Noah Gragson returned to victory lane on Saturday afternoon, taming Darlington Raceway for the first time in his career.
Gragson and his JR Motorsports No. 9 Chevy led 40 of the 152 laps in Saturday’s Sport Clips VFW Help a Hero 200 from the 1.333-mile Darlington, S.C. oval. Gragson held off Harrison Burton in an Overtime restart, snapping a 49-race winless streak.
The day was dominated by Denny Hamlin, who made his traditional one-off NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) start for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), driving the dominant No. 54 Toyota. Hamlin led 43 laps and was cruising with the lead as the race neared 10 laps to go. Then, his damaged JGR teammate of Brandon Jones spun exiting the fourth turn, bringing out a caution late.
The caution flipped the race on its head, with Hamlin receiving a pit road penalty for a tire over the wall too soon. He was sent to the rear while Gragson led the race off pit road. Ahead of him, Daniel Hemric and Landon Cassill stayed out as they were out of fresh tires. Gragson quickly took the lead and ran away from the field.
On the next lap, Hemric spun out in turn 1, however, no caution flew as his JGR Supra stopped below the track’s racing surface. He continued before the leaders came back around, but dropped debris off when exiting the second turn, which would cut second-place A.J. Allmendinger’s tire. Allmendinger continued waiting for NASCAR to throw the caution for the debris.
Burton tried to steal the win from Gragson on the final restart, but the JRM Chevrolet utilized the high side off the fourth turn. The win is Gragson’s first in 2021 and third in his three-year NXS career.
Austin Cindric finished in third after back-to-back crashes early in the race. He trails Allmendinger (who finished 20th) by a singular point in the regular season standings for the top spot. Justin Haley and Jeb Burton rounded out the top five positions.
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff contender Tyler Reddick finished seventh. The two-time NXS champion never threatened the battle for the win, but the Cup Series Playoff rookie has 152 more laps around Darlington this weekend than any of his Sunday Playoff competitors, excluding the three-time winner of Hamlin. Hamlin ultimately finished 12th.
Jeremy Clements and Alex Labbe had strong results, both posting top ten runs at the track billed “Too Tough to Tame”.
Ty Dillon finished 13th in the Our Motorsports No. 02 Chevy, driven by Brett Moffitt primarily. Moffitt was excused by the team Saturday just hours before the green flag due to “medical issues”. Dillon was called around 1pm and arrived at the speedway less than an hour before engines were fired.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series now heads to Richmond Raceway with just two races remaining in the regular season. The Go Bowling 250 is next Saturday, Sept. 11 at 2:30pm EST on NBCSN. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join the series regulars in the field next weekend.