Noah Gragson owned the NASCAR Xfinity Series competition as he won Saturday’s United Rentals 200 at Phoenix Raceway, leading 114 of 200 laps.
The series veteran beat former Phoenix winner Brandon Jones by 2.555 seconds to score his sixth career victory. Josh Berry, Trevor Bayne and John Hunter Nemechek rounded out the top-five.
Gragson became the first driver since Elliott Sadler in 2012 to start the first four races with all top-three finishes. The crew chief for Sadler that year was Luke Lambert, who so happened to be calling Gragson’s shots this year.
It’s their first win as a driver/crew chief combo with Lambert visiting victory lane for the first time since Phoenix in 2017 when he was Ryan Newman’s crew chief in Cup.
If Gragson’s victory wasn’t too hot to handle, his victory burnout certainly was, as he left some rubber and flames on a sunny Arizona afternoon.
“Caught the track on fire which is awesome,” said Gragson. “My pit crew executed great. This team has been on a roll this season so far this season. All top-three finishes in the first four races. I can’t think everybody enough for all their hard work. We’ll try to keep it going.”
In the closing laps, it was actually Jones who made it tough for Gragson after his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing crew had a solid final pit stop under green. But Gragson cut the gap. With help from the lapped car of Jeb Burton, Gragson caught Jones with 17 to go.
Gragson would make the race-winning move three laps later by going low in Turn 1 and never looked back. Despite finishing second, Jones noted it’s the kind of race the whole team needed to get a woeful campaign turned around.
“We’ve had speed at all of these race tracks so far and just haven’t got the finishes that we need. It’s really early in the season still,” said Jones.
“I thought when we came out of the pits there and were out ahead of him, it was going to be pretty good because aero situations were pretty tough today and it seemed like whoever was leading the race was kind of difficult to pass. Noah was leading before we all pitted.
“We were a little bit faster, so I think they just made some adjustments and got it better, but still all-in-all pretty happy to come home second – we got some really good stages too. Can’t thank Jeld-Wen and Menards enough for being on this Supra. This is the right momentum we need to turn this season around.”
For the first time since Iowa in 2014, Bayne won an Xfinity Series pole. However, his shot at leading the 38-car field to the green flag almost never happened.
During the pace laps, Bayne’s No. 18 Devotion Nutrition Toyota Supra didn’t get going due to steering wheel problems and had to get a new one. Fortunately for Bayne, it was deemed as a safety issue and didn’t lose his starting position.
Drivers that went to the rear were JR Motorsports drivers Berry and Sam Mayer, who had strong qualifying efforts. Their reasons were a result of unapproved adjustments. Mayer’s afternoon wouldn’t get better as he ended up 22nd, two laps behind Gragson after finishing 10th in the first two stages.
One man that failed to take the green was Anthony Alfredo, who had the hood up before his No. 23 DUDE Wipes Chevrolet Camaro went to the garage. Alfredo would ultimately hit the track and finished 37th, 53 laps behind Gragson.
Once the race commenced, Bayne responded well by being the man to beat in Stage 1. While Gragson took the lead later, Bayne fought hard and coming to three to go in the stage, he went low on Gragson as both battled hard for the lead.
Jones also joined in the mix, but it was Bayne who barely eked out Gragson by 0.006 seconds to win the stage.
From there, Gragson simply took control while Bayne would never see his Supra in first. Pit road would be his ultimate Kryptonite with a bad stop after winning Stage 1. To make matters worse, Bayne was also caught speeding on pit road, forcing him to restart at the rear in the field.
Bayne responded well by finishing fourth, but without any cautions in the final stage, there was some disappointment.
“I’ve never seen a Xfinity go green flag for the last segment. We had a bad stop at the beginning and it kind of got us behind. I tried to make up for it in the wrong spot and sped on pit road, so we had to go the rear. We went from dead last to fourth, said Bayne.
“That thing was hooked up, catching the leaders, running the fastest lap times every single lap and never had a chance to recover. The only reason I look disappointed is because I’ve never had a race car that good. This Devotion Nutrition Supra was unbelievable on the long run and I feel like I should have won with it. Those make you sick.
“California, I felt like Cole Custer had a better car. Here, we had the car to win, so you don’t want to give those away, but for what we had to overcome in 100 laps – to come from the rear and back up to fourth is pretty solid.”
RSS Racing had two cars qualified in the top-six with Ryan Sieg started fourth alongside his Las Vegas foe Ty Gibbs. A row back was former ARCA East and current eNASCAR iRacing Coca-Cola Series driver Parker Retzlaff, who made his Xfinity Series debut Saturday.
Sieg led two laps before finishing 11th whereas fuel pump problems ended Retzlaff’s afternoon in 36th.
The only driver that field to finish due to an accident was Riley Herbst. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver clobbered the Turn 3 wall on Lap 23. Herbst took awhile getting out of the car but was alright, saying it was among the hardest hits he’s taken.
“I went into 3 and hit the brake and it hooked a hard right and went to the floor. I don’t know what happened,” Herbst explained. “I am really bummed because I thought we had a decent west coast swing and now we are going to be 37th here and have to go to Atlanta, a new race track. Hopefully we can grab some points there. But yeah, that hurt.”
Aside from Herbst, there was one other non-stage concluding caution period. On the Lap 56 restart, Berry went three wide with Gibbs and Bayne in Turn 2.
Berry was low and made contact with Gibbs, sending the Las Vegas winner around. The rest of the field scattered around to avoid him. Gibbs wasn’t pleased with the move, saying “What the hell, Berry?” over the radio.
Gibbs limped his car into pit road due to his tires being flat. But would ultimately recovered and brought his No. 54 Sport Clips Supra home in sixth.
“I feel like our Sport Clips Supra was pretty fast today. It just didn’t have enough speed and where they put the resin made it harder – just a weird spot, so it made it just single file and hard to pass. We got spun out and then came from the back,” said Gibbs.
“We were down a set of tires and then it went green to the end, so we never had time to get all of the way back up. I feel like we had a third-place car, second place at-best. Just a frustrating day. Frustrating, but we have to keep moving on.”
Next Saturday will mark an unusual return to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the series. It’ll be the first time they’re competing in the re-banked 1.5-mile circuit as the Nalley Cars 250 airs live at 5:00 p.m. ET on FS1. Justin Allgaier is the defending spring race winner.
Stage 1 Results: Bayne, Gragson, B. Jones, JH Nemechek, Gibbs, Allgaier, Cassill, Allmendinger, Berry and Mayer
Stage 2 Results: Gragson, Allgaier, B. Jones, Bayne, Berry, JH Nemechek, Allmendinger, Hemric, Cassill and Mayer
Final Top 10 Results: Gragson, B. Jones, Berry, Bayne, JH Nemechek, Gibbs, Allmendinger, Hemric, Cassill and Allgaier