz with another opportunity to make adjustments to the JRM Camaro.

During a pit stop cycle that saw a variety of strategies take place, Gragson returned to the track for the ensuing restart in 12th as a number of the race leaders chose to just take fuel only. The driver of the Lockheed Martin Chevrolet needed just one lap to rejoin the top-10 once back underway and remained there throughout the 79-lap green flag run to the finish, battling with Brandon Jones and JRM teammate Michael Annett before taking the checkered flag in the 10th position.

The top-10 result is Gragson’s 21st of the season and his 18th in the last 22 NXS races.

JRM teammate Justin Allgaier scored the victory, with Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, John Hunter Nemechek and JRM teammate Zane Smith rounding out the top five.

Noah Gragson, driver No. 9 Lockheed Martin team

“We fought hard today with our Lockheed Martin Chevrolet. We battled all race long and gave it everything we had. A big congrats to my teammate Justin Allgaier on getting the win and advancing to Homestead. It was a good day for JRM overall and I can’t thank everyone on this No. 9 team enough for all of their hard work. We aren’t going to let not moving on define our season this year. I feel like we learned a lot and I can’t wait to finish this year off on a strong note next weekend.”