Noah Gragson and the No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass team came close to perfectly executing the game plan they put in place for Saturday's Fr8auction 250 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. They were able to collect a handful of stage points to pad the 23-point cushion they had on the cutoff line entering the race and then avoid incidents in the middle of the race to put themselves in a position to win the race in the closing stages.
Gragson vaulted from the third position to the lead with four laps remaining and remained out front when the field took the white flag. As the pack raced down the backstretch, the Las Vegas native maneuvered his Tundra in front of Timothy Peters truck in an effort to impede Peters' momentum. Peters' front bumper made hard contact with the rear bumper of the Safelite Tundra and sent it caroming hard into the outside wall before coming to rest on the apron. The caution immediately waved ending the race with Peters as the winner.
The No. 18 team would end the day with a disappointing 13th-place finish, but the result was good enough for Gragson to advance to the Round of 6 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs.
Stage One Recap:
- Gragson started from the 13th position and adhered to the plan that he and crew chief Rudy Fugle implemented. The Safelite Tundra remained glued to the yellow line along the inside of the track for all 20 laps of Stage One. He slowly but surely maneuvered his way forward as other drivers got impatient and tried to make moves to the outside. When the field crossed the stripe to complete the stage he was in the fifth position and collected five points.
Stage Two Recap:
- When pit road opened, Fugle summoned the Safelite Tundra to pit road for a fuel-only stop. Gragson returned to the track scored in the fourth position for the start of Stage Two.
- Gragson pushed Spencer Gallagher to the lead in the outside lane and then was getting a push of his own from Todd Gilliland, when Gilliland maneuvered to the middle lane leaving his teammate hung out of line. Gragson would fall all the way back to the 19th position.
- In the closing laps of the stage Gragson was able to gain back some of the positions he lost and would finish Stage Two in the 12th spot.
Final Stage Recap:
- When pit road opened, Gragson brought the Safelite Tundra to pit road for a four-tire and fuel stop with a trackbar adjustment. He returned to the track scored in the 10th position when the Final stage went green on lap 45.
- The Las Vegas native was running 15th when "the big one" broke loose in front of him on lap 59. After getting tapped in the rear end as he began to slow down, he was able to dive down onto the apron and narrowly escaped through the wreckage with minimal damage.
- After the red-flag conditions were lifted, Fugle summoned his driver to pit road to asses the damage and put four fresh tires on the Safelite Tundra. After returning the track, Gragson came down pit road one more time before the field went green for the crew to take another look at the truck and top it off with fuel.
- The field went back green with 31 laps remaining with the No. 18 Toyota scored in the 12th position. Gragson rode near the back of what was a smaller field of trucks for the next phase of the race, hoping to avoid any further incidents to have his truck in one piece for the finish of the race.
- He was running in the 12th position when the fifth caution of the day slowed the field with 10 laps remaining and restarted from the 11th position when the field went back green with six laps remaining.
- David Gilliland and Grant Enfinger made contact battling for the lead and Enfinger went spinning. The caution didn't come out, but while drivers were trying to avoid the spinning truck it put the field three wide. Gragson made a strong run up the middle and with five to go he had advanced up to the third spot.
- Running third, Gragson slowed down to get to the bumper of his teammate David Gilliland and then used a push from Gilliland to vault to the outside around the top two into the lead with four laps remaining.
- Halfway down the backstretch on the final lap the field began making moves in an effort to get around Gragson. Peters had a strong run in the middle lane when Gragson moved up in front of him in an effort to impede his momentum. Peters slammed into the back of Gragson and sent him crashing hard into the outside wall. Unable to get his truck fired after the accident, Gragson was relegated to a 13th-place finish one lap down.