By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Typically, a driver is not competing for a victory in their NASCAR Xfinity Series debut. No one told Noah Gragson that however. Gragson, a regular in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, ran up front throughout the ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway.
During the final green flag run of the race, Gragson’s No. 18 Switch Toyota Camry was the fastest car on the track. As the laps clicked off, he reeled in his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell. Gragson searched around the track, trying to find a way past his teammate. At one point, he gave the No. 20 Rheem Toyota a shove in turns three and four. However, it was not enough and Gragson was forced to settle for second.
Gragson’s late-race surge was not the only time that he seemed poised to become the first driver to win in their Xfinity debut since Kurt Busch in 2006. After running inside the top-five in the first two stages, he jumped to the lead, driving between Elliott Sadler and Bell in the process. Gragson’s momentum was cut short by a caution a lap later. The move looked more like that of a series veteran than one being made by a debut driver.
“That’s all I had right there,” Gragson said. “I found something there in the end of the second stage on old tires and I knew there was speed in that part of the racetrack. I kept that in the back of my mind and knew I needed to break it out there in end with about 18 laps to go. I told my spotter (Rick Carelli), I am going for it. I ran him (Christopher Bell) down about three car lengths and didn’t want to show him too early. We win as a team and lose a team. It’s all about learning.”
“I wish I would have won there,” Gragson continued, “I felt good with about 18 to go. Hats off to him, we raced each other clean. I didn’t want to wreck him or anything. I wanted to earn this one. But, a heck of a way to kick off my Xfinity Series debut. Great 1-2 finish with Toyota, here at the Toyota Care 250. Thanks to Rob Roy and Switch.”
Although he is not competing for points in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Gragson’s runner-up finish garnered the 19-year-old valuable experience. The Toyota Racing driver will return to the No. 18 next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway and in two weeks at Dover International Speedway.
Now Gragson will continue his learning experience in the Sparks Energy 300 on April 28.