By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Initially, the bonuses continue to add up for Noah Gragson as he scored a top-five finish at Darlington Raceway and won the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash for the third consecutive race. Following post-race tech inspection Gragson’s No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro was disqualified for a suspension related issue.
Gragson won the first two Xfinity Dash for Cash bonuses of the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series. The driver of the No. 9 Bass Pro Shops / Black Rifle Coffee Chevrolet Camaro SS was looking for his third Dash 4 Cash bonus and his first overall victory of the 2021 season in the Steakhouse Elite 200.
Under caution on lap 128, Gragson brought his Chevrolet down pit road to the attention of his JR Motorsports (JRM) team. The Las Vegas, Nevada native lost the lead during the pit road exchange. On the restart, he pushed race leader Harrison Burton, aiding his JRM teammates Josh Berry and eventual race-winner Justin Allgaier in the process.
Two successive cautions kept Gragson inside the top-five. However, the narrow racing line kept him from moving forward. In overtime, Gragson restarted fourth. He took the checkered flag in fourth after a battle with Burton’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Brandon Jones and Daniel Hemric. Following the inspection failure, Gragson is credited with a 40th-place finish.
“It does irritate me that we haven’t won, I want to win,” admitted Gragson. “I know we have a great group at JRM, great racecars. It came down to pit road, we lost a couple spots. I need to go back and look at pit road speed. You can always do better in this sport. I wasn’t perfect and that might be the difference maker. The team did a great job all day, the pit crew did a great job. The Dash for Cash money is great, but we want to be racing for a win.”
Gragson was initially the best of the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash competitors, winning the $100,000 bonus for a third consecutive race. As he has with the previous bonus wins, Gragson planned to split the money with his crew members. That money now goes to AJ Allmendinger. Gragson is not eligible for the Dash 4 Cash at Dover International Speedway.
“Same as the last time, divide (the money) up with the team, the pit crew guys,” Gragson explained his intentions with the Dash 4 Cash bonus. “It’s a team sport. I’m just thankful for the opportunity, to have fast racecars. I’m not the one winning the money, it’s all of us. Another $100,000, that’s big.
“It’s all positive (among the crew), everybody likes a little bonus. It’s the least that I can do for those guys, they work their tails off working late nights, early mornings, and weekends. They’re laying it out on the table. We won the money, I didn’t. It takes all of us. The driver gets the limelight. It takes every single person.”
Gragson started the race at ‘The Track Too Tough to Tame’ in fifth due to NASCAR’s metric qualifying formula. He finished both Stages in second, gaining an additional 18-points. In Stage 1, he swept by much of the field after pitting under caution with a handful of laps left.
The disqualification is the first of Gragson’s Xfinity Series career and the second for JRM in the Xfinity Series. Michael Annett’s No. 1 Chevrolet was disqualified at Talladega last fall.
The top-five would have moved Gragson up from ninth to seventh in the points standings. However, after the disqualification, the JRM driver drops from ninth to 11th in the points standings, 170-points behind leader Austin Cindric. Gragson is now just three points above the playoff cutoff, held by his Annett.
Feature Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo