Noah Gragson came heartbreakingly close a week ago to his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory of the 2022 season. On Saturday, his No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet left no doubt as to who would be hoisting the winner’s trophy.
Gragson led 72 of the final 87 laps – a race best 114 of 200 laps on the day – to earn the win in the United Rentals 200 at Phoenix Raceway. He passed race runner-up Brandon Jones with 15 laps remaining, negotiated lapped traffic and ultimately pulled away to an impressive 2.555-second win.
The 23-year old Las Vegas native and his team celebrated the victory by scaling the wire fence on the front straightaway and pumping their fists at the cheering crowd. It was not only the first win of the year, but it was the fourth straight top-five finish for the team and increased his Xfinity Series championship lead to a more substantial 39 points over rookie Ty Gibbs, who finished sixth Saturday.
“Feels great,’’ said a grinning Gragson, who now has six career Xfinity Series wins.
“Pit crew executed great and this team has been on a roll so far this year,’’ he added. “Top three finishes in all four races. Can’t thank everybody enough for all their hard work.’’
Jones, who used a short-pit strategy to close out the race, just couldn’t hold off Gragson in the final laps of a race that had only four caution periods – and none in the final 101 laps of competition.
“I’m still all-in-all very happy to come home second,’’ said Jones, whose season got off to a rough start with a crash two weeks ago and a 17th place in the Daytona season-opener.
There were 16 lead changes – primarily among Gragson, Jones – a former Phoenix winner – and Trevor Bayne, who won the 2011 DAYTONA 500 in his first try, but has raced sparingly in the last few years. Bayne won the pole position for Saturday’s race and his third-place finish is his second top-five in as many starts in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota this year.
Gragson’s teammate Josh Berry, Bayne, and John Hunter Nemechek rounded out the top-five. The 19-year old Gibbs, who races for his grandfather Joe Gibbs’ team, won last week at Las Vegas and finished sixth on Saturday. The three Kaulig Racing teammates A.J. Allmendinger, reigning Xfinity Series champion Daniel Hemric and Landon Cassill finished seventh, eighth and ninth respectively and Gragson’s veteran JR Motorsports teammate, Justin Allgaier completed the top-10.
Allgaier, a two-time Phoenix winner, had been running top-five all day – even leading five laps – but was penalized for a pit infraction on the final pit stop and had to race back through the field.
Bayne won Stage 1 and Gragson won Stage 2 for a series best third stage victory of the season.