Bold Outside Pass at Martinsville Sends Noah Gragson to Victory Lane
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Blowing around two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton after a restart with 10 laps left, 19-year-old Noah Gragson scored his first victory in Saturday’s Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville Speedway.
The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender frustrated Playoff competitors Crafton and Johnny Sauter, who finished second and third behind him. After talking the checkered flag, Gragson parked his No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota near the flag stand and climbed to the top of the frontstretch catchfence in celebration.
After Bayley Currey spun in his No. 50 Chevrolet to bring out the final caution on Lap 182, Crafton, then the race leader, chose the inside lane for the restart on Lap 191. But Gragson got a perfect drive through Turns 1 and 2, pulled ahead of Crafton on the backstretch and cleared him off Turn 4.
The Las Vegas native pulled away to win by 1.486 seconds.
“We got that caution there at the end, and you can’t pass on the outside in Martinsville – and I did it,” Gragson said. “To be racing here in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, it’s a privilege, and all those hours of hard work…
“I knew to myself this morning, I knew I could get it done. I’ve known it this whole year, and I told myself I’m going to get that trophy today, and that’s what we did.”
In a race that saw Playoff driver John Hunter Nemechek crash out after 37 laps because of a brake failure, Gragson held off Sauter during a 38-lap green-flag run that preceded the final caution. Though Sauter tattooed the rear bumper of the rookie throughout the run, Gragson held the position.
“Those last like 40 laps with Johnny Sauter being off my back bumper, he did that earlier to that to us in the spring, and I wasn’t going to let him pass me again like that,” Gragson said.
That proved decisive, as it put Gragson on the front row for the final restart. Though the bottom at Martinsville historically has been the preferred lane for a restart, Crafton had his doubts as he came to the green flag on Lap 191.
“I told (crew chief) Junior (Joiner) I might be crazy, but I thought the top was going to be the place to go on the restart,” Crafton said. “There was no rubber up there where the right-side tires were. I knew we were going to have our hands full…
“He had a perfect restart there – and I sucked.”
Harrison Burton ran fourth, scoring his first top five in the series 19 days after his 17th birthday. KBM teammate Todd Gilliland was fifth, followed by Stewart Friesen and Kaz Grala. Playoff drivers Christopher Bell, Ben Rhodes and Austin Cindric were eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively.
Crafton won the first 50-lap stage of the race and Sauter the second stage as both drivers chipped away at Bell’s series lead, which stands at three points over Sauter and 15 over Crafton with two races left in the Playoffs Round of 6.
A good points day was little consolation to the driver of the No. 88 Toyota.
“It just sucks to finish second,” Crafton said. “Just salt in the wound.”
Rhodes currently holds the fourth and final Playoff transfer position, with Cindric in fifth 11 points back of Rhodes, and Nemechek in sixth trailing Rhodes by 32 points after his 30th-place finish on Saturday.