By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
Despite contact on pit road and a gamble on fuel mileage, Noah Gragson matched his career best finish in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
As the LTi Printing 250 at Michigan International Speedway came down to who was the best at saving fuel, Gragson was in perfect position. He was running just outside the top-five as the two leaders were forced to pit.
As his JR Motorsports teammate Michael Annett struggled to catch eventual race winner Tyler Reddick, Gragson and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular Paul Menard closed in. The JRM rookie sliced and diced his way between the two drivers in the final three laps. However, there was not enough time, and Gragson took the checkered flag in second.
“I want to win, I want to beat that 2 (Reddick) so damn bad,” Gragson explained. “I’m just frustrated, I know we can race with those guys. Just going to keep on plugging away.”
Between the second and final stage, Gragson ducked onto pit road with the rest of the field. He followed his Annett and Brandon Jones. When Annett pulled over to pit, the No. 19 of Jones slowed in front of Gragson. With nowhere to go, his No. 9 Switch Camaro SS clipped the right rear of Jones’ Toyota Supra, damaging the left front fender of the No. 9. Jones continued with no apparent damage.
Back-to-back cautions at the 2.0-mile track allowed Gragson’s team to make repairs to the left front fender. The quick cautions helped the 20-year-old maintain position despite the repairs.
“It was challenging, we got ourselves in a hole there,” Gragson admitted. “I think the 19 checked up and I hit him. There’s just nowhere to go on pit road. We had to go to the back, but it was a great effort by everyone on my Switch team, JR Motorsports. They rallied, never quit, just like me.
“We just keep on going until the finish. Strong three weeks for myself and this team. I’m thankful for everybody at JRM, the fab shop, Hendrick motors, Chevrolet, everybody that makes it possible. I think there’s three JRM cars in the top-five so we’re making those baby steps.”
Gragson ran up front throughout the entire 250-mile race. After he started fourth, he finished the first two stages in fifth and 10th respectively.
The runner-up finish is the third top-five for Gragson this season and fifth of his career. It also marks just the second time in the Xfinity Series that he has earned three straight top-10 finishes.
Despite the second-place finish, Gragson remains eighth in the championship points standings, 204-points behind points leader Reddick. His cushion over the cutoff for the playoffs, held by Jones has grown to 70-points.