It was an Earnhardt Saturday in Earnhardt country.
Grabbing the lead on a restart in the third overtime, Noah Gragson—driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports—won the Ag-Pro 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series at Talladega Superspeedway.
Gragson beat Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson of seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., who was driving a black No. 3 Chevrolet in a special appearance for Richard Childress Racing, which fielded Dale Sr.’s car during his heyday.
On the mammoth 2.66-mile track where Dale Sr. won a record 10 times and Dale Jr. added another six, Jeffrey Earnhardt crossed the finish line .131 seconds behind Gragson, who won for the first time at Talladega, the second time this season and the seventh time in his career.
Gragson grabbed the lead when JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier ran out of fuel as he led the field to the third-overtime restart on Lap 123. The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet held the top spot the rest of the way as Earnhardt worked his way forward from his eighth-place restarting position.
Moments after the race, Gragson was already planning his celebration in the notorious Talladega infield.
“This team at Jr. Motorsports, they never quit,” Gragson said. “We've had a kind of a rough last month, just not getting the finishes that we wanted … I couldn't make moves on the top there very much at the beginning of the race, so I just kept running the bottom—running the bottom—and we’d get shuffled back and keep moving back up.
“I’ve got to run in the Cup race (on Sunday), but the Talladaga Boulevard looks a lot more enchanting right now and inviting, so I might have to go out there and then throw some beads.”
On the second of the two overtime laps, Earnhardt slipped past AJ Allmendinger for second but couldn’t catch Gragson through the tri-oval.
“I’m living the dream here—I’m just so thankful to get this opportunity,” said Earnhardt, whose crew chief, FOX Sports broadcaster Larry McReynolds, was serving his first stint on a pit box since 2000. “Thanks to RCR for building this amazing race car. We were fast all weekend long.
“We just fell a little short there, but congrats to Noah. He’s good at plate races.”
Allmendinger had led on the second overtime restart and appeared to have control of the race when Jeremy Clements’ Chevrolet stalled in Turn 2 to cause the 10th and final caution of the race. With his third-place result, however, Allmendinger claimed the $100,000 Xfinity Dash 4 Cash bonus available to the top finisher among four eligible drivers.
“I thought I crashed about seven times on the last lap,” Allmendinger said. “I really appreciate what Xfinity and Comcast do to allow us to race for 100 grand at these four races. I didn't realize that the 7 (Allgaier) started laying back, and you can't take off before him. I was really checking up when he ran out of fuel.
“At that point, the 9 (Gragson) had such a run. This Chevy handled really well. We just lacked kind of the top-end speed, so they could get to my bumper, then basically boot me out of the way. I was just hanging on there. Jeffrey did a good job to make the move (for second place).”
Austin Hill, winner of the season opener at Daytona, led a race-high 67 laps and was out front with fewer than four laps left when Sam Mayer lost control of his Chevrolet in the outside lane and knocked Hill’s Chevy into the infield wall. Both cars were damaged too severely to continue.
Ryan Sieg and Landon Cassill finished fourth and fifth behind Allmendinger, with Cassill scoring his second straight top-five result. Anthony Alfredo, Riley Herbst, Joe Graf Jr., Myatt Snider and Brett Moffitt completed the top 10.