Conquering the Beast: Gragson Wins at Homestead

With Josh Berry locking himself into the final round of the playoffs, the stakes were high for the remaining drivers in the Round of 8, as race day at Homestead-Miami Speedway stood on the horizon. At the drop of the green flag, pole sitter Trevor Bayne and championship favorite Noah Gragson battled for position, with Bayne holding the advantage over Gragson to take the lead on lap one. It didn’t take long for chaos to ensue, however, as the caution flag first waved, just three laps in, when J.J. Yeley got into the wall, taking Riley Herbst along with him. Back under green flag conditions, Gragson edged out Bayne momentarily, but not for long as Bayne cleared him to take the lead back into turn two. Mayer almost danced with disaster when sliding up the track, but was able to gather it up, as Ty Gibbs ran down race leader Bayne. 

     By lap 15 Gibbs nearly cleared Bayne to take the lead but to no avail. By lap 18, Gragson managed to pass Gibbs to reclaim second place, and just a few short laps later, took over the lead from Bayne. As the laps of the stage continued to wind down, drivers began to battle loose cars as windy conditions played a factor. Meanwhile, Gragson continued to lead as Bayne fell back to third, with the mindset that it was too early to race so aggressively. With five laps remaining in the stage, Landon Cassill sat in the second place position after starting from 16th. The yellow flag was displayed once again with just three laps remaining in the stage, as C.J. McLaughlin went spinning across the track. The stage would conclude under yellow flag conditions, with Gragson taking the stage win. 

     Stage two was underway with Cassill and Gibbs battling side by side for the lead with Gibbs taking it and Gragson moving up to second. It didn’t take long for the dominant #9 machine to get alongside Gibbs, as the two battled for position with Gragson taking over position number one yet again. However, Austin Hill gave Gragson a run for his money, clearing him just a lap later to become the new leader. Early into stage two, the playoff picture looked quite interesting, with A. Hill, Gragson, and Gibbs sitting cozy over the cutoff line with locked-in championship contender Berry. Meanwhile, notable playoff favorites A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Allgaier, sat far out. Josh Berry, at lap 26, made contact with the wall, but since had he locked himself into the Final Four with his win the week prior, the incident proved no harm to his playoff hopes. Meanwhile, Noah Gragson took the lead back from Austin Hill as the laps of stage two continued to wind down.  

     The points picture rapidly changed as the laps continued to tick off, with Allgaier squeezing his way above the cutoff line, Allmendinger just out by three. With 14 to go, Gragson continued to lead over A. Hill as Sheldon Creed came down pit road with his second tire issue of the day. With just a little over 10 to go in the stage, A.J. Allmendinger charged towards the front, taking second away from A. Hill, hungrily pursuing after Gragson for the top spot on the track. With three to go in the stage, Allgaier came to pit road with a tire down, as Ryan Sieg was pushed behind the wall and into the garage. The stage ended once again with Gragson collecting yet another stage win, his 16th stage win of the season. 

     The third and final stage began with Gragson easily taking his lead back over A. Hill, but it only took A. Hill another lap to steal away Gragson’s lead. Soon Bayne came back up to second, past Gragson to take a shot at the lead, which he earned very quickly, the all-day dominant Gragson attempted to hold off Allmendinger, hoping to not lose yet another position. Disaster struck for the two cars at the front of the field, with A. Hill reported to his team about brake issues and Bayne reported to his team about voltage problems. Into the final stage, the playoff picture showed Austin Hill holding on to the final playoff spot in the Round of Four.

     As the laps in the final stage continued to wind down, Bayne continued to lead over the rest of the field, as Gragson stole second away from A. Hill,  and eventually took the lead away from Bayne too. With just over 60 laps to go in the stage drivers began to split the stage with green flags pit stops, Allgaier being the first to come down. Trevor Bayne unfortunately was nabbed for speeding on pit road, throwing a wrench in an otherwise perfect day. Austin Hill came over the radio with a notice of a vibration, leaving him unsettled while sitting in second place. A. Hill came down pit road with just a little over 40 laps to go, to take care of his vibration, giving up many points after a near-perfect race. Justin Allgaier tagged the wall twice trying to stay ahead of teammate Gragson and not go a lap down. 

     Now with just under 40 laps remaining in the race, Gragson continued to run impressive lap times, holding a seven-second lead over second-place Allmendinger. As they ran, the final three spots remaining in the final four were held by Gragson, Gibbs, and Allmendinger. Brandon Jones and Austin Hill made pretty heavy contact with one another, as Gragson continued his dominant lead over the rest of the field. Troubles continued for Allgaier, as he suffered from yet another tire issue, coming down pit road with just 18 laps to go. As the race edged closer and closer to the end, it seemed as though Gragson was finally going to win at a race at Homestead, however, Stefan Parsons spun out forcing the caution to come out and change everything. 

     The green flag was once again displayed, Gragson launched forward to take the lead as Ty Gibbs and A.J. Allmendinger came up fast behind him. The laps ticked by quickly as Gragson continued to lead, Allmendinger, and Gibbs still quick behind him. With two to go, Gibbs nabbed second away from Allmendinger, as Gragson took the white flag. After a win at Homestead alluded him for so long, Noah Gragson finally won at the track, taking the checkered and locking himself into the Final Four. Gibbs and Allmendinger hold the third and fourth spots above the cutoff line, Allgeier and A. Hill both sit eight below the cutoff line, while Mayer and Jones sit in a must-win situation. 

Featured image credits to @XfinityRacing on Twitter

Published by Gianna "Gi" Lashley - Nicholas

Gianna "Gi" Lashley - Nicholas is a writer located out of New Jersey for Pit Box Press. She has been both an avid writer and NASCAR fan since her youth. Her favorite drivers are Ryan Blaney, Myatt Snider, and Christian Eckes. You can contact her on Twitter (@basicallygi) or Instagram (@basicallygi23).

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