It’s 11:00 east coast time and I still don’t believe what my eyes just witnessed. The Sport Clips VFW Help a Hero 200 finished up almost three hours ago, for context.
The finish is the story, but I’ll get to that in a moment. The race started just after 3:00 and was dominated by Noah Gragson up until lap 67 when a huge storm moved into the area from behind turns one and two.
There was plenty of interesting developments beforehand though, as many drivers found trouble early. Kyle Larson cut a tire and went two laps down and was seemingly out of it. John Hunter Nemecheck was punted from behind by an ailing Anthony Alfredo, which ended the day for “Fast Pasta.” Myatt Snider and Riley Herbst got tangled up on the back straight away just before the rains came. Gragson won stage one handily over pole sitter Brandon Jones.
After a quick bologna sandwich for me and my wife, and track drying, the race reconvened on lap 67. Justin Allgaier, who has been pretty dominant in Darlington for the past few years, snuck by Gragson on a green racetrack and captured stage two. Noah’s car didn’t seem to be the dominant piece it was before the rain, and it showed. Pit stops at the start of stage three set up an all time classic run to the checkers in the final stage.
RCR teammates Austin Hill and Sheldon Creed beat the JR Motorsports duo of Gragson and Allgaier off pit road. For the most part, the final stage was pretty uneventful other than Brandon Jones spinning and bringing out the final caution. Creed again got off pit road first, with Gragson right behind. When the race restarted with 17 to go, it appeared that it was going to be Creed’s night as he scooted by Noah and appeared to be driving away with his first win.
No lead is safe at Darlington however, especially with the 2021 Cup Chanpion still on track.
Yes, Kyle Larson made his way back into the picture with time running out. He quickly moved past Noah as well and set his sight on the number 2 Camaro of Sheldon Creed. Larson got to creed with four to go, and the two dueled hot and heavy right down to the final lap, with Gragson lurking behind. Creed took the white flag and Larson made his move, dooring Creed into one as he did. This cut down Creed’s tire heading onto the backstretch, and the intense action allowed the number 9 of Gragson to squeak by both Larson and Creed heading into turn three.
Sheldon’s tire finally let go in turn four, and he smacked the wall hard. Somehow he kept his foot in it, like he was running laps around virtual Darlington on his PS2. Gragson dove underneath him, after smacking the wall himself, and got by Creed to win for the fourth time this season. Sheldon Creed was able to hold on to second, and left to wonder what might have been.
An exhausted and dehydrated Noah Gragson emerged from his car and was unable to speak, and was honestly hardly able to stand. Temperatures here in Darlington approached triple digits even after the rains came through.
When he was able to address the crowd and the win, he slyly asked if he, Creed and Larson had given us a show. We all responded in kind. Gragson’s fourth win inched him closer to Ty Gibbs for the top seed in the playoffs.
Gibbs’ day was adventurous to say the least, as he hung around near sixth all day, and had made a run into the top-five before tangling with AJ Allmendinger late. Both drivers scored a crucial top-ten to add to their points total down the stretch.
In defeat, a level headed Creed emerged from his car to thunderous applause after leaving it all out there in an attempt to get his first win. He was grateful for his battle with Larson, not angry, and told the crowd what happened to him was just a product of good, hard racing.
Larson echoed the sentiment, and complimented Creed on his “video game” move to try and get the win. The move was very reminiscent of Larson’s very own wall riding attempt at Darlington last fall.
What it all comes down to, is we witnessed a harrowing battle between two of the best young up and coming drivers in the sport and one of the most talented race car drivers on the planet. You can’t ask much more than that.
Tomorrow night’s Southern 500 has a tough act to follow, as Noah Gragson said, they Xfinity boys put on one heck of a show.
As for me, I’ll always remember where I was and what seat I was in when I witnessed one of the greatest finishes in NASCAR history.
I’ll still be here on location for tomorrow’s race and I hope everyone enjoyed today’s action as much as I did!
Photo Credit to Pat, @Puffadda on Twitter.