The NASCAR Xfinity Series kicked off the Sept. 11 doubleheader at Richmond Raceway with 250 laps around the .75-mile short track. The race featured a Hall of Fame inductee, as well as a Camping World Truck Series star, but a championship contender took care of business. Noah Gragson won his second consecutive race and continued the streak where JR Motorsports drivers have won the past three Xfinity Series races on Sept. 11.
The final stage featured several cautions and restarts due to incidents on the track, but Gragson continued pushing. He lined up at the front of the pack next to Truck Series star John Hunter Nemechek on the final restart and used his tires to jump to the lead. He continued building up his advantage while Nemechek battled with Justin Haley and several other drivers. Haley came close to fighting for the lead, but he could not overtake Gragson, who led the final 14 laps.
Gragson climbed out of his stock car and celebrated with the American flag in hand. He then explained to NBC Sports that winning is great but that there were more important things to think about. “This isn’t about us. This is about everyone who lost their lives on 9/11,” he said after winning.
Haley locked up his third consecutive top-five finish at Richmond, which includes his win at Daytona International Speedway. Nemechek finished third while driving for Sam Hunt Racing, JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier took fourth, and Stewart-Haas Racing’s rounded out the top five.
Tommy Joe Martins Turned Heads in Stage 1
The driver-owner of Martins Motorsports, Tommy Joe Martins sparked some comments during the latter portions of Stage 1. He put new tires on the No. 44 Alpha Prime Chevrolet Camaro and then proceeded to chase down the leaders.
Martins battled with AJ Allmendinger for several laps before he ultimately pulled off the pass. He headed to the inside of the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet Camaro and then got a run to fully complete the pass. However, he did not have a simple run to the green and white checkered flag.
Martins and Allmendinger continued to battle during the final five laps, each taking the lead at points. The driver of the No. 44 jumped back into the lead on the final lap and appeared to be within reach of his first-ever stage win, but lap traffic disrupted his day. David Starr’s No. 66 slowed him down just enough for Allmendinger to win the final run to the start-finish line and steal the stage win.
Unfortunately for Martins and the No. 44 team, he had issues during Stages 2 and 3. He spun shortly after the start of Stage 2 and brought out the caution. He then slammed into the wall with under 20 laps remaining and crumpled the right side of his stock car.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Had an Interesting Return to the Track
The two-time Busch Series champion in Earnhardt made his annual start in the Xfinity Series, climbing into the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro with a paint scheme honoring first responders. He then experienced an eventful afternoon of interesting moments.
Earnhardt turned heads early as he battled Josh Williams for position. The two stock cars made contact a few times, leading to interesting commentary from both drivers. Earnhardt made jokes about having fun while Williams expressed a very different opinion. “I don’t care if he’s a hero or not, he keeps jacking me up. Jesus Christ. You got plenty of room, use it,” Williams said over his radio, per reporter Dustin Albino.
Earnhardt steadily worked his way through the field during Stage 1 and into Stage 2 after battling with Josh Berry for 20th. He worked his way into the top-10 two separate times and finished the second segment 12th overall. However, Earnhardt ran into an issue late in Stage 3. He received a speeding penalty, fell back to the rear of the pack, and then he sustained minor damage after hitting the wall with fewer than 20 laps remaining.
Earnhardt ultimately finished the day 14th overall before talking about how he couldn’t quite get the car to run like he wanted. Though the Hall of Fame inductee noted that he had a ton of fun and that he loves bumping and running with the Xfinity Series drivers.