Fresh from the announcement of his return to JR Motorsports next year, Noah Gragson sped to victory in the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway on Saturday, clinching a spot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.
After pre-race favorite Denny Hamlin was sent to the rear under penalty for an equipment violation during a pit stop under caution on Lap 139, Gragson grabbed the lead from Daniel Hemric on Lap 143 and held it the rest of the way.
Gragson’s victory in the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW Help a Hero 200 at the 1.366-mile speedway was his first of the season, his first at Darlington and the third of his career.
After debris from a Hemric spin on Lap 144 caused the eighth caution of the afternoon and sent the race to overtime, Gragson surged ahead on the final restart and finished .218 seconds ahead of runner-up Harrison Burton.
Reigning series champion Austin Cindric ran third, closing to a single point his deficit to current series leader AJ Allmendinger, who finished 20th after pitting under the final caution because of a loose wheel.
“It’s been way too long,” said Gragson, who celebrated by climbing the frontstretch catchfence with his team after climbing from his car. “I hate that the 54 (Hamlin) … something happened to him on pit road. It was pretty fun racing there.
“We made good adjustments on the pit stops … And like you said, it’s been way too long. A lot of frustration this year, and things haven’t gone our way, but we’re getting some momentum when we need to, and I just can’t thank everybody enough on this No. 9 team.”
Hamlin appeared headed for his sixth Xfinity Series victory at Darlington when Brandon Jones spun off Turn 4 on Lap 138 of a scheduled 147. On the ensuing pit stop for new tires, Hamlin’s crew was penalized for bringing equipment over the wall too soon, ending the driver’s chances for a win.
Gragson took the checkered flag on Lap 152 at the end of the only overtime attempt. The victory marked his fifth straight finish of seventh or better.
Cindric took advantage of Allmendinger’s late issue to set up a tight battle for the regular-season championship with two races left before the 12-driver Playoff field is set.
“We did a solid job all day trying to execute but we weren’t perfect,” Cindric said. “I’m proud of what we gained today with the Snap-On Ford Mustang. It’s definitely the best race I feel like I’ve had at Darlington, just having the strength and not having too many weaknesses.
“As a team, that takes a lot of conversations throughout the week to try to get that right, so we righted a lot of wrongs for me at this race track today. I feel good about that.”
Justin Haley, last weekend’s Daytona winner, finished fourth, followed by Kaulig racing teammate Jeb Burton. Justin Allgaier, Tyler Reddick, Jeremy Clements, Myatt Snider and Alex Labbe completed the top 10.
There were eight cautions for a total of 41 laps and 19 lead changes among eight drivers. Hamlin, who finished 12th, led a race-high 43 laps. Gragson was out front for 40 circuits.
According to Cindric, the fresh strip of pavement in Turn 2 seemed to gain grip throughout the race but did not play a significant role in the outcome.
“Today when we showed up it was a construction site, and now it’s a race track,” Cindric said. “That’s the way I see it. It’s dirty. It’s new asphalt. We’re the first cars to run on it. It gained grip throughout the day. It got cleaned throughout the day. It got more raceable throughout the day. I don’t think it will be much of a story line tomorrow (in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race).”
–NASCAR Wire Service
Darlington Raceway Labor Day Race Weekend presented by the South Carolina Education Lottery
The Tradition Continues with the Darlington Raceway Labor Day Race Weekend presented by the South Carolina Education Lottery. For the first time in track history, Darlington will host a NASCAR Playoffs doubleheader on Sunday with the In It To Win It 200, the second race in the Round of 10 of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs, at 1:30 p.m. followed by the 72nd running of the famed Cook Out Southern 500® race to launch the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at 6:00 p.m.
NASCAR tickets are available for purchase via phone at 866-459-7223 or online at darlingtonraceway.com. Fans can purchase a single ticket for the NASCAR Playoff doubleheader featuring the Camping World Truck Series and Cup Series on Sept. 5.
About Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway, nicknamed The Lady in Black and the track Too Tough To Tame, is home to the award-winning Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR and annually hosts two NASCAR Cup Series race weekends, along with the NASCAR Xfinity Series and/or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Opening in 1950, Darlington Raceway is “A NASCAR Tradition” and NASCAR’s original superspeedway with its famed 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval, challenging the sports best in one of the most iconic NASCAR races, the Southern 500®. For more information about Darlington Raceway, visit darlingtonraceway.com.
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is the sanctioning body for the No. 1 form of motorsports in the United States and owner of 16 of the nation’s major motorsports entertainment facilities. NASCAR consists of three national series (NASCAR Cup Series™, NASCAR Xfinity Series™, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series™), four regional series (ARCA Menards Series, ARCA Menards Series East & West and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour), one local grassroots series and three international series. The International Motor Sports Association™ (IMSA®) governs the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship™, the premier U.S. sports car series. NASCAR also owns Motor Racing Network, Racing Electronics and ONE DAYTONA. Based in Daytona Beach, Florida, with offices in eight cities across North America, NASCAR sanctions more than 1,200 races in more than 30 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico and Europe. For more information visit www.NASCAR.com and www.IMSA.com, and follow NASCAR on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (‘NASCAR’).
About Sport Clips Haircuts:
Sport Clips Haircuts is headquartered in Georgetown, Texas. It was established in 1993 and began franchising in 1995. The sports-themed haircutting franchise, which specializes in haircuts for men and boys, offers online check in for clients, and ranks #17 in the Entrepreneur “Franchise 500” for 2021 and is listed in Franchise Direct’s 2021 “Top 100 Global Franchises”. There are more than 1,850 Sport Clips stores open in the U.S. and Canada. Sport Clips is the “Official Haircutter” of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), offers veterans preferential pricing on haircuts and franchises, and was named a 2019 Top Franchise for Veterans by Entrepreneur. Sport Clips provides “Haircuts with Heart” through its annual Help A Hero fundraiser that has contributed $8.7 million to the VFW; national partnership with St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants; and other national and local philanthropic outreach. Sport Clips is a proud sponsor of NASCAR’s Joe Gibbs Racing team; Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan IndyCar driver Ed Jones; and partners with other NCAA and professional sports teams. To learn more about Sport Clips, visit sportclips.com.