Noah Gragson led a race-high 35 laps and won the first two stags of Sunday's NASCAR Camping World Series Playoff opener before finishing ninth after losing several spots after an accident happened in the final corner on the final lap of the race.
After winning Stage 2, the No. 18 Safelite Tundra hit pit road for four fresh tires and fuel and returned to the track scored in the 11th position, behind teams that had pitted late in Stage 2. Gragson methodically maneuvered his way back towards the front of the field, making his way into the runner-up position, 3.5 seconds behind his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland, with seven laps remaining. The field was slowed for a one-truck accident with two laps remaining and set up NASCAR overtime.
Gilliland got a strong restart and when he took the white flag was 0.68 seconds ahead of Gragson. Gragson dug deep and slowly reeled in his teammate over the course of the final lap. As they entered the final turn, Gragson made a run to the inside of Gilliland and both trucks went spinning after making contact with each other. After gathering up his Toyota and getting it headed in the right direction, Gragson crossed the stripe in the ninth spot.
Gragson - who recorded his 11th consecutive top-10 finish - leaves the first race of the playoffs in the fourth position, 24 points ahead of the cutoff line for advancing to the Round of 6.
Stage One Recap:
- After starting second, Gragson followed in the tracks of pole sitter Ben Rhodes for the first seven laps. Gragson made his way around Rhodes for the lead on lap 8 and remained out front for the remainder of the stage.
Stage Two Recap:
- When pit road opened, crew chief Rudy Fugle summoned the Safelite Tundra to pit road for four fresh tires and a full tank of fuel.
- Stage Two went green on lap 24 with Gragson scored in the fifth position, the first driver with four fresh tires. By the time the field came back around to complete lap 25, Gragson was back at the front of the field.
- The No. 18 Toyota remained out front when the field was slowed for the second time on lap 32 for a stalled vehicle.
- Gragson was able to hold serve on the restart when the field went back green with six laps remaining and remained out front when the field cross the stripe to complete Stage Two on lap 40. It was the 20-year-old driver's series-leading ninth stage win of 2018.
Final Stage Recap:
- When pit road opened, Gragson brought the Safelite Tundra to pit road for a four-tire and fuel stop. With several teams having played the strategy card at the end of Stage Two, he returned to the track scored in the 11th spot for the start of the Final Stage.
- He returned to the top five with 11 laps remaining and advanced into the runner-up position with seven laps remaining.
- A caution with two laps remaining set up NASCAR overtime and produced another wild finish at the road course north of the border. After the last-corner contact with Gilliland, Gragson gathered his Tundra up and crossed the stripe in the ninth spot.