Let’s be honest, the dry cleaner and Noah Gragson are probably on a first-name basis at this point, especially over the last month or so. I guess that’s not a bad thing though.
Scoring his third straight victory and sixth of the season Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Gragson further established himself as a favorite for the championship, after performing a masterful defense on Brandon Jones, despite being on tires over 100 laps older.
The opportunity for Gragson and the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro to keep the trophy at the end of the night, came as a result of his teammate, and race leader, Justin Allgaier, who doored the No. 66 of JJ Yeley, drawing the race’s eighth and final caution.
With less than 30 laps remaining in Friday’s 300-lap contest, each of the lead lap cars elected to come to the pits for fresh tires, except for Noah Gragson, who stayed on the track at the instruction of crew chief Luke Lambert.
The real saving grace for Gragson? A speeding penalty on the final round of pit stops for teammate Justin Allgaier, sending the No. 7 to the tail-end of the longest line for the final restart.
On the restart, the 24-year-old was able to blast away from the pack, getting out to a one-second lead as Brandon Jones and Austin Hill engaged in a fierce battle for the runner-up spot, which cost both drivers massive amounts of time to the leader.
Once clear, it wouldn’t take long for Jones to close the gap on Gragson, shrinking the gap right back down to one car length in a matter of laps, beginning the engaging pursuit between Gragson, and the driver who will take over his ride for 2023.
Jones, however, was denied a second victory on the season, as Gragson kept him in check over the final 10 laps, winning Friday’s Food City 300 by 0.145 seconds.
A second-place finish for Jones meant the Joe Gibbs Racing driver would capture back-to-back top-five results for the first time this season, putting him in a wonderful spot entering the series’ seven-race post-season.
Austin Hill would have to settle for third place, while Sam Mayer and Riley Herbst completed the race’s top-five finishers, in what proved to be a wild final green-flag run to the finish.
After making contact with the wall late in the race, AJ Allmendinger would finish in sixth place, capturing the regular-season championship by a large margin over Ty Gibbs, who crashed out of the race early with Sheldon Creed, after contact from the eventual race winner.
In what could be considered a down night, Josh Berry recorded a seventh-place result, while the biggest story inside the top-10 had to be Stefan Parsons, who showed immense speed in the second half of the race, coming home in eighth.
Justin Allgaier and Ryan Sieg would round out the top-10. With a 10th-place finish, as well as an immense misfortune for both Sheldon Creed and Landon Cassill, RSS Racing would return to the Playoffs, knocking out Kaulig Racing’s No. 10.
With the end of Friday’s event at Bristol, the 12-driver field for the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs is set and includes the following drivers: Noah Gragson, Ty Gibbs, Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Josh Berry, Austin Hill, Brandon Jones, Jeremy Clements, Sam Mayer, Daniel Hemric, Riley Herbst, and Ryan Sieg.
Next for the NASCAR Xfinity Series is the 2022 playoff-opener at Texas Motor Speedway, which will take place next Saturday, September 24th.