Two of the most determined, talented young drivers in NASCAR put on a show for the ages in the closing laps of Saturday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 at Pocono Raceway with 24-year-old Noah Gragson ultimately holding off Ty Gibbs, 19, by the blink of an eye to take the victory.
Gragson’s No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet crossed the finish line at the storied 2.5-mile track by a mere 0.281s ahead of Gibbs’ No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – the last 15 laps the duo staying within 0.3s of one another.
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Gibbs earned three of his four race wins this season on last lap passes, but Gragson didn’t allow it Saturday – so happy with the effort he climbed out of his car and joined his team scaling the fencing in front of a boisterous, crowded front stretch grandstand.
“That was probably the best I’ve ever driven there,” said the Las Vegas native Gragson, whose three wins this season already ties his single season high mark. “I’m worn out, working my [rear] off out there to keep the No. 54 back. He’s pretty fast.
“I had to work for it,” Gragson said still catching his breath from climbing the fence. “It was tough. Kept getting tight, tight, tight and with 15 to go I didn’t think I could hold him off, but we just keep digging.”
That summed up a dramatic ending to an action-packed day.
Gragson’s JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier started from pole position and led the first 23 laps to win stage one. Gragson was seventh and Gibbs fourth in the opening run, but Gragson took the lead on the ensuing pit stop and won stage two – his seventh and the JR Motorsports series’ best 21st stage win of the year.
Ultimately, good pit strategy made the difference for Gragson, whose Chevrolet was able to benefit from a four-tire and gas stop with 38 laps to go. He re-started sixth – behind Gibbs who did not take tires – and worked his way forward, taking the lead for good with 22 laps to go.
“It definitely hurt us giving him a tire advantage,” Gibbs said. “But I was so surprised to be able to hang with the No. 9 [car] when he was on [fresh tires]. Had a great car — just didn’t put it together. I just made some mistakes and we’ll come back next weekend.”
Gragson’s teammate Josh Berry finished third, followed by Xfinity Series driver standings leader A.J. Allmendinger and Richard Childress Racing’s rookie Sheldon Creed.
Two more JR Motorsports drivers, Sam Mayer and Allgaier finished sixth and seventh – a particularly impressive comeback for Allgaier who was penalized for speeding on pit road during his last pit stop.
RCR’s Austin Hill, Kaulig’s Daniel Hemric and NASCAR Cup Series regular Cole Custer rounded out the top 10.
It was a dramatic race from start to finish, including a red flag period during stage two for a for a high-speed accident involving five cars. Santino Ferrucci’s car got loose exiting Turn 3 and was hit from behind by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. whose car slid toward the pit road wall, colliding with Jeb Burton’s car, spinning and flipping Burton’s car over on its hood.
The NASCAR AMR Safety Crew immediately responded, checked that Burton was okay and then carefully righted his car back onto its tires. Burton climbed out un-assisted and the wreckage was cleaned up. The red flag lasted a little more than eight minutes and the race resumed.
“Man, that was not good,” said Burton, driver of the No. 27 Our Motorsport Chevrolet. “Hate if for my guys. Those guys work hard on these race cars, but appreciate the safety crew — they got to me fast,” he added. “It’s been a tough year, but we’ll keep digging.”
Gragson’s victory marked the seventh win in the last 11 races for JR Motorsports, which is enjoying a summer of success. Allmendinger now leads Allgaier by 16 points atop the series driver standings.
The series’ next race is Saturday’s Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, IMS Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Austin Cindric is the defending race winner.