Darlington Raceway and the Xfinity Series just combined to deliver an all-time finish. Kyle Larson, Sheldon Creed, and Noah Gragson went toe-to-toe in a wild final battle, which led to sparks flying, a video game move, and the No. 9 back in Victory Lane.
The drivers lined up for a restart with fewer than 15 laps remaining in the Xfinity Series. Creed jumped to the lead in the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro using his short-run speed. He appeared to be en route to his first career Xfinity Series win, but Gragson and Larson tracked him down with faster lap times and made things very interesting.
It appeared that Gragson would take the lead, but he made contact with Creed and had to check up. Larson used the contact to jump into the second position and he went side-by-side with Creed as they took the white flag.
The two drivers kept making contact on the final lap before Creed realized he had a cut tire. He responded by using an “Xbox move” and turning the No. 2 into the wall. The rookie attempted to ride the wall all the way to the checkered flag, but Gragson jumped into the lead on the final turn. Creed ultimately finished second while Larson finished fifth. AJ Allmendinger and Justin Allgaier navigated their way to third and fourth, respectively.
“It was just fun racing,” Larson told media members on pit road, video courtesy of NBC Sports’ Dustin Long. “It’s hard. I mean, hard racing for the win there. I’ve got a lot of respect for Sheldon. He’s a really hard racer, and it was really cool to do battle with him for the win there.”
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The Xfinity Series has had no shortage of exciting finishes over the years. However, the September 3 race at Darlington Raceway took the conversation in a different direction. There were three drivers all battling for the win on the final lap, and there were scenarios in which each one reached Victory Lane.
There was also another scenario where they all crashed and Allmendinger celebrated another win. The race played out in such a manner that its outcome remained in doubt until the very last second, which just made the finish even more exciting.
Gragson Set a New Career Mark at Darlington Raceway
The win was wild in its own right, but it also helped Gragson make some major moves. He set a new personal best with his fourth trip to Victory Lane in the Xfinity Series and his second career win at Darlington Raceway.
The Las Vegas native entered the 2022 Xfinity Series season with five career wins. He won his first two races during the 2020 season, which included the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. He then added three more wins during a 2021 season in which he reached the championship four for the first time in his career.
The 2022 season has featured even better performances for Gragson and the No. 9 team. He joined forces with a new crew chief in Luke Lambert, and he kicked off the season with four straight podium finishes. This included a win at Phoenix Raceway.
Gragson has since added wins at Talladega Superspeedway, Pocono Raceway, and Darlington Raceway. He now has 32 playoff points with two races remaining in the regular season, the most of the Xfinity Series drivers. This will only give him an advantage once the playoffs begin.
Creed Made Major Strides for the No. 2 Team
The race at Darlington Raceway presented a major opportunity for Creed. He was in the lead with two laps remaining, and he was in a position to win his first career Xfinity Series race at a track where he already had two Truck Series wins.
If Creed’s video game move had panned out, he would have punched his ticket to the playoffs and joined fellow rookie — and teammate — Austin Hill. Instead, he left the South Carolina track still winless.
Creed entered the Darlington weekend more than 40 points below Ryan Sieg, who sat in the final transfer spot. He finished second overall with points in Stage 2 while Sieg ended his day 18th overall in what was a relatively quiet day. Now Creed is only 16 points below the cutline with two races remaining in the regular season.
The Richard Childress Racing driver’s next opportunity will be at Kansas Speedway. He has no Xfinity Series experience at the track or at Bristol Motor Speedway, which will host the regular-season finale. He does have two top-10 finishes and one runner-up at Kansas Speedway in the Truck Series.