JUSTIN, TX – After leading three times for 43 laps, Noah Gragson thought he had the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 in the bag but on the final turn of the final lap, Harrison Burton, who recovered from an early spin in the race, blew past Gragson’s No. 9 Chevrolet almost as if he was sitting still.
It was a heartbreaking moment as Gragson went from locking himself into the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway to being outside the cutline heading into the playoff race next week at Martinsville Raceway. Gragson sits 24 points below the cutoff line.
“I don’t know,” Gragson said. In Turn 3 you’re on top of the world and the next thing you know you feel like a POS.”
Gragson said his car got tight, which he attributed to heating up the front tires by using too much steering wheel to make the car turn. But other drivers said it looked like Gragson’s car just “stalled out” coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap.
“I didn’t do anything different over the final laps,” Gragson said. “I was maybe using a little bit more steering wheel. I figured I might as well put all the wheel I can into. I don’t know if that overheated the fronts (tires) but it got tighter and was tighter and tighter as the closing laps came.
“He was so much faster, he ran me down really quick. I tried to do everything right for what we had.”
Next week’s race at Martinsville Speedway is the final chance that Gragson has to make it into the Championship Race in Phoenix. A win would lock him in but anything less would put him in a delicate situation hoping for others to have bad luck so he could move on. Gragson does have a NASCAR Gander Outdoors and RV Truck Series race there but he has never raced an Xfinity Series car at the track.
“I feel like my experience there has been positive,” he said. “You’ve got guys who have raced Cup race there, though. It is going to be exciting but it doesn’t make it any easier winning there in the past, you go the future to look forward to. Try to go win the race and try to go run as fast as possible and do the best I can. It’s competitive but there is no reason why we should be there (Phoenix). We just have to focus forward and keep our heads up.”