Noah Gragson is officially heading to the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs. The driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro won at Darlington Raceway on Saturday, Sept. 4, and locked up his spot in the chase for the championship trophy.
Gragson showed up to the track with a very fast car, keeping him near the front of the pack throughout the first two stages. He locked up second in Stage 1 behind Daniel Hemric after Denny Hamlin spun and then won Stage 2 to punch his ticket to the playoffs on points. Gragson remained fighting for the lead throughout the final stage, even securing the lead late multiple times before caution flags waved due to other incidents on the track.
The drivers lined up for the final overtime shootout after a late caution flag due to debris on the track. Gragson took the bottom line while Cindric took the outside. The driver of the No. 9 jumped out with a great launch and pulled into the lead with two laps remaining. Cindric fell back into the pack while Harrison Burton fought Gragson throughout the final two laps. The No. 20 could not complete the pass before the checkered flag waved.
With the playoff spot secure, Gragson is now the second driver for JRM officially in the chase for the championship trophy. Justin Allgaier secured his spot with two wins early in the season — Atlanta Motor Speedway and the first Darlington Race. Michael Annett, on the other hand, remains in the hunt for the final playoff spot while Sam Mayer is ineligible due to only running a partial schedule.
Gragson Capped Off an Exciting Week at JRM
The driver of the No. 9 entered the race weekend at Darlington fresh off of an exciting announcement. He and JRM revealed Aug. 31 that he would return to the race team for his fourth full-time season, using a highlight video on Twitter to deliver the news.
The team confirmed that Bass Pro Shops, True Timber, and Black Rifle Coffee Company will return as Gragson’s main sponsors, helping him compete for a spot in the playoffs and the championship once again. Though Gragson will first focus on winning the Xfinity Series title in 2021.
“Johnny Morris believed in me enough to put Bass Pro Shops on my car to start the 2020 season, and it paid off with victory the first time out,” Gragson said in a press release ahead of the race weekend. “It was special to stand in Victory Lane at Daytona with Johnny right beside me. Bass Pro Shops, Rusty Sellers at TrueTimber and Evan and Mat at Black Rifle Coffee Company have been fantastic to work with. We still have a lot to accomplish this season but I’m looking forward to battling for a series championship again in 2022.”
Riley Herbst Exited After a Terrifying Collision
The driver of the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang, Riley Herbst entered the Xfinity Series race with the goal of winning his first race of the season and extending his lead in the points standings over fellow bubble driver Michael Annett. However, his day came to an early end due to a terrifying wreck.
The NBC Sports broadcast went to NASCAR Nonstop in order to keep fans locked in during a commercial break. The race feed did not have audio, but the viewers saw the caution flag wave and Herbst’s No. 98 come to a halt with a fire raging in the engine compartment.
Once the race returned from the commercial break, the broadcast team showed a replay and revealed that Herbst had slammed into the back of Tommy Joe Martin’s No. 44 Chevrolet at full speed. There were two cars blocking Herbst’s view, and he had no idea that Martins was moving at a much slower speed. He maneuvered to the left of one stock car and had no time to react before slamming into the No. 44.
Fortunately, both drivers avoided serious injuries in the collision. They headed to the infield care center and underwent an examination. NASCAR officials later revealed that they had released both drivers.