By Holly Cain
NASCAR Wire Service
Noah Gragson led the final 14 laps – holding off the field on a pair of late race restarts- in Saturday’ Go Bowling 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond (Va.) Raceway to earn his second win in as many weeks – celebrating the moment by wrapping himself in an American flag then climbing the front grandstand fence to a cheering crowd.
Gragson, 23, was only three years old when the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks occurred, but the Las Vegas native was clearly moved by the opportunity to acknowledge the powerful day in American history. And important day in his career.
His .381-second win in the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet over a hard-charging Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley gives him a two-race winning streak heading into next week’s regular season finale at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, where the 12-driver Playoff field will be set.
“I knew they [Haley] had tires, but the thing that really kept us alive were those two cautions at the end,” said Gragson, who now has four career Xfinity Series wins.
“But today’s not about this team or this win, it’s about everyone who lost their lives 20 years ago. We have a lot of heavy hearts and at least in America we can come together on this day and appreciate all you race fans for coming out.
“It’s an emotional day. It’s a special day. But it’s not about us today.”
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship competitor John Hunter Nemechek finished third with Gragson’s JRM teammate Justin Allgaier rallying from an early race mechanical issue to finish fourth, followed by Stewart-Haas Racing’s Riley Herbst.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Daniel Hemric and 18-year-old Ty Gibbs were sixth and seventh. Gibbs led a race best 67 of the 250 laps and won Stage 2.
Brandon Brown, Harrison Burton and Jeb Burton rounded out the top 10.
NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., a four-time winner of this race, finished 14th in his only NASCAR start of the season. He was running among the top-10 but was called for a pit road speeding penalty on a late race pit stop. He still got to celebrate in Victory Lane, however, as one of Gragson’s team owners.
“They race hard there in the middle of the pack, especially around me, but it was fun,” said Earnhardt, who also noted, “Helps me remember some of the things that make me a better broadcaster.”
Earnhardt, the sport’s 15-time Most Popular Driver, is an NBC Sports announcer and moved from pit lane to the announcers booth for the NASCAR Cup Series race later Saturday night at the Richmond three-quarter mile track.
Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger and Team Penske’s Austin Cindric were separated by a single-point in the regular season championship entering the race, and Allmendinger extended his points lead to five points with a Stage 1 win and an 18th-place finish. Cindric finished 16th.
Nine drivers have now officially clinched a Playoff position, including Cindric, Allmendinger, Gragson, Allgaier, Haley, Harrison Burton, Daniel Hemric, Myatt Snider, and Harrison Burton.
Herbst currently holds 12th position in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings, the final Playoff transfer position, with a 66-point edge on JR Motorsports’ driver Michael Annett, who had been among the Playoff 12 before missing four races with an injury.
The Xfinity regular season wraps up with next Friday’s Food City 300 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) on the high-banked Bristol Motor Speedway half-miler.