Noah Gragson certainly established himself as a favorite for the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, scoring a dominating victory in Saturday’s United Rentals 200 at Phoenix Raceway.
The fourth-year driver, who entered the weekend as the fifth driver in series history to start a season with three straight top-three results, led a race-high 114 laps, en route to his sixth victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Starting the race from the outside of the front row, Gragson initially took the lead from polesitter Trevor Bayne on lap 34, before battling hard with the 2011 Daytona 500 for the final dozen laps of the first stage.
Ultimately, Bayne would edge out Gragson by eight-thousandths of a second to capture the all-important playoff point for his Joe Gibbs Racing team.
From the conclusion of the first stage onwards, Gragson would only relinquish control of the event twice under green flag conditions, losing the lead to Toyota drivers Brandon Jones and John Hunter Nemechek.
Following the final set of pit stops, under green, Brandon Jones found himself holding the lead before Gragson was able to make a charge – with a combination of fresher tires, and a stronger car — making the final pass for the lead with 15 to go.
Brandon Jones would finish in second place, 2.555-seconds behind Gragson. Josh Berry finished third, recording his third consecutive top-five result, with polesitter Trevor Bayne finishing in fourth-place.
John Hunter Nemechek rounded out the top-five, after leading 11 laps in the middle portion of the 200-lap event. Those laps led, were the first in NASCAR Xfinity Series history for Sam Hunt Racing.
Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger, Daniel Hemric, Landon Cassill, and Justin Allgaier would round out the top-10.
Allgaier, who made a charge into the top-five from starting at the rear of the field, was forced to make a pass-through penalty after removing equipment from his pit box. To add insult to injury, Allgaier came back down pit road on the final lap, to secure two loose lug nuts.
Unconventional for the season thus far, Saturday’s event featured only four caution flags, for a total of 33 laps, with the final stage of the race going caution-free.
After Phoenix, Noah Gragson holds a 39-point advantage on Las Vegas winner Ty Gibbs in the series point standings. Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, and Josh Berry round out the top five in standings.
Looking ahead to a potential playoff battle, Brandon Brown holds the final spot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs by three points over Sheldon Creed and Landon Cassill, who is tied for 14th in series standings.