By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
A move of desperation on the last lap, in the last corner, ended with Noah Gragson and his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate, Todd Gilliland, spinning in front of the field. With the Chevrolet Silverado 250 the first race of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs, a win meant Gragson could have advanced into the Round of Six.
In a move that mirrored an incident between Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in 2013, Gragson dove beneath Gilliland in turn 10. Contact sent the duo spinning from first and second, allowing Playoff competitor Justin Haley to inherit the victory.
In the aftermath, five more trucks piled into the melee, trying to avoid Gragson’s No. 18 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota Tundra. Gragson dropped from second to ninth, while Gilliland dropped from the lead to 11th.
“That was on me,” Gragson admitted. “Racing for the win. He’s my teammate. I apologize to Todd, the No. 4 team, and everyone at Kyle Busch Motorsports. We’re in the Playoffs, and we’re trying to get a win. I was squirting the throttle right there, in between (turns) 9 and 10. I just wasn’t quite there. Just unfortunate. That one is on me. Just trying to get a little too much, trying to win. Wins are so big here.
“Right now, it’s all about getting back to the shop, regrouping, and getting ready for Vegas. I wasn’t trying to take him out. I was expecting him to give me a little bit more room there on the bottom. It just wasn’t there, and it wasn’t meant to be.”
Despite the apology, Gilliland was having none of it as shown by his post-race comments.
“Should never have let him (Noah Gragson) get to me,” Gilliland said. “Should’ve just gave him the inside and maybe let him wreck himself. I don’t know. He has done that to me on like five or six road courses. It sucks. We had the fastest truck and we didn’t win again. I’m going to have to talk to him for sure.
“I’d go fight him right now, but I can’t. I just need to, I guess, get my emotions in check and go talk to him, but I’m extremely mad.”
Gragson dominated the first two stages of the race, winning both stages. After a lengthy caution to end the second stage, the second-year driver found himself restarting outside the top-five. Aggressive three-wide moves advanced Gragson past road course ringer Alex Tagliani, as well as series regulars Ben Rhodes, Brett Moffitt, and Johnny Sauter. A late caution closed the gap between Gragson and Gilliland, beginning the series of events that culminated with the last lap, last corner wreck.
The ninth-place finish was the 13th top-10 finish of the season for Gragson. The finish keeps him third on the Playoff Grid, 11-Points behind Points Leader Johnny Sauter. Gragson is also 23-Points ahead of the cutoff for the Playoffs, held by both Matt Crafton and Stewart Friesen, who are tied for fifth in points.
Now Gragson will have three weeks to prepare for the World of Westgate 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 14.