Noah Gragson wins wild Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Noah Gragson charged to the front on the final lap and outran Kyle Larson and Sheldon Creed in a tight battle to win Saturday night’s Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.
Sheldon Creed took the lead on a round of pit stops late in the race and led until Gragson and Larson surged to the front and made the fight for the win a three-way battle. The three drivers had a fierce battle over the closing two miles, with Larson and Creed running side by side and banging fenders. Creed ran much of the final lap against the outside wall, struggling to reach the finish line.
While Larson and Creed wrestled for the lead and slowed after contact, Gragson, driving a JR Motorsports Chevrolet, slipped past on the inside and won the race, his fourth victory of the year. Creed finished second, followed by AJ Allmendinger, Justin Allgaier and Larson.
Creed and Larson shook hands on pit road before discussing the finish. “They made it one hell of a race,” Gragson said. “They made it back to the line. It was spectacular there at the end.”
Gragson was momentarily dazed after climbing from his car following a series of burnouts. He later said smoke inside the car made him dizzy. “I was breathing that in and got pretty nauseous and tunnel vision,” he said. “I felt like i was about to pass out.”
Pole winner Brandon Jones slammed the wall between Turn 3 and 4 with 20 laps to go, causing a caution flag and bunching the field. Creed’s team returned him to the track first, and he kept the lead until the final laps. Creed led 47 laps.
Gragson, 24, had the race’s dominant car. He won the first stage and led 79 of the first 90 laps. He totaled 82 laps led for the race.
“I was real proud of him (Gragson),” said team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. “You wouldn’t know it by the way the car looks now. He didn’t get into the fence. He didn’t hurt the car. He was sitting there when the opportunity was presented to him on the last lap. That was because he had the patience and understanding. He did smart things to keep himself out of trouble when he wasn’t in position to win the race.”
The caution flew on lap 88 when flames popped underneath JJ Yeley’s car.
Rain brought out a caution flag on lap 68, and the race was redflagged because of a downpour three laps later with Gragson in the lead. The red flag lasted two hours and 37 minutes.
Minutes after the start of the second stage, a four-car incident caused a caution flag. Involved in the crash were Kris Wright, Riley Herbst, Joe Graf Jr. and Myatt Snider.
A bizarre incident prior to the start of Stage 2 damaged two cars. While the field circled under caution, the car of Anthony Alfredo slammed into the rear of John Hunter Nemechek’s car, causing major damage to Alfredo’s car. Alfredo apparently lost control after a brief bout of sickness in his car.
There are two races -- Sept. 10 at Kansas and Sept. 16 at Bristol -- remaining before the start of the playoffs Sept. 24 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Stage 1 winner: Noah Gragson
Stage 2 winner: Justin Allgaier
Who had a good race: Noah Gragson led much of the race, lost the lead late and then stormed back to the front on the final lap to win for the fourth time this season. ... Sheldon Creed engaged defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson in a thoroughly entertaining battle closing out the race.
Who had a bad race: Anthony Alfredo crashed his car into John Hunter Nemechek’s during a caution period. Alfredo apparently was sick inside the car and lost control. He finished next-to-last.