Gragson holds off Jeffrey Earnhardt in triple OT to win Xfinity race at Talladega
Published 9:15 pm Saturday, April 23, 2022
By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
TALLADEGA, Ala. — Noah Gragson held off Jeffrey Earnhardt in triple overtime to win the Xfinity Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday for his second victory of the season.
Gragson restarted fourth on the outside of the second row but inherited the lead when JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier ran out of gas and pulled out of traffic. Gragson had to work the No. 9 Chevrolet all over the wide Alabama superspeedway to hold off traffic and deny Earnhardt his first career victory.
Earnhardt, the grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt, started from the pole in the No. 3 Chevrolet. His runner-up finish was a career-best.
AJ Allmendinger finished third for Kaulig Racing and earned a $100,000 bonus as the highest-finishing eligible driver in Xfinity-sponsored program. He was followed by teammate Landon Cassill as Chevrolet drivers took the top four spots and 18 of the top 25.
“This JR Motorsports team, they never quit,” Gragson said. “We had four really fast cars. Came down to fuel strategy and there was one point where I was like ‘Oh man, I can’t get up there, we just don’t have the car fast enough.’ But you know, we never quit.”
Gragson is scheduled to run the Cup race on Sunday for Beard Motorsports but desperately wanted to head to Talladega Boulevard, the party strip in the infield notorious for its debauchery. The Talladega infield parties had been on pause the last two years because of the pandemic and only resumed this weekend.
“Talladega Boulevard sounds a lot better right now,” Gragson said. “We’re going to have some fun. Let’s go celebrate, maybe get some (Mardi Gras) beads and maybe we’ll have some fun tonight.”
The race went to the first overtime when the eighth caution came out following a restart with four laps remaining in regulation. Sam Mayer was in the second row and on a run when he wiggled into Austin Hill, the leader in the bottom lane. Hill had had dominated the race and led 67 laps, but the contact from Mayer sent both spinning down the apron and hard into the interior wall.
It sent the race into overtime and Allmendinger had just surged into the lead when a four-wide line of traffic went bad and Sheldon Creed, who was fourth on the restart, wrecked with Caesar Bacarella for the ninth caution and a second overtime.
Allmendinger had complained before the first attempt at overtime that he was “tapped out” and exhausted, and he had no relief in sight. The 10th caution sent the race into a third overtime and forced drivers to desperately begin saving fuel for all the unexpected additional laps.
It bit Allgaier as he ran out of gas just as the race was set to resume for the final two-lap push to the finish.
Ryan Sieg in fifth was the highest-finishing Ford driver and Brandon Jones in 26th was the best of the Toyota group.
Ty Gibbs returned to competition after the Xfinity Series off weekend and a pair of controversial races in his rearview mirror. He was criticized for moving teammate John Hunter Nemechek on the final lap to win at Richmond, and then vilified for fighting rival Sam Mayer on pit road at Martinsville while still wearing his helmet.
As his grandfather, team owner Joe Gibbs, watched from atop his pit box, Gibbs was collected in a race-ending crash with all three of the Toyotas fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. The 19-year-old said he “kind of got out of shape” as he closed in on Sieg and it caused him to hit Daniel Hemric.
“Sorry for everyone involved. It was a sucky deal,” Gibbs said. “We struggled a little bit in Daytona and we came back here and were fast. We picked up a lot. It was a pretty good hit, but I’m OK.”
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