Noah Gragson, like many athletes, is a fan of big trophies. He probably didn’t think his first piece of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series hardware would be one of the most famous in all of sports, the Martinsville Speedway grandfather clock trophy.
Gragson used an impressive restart with ten laps remaining to score an upset win, the first of his career, Texas Roadhouse 200 presented by Alpha Energy Solutions, holding off former Martinsville victors and series champions Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter in the race’s closing laps.
“This is awesome,” the 19-year-old Gragson said at the start/finish line. “We were driving up here and we were talking about how much history is at this track. It’s so cool to be out here racing with Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, and the rest of the field. I’ve proven to myself that I have the capability to race with them, and have that opportunity to come here is a privilege.”
Crafton won Saturday’s opening stage, and chose the bottom lane on the race’s final restart, before Gragson strong-armed him around the outside and made it stick to create yet another memorable Martinsville Speedway race-winning moment. After the checkered flag, Crafton was left lamenting the runner-up finish, with a productive points day being no comfort.
“It just sucks,” the two-time champion said. “We’ve given away two races away while leading late here. Honestly, I don’t even care [about earned stage points] in this race. It just sucks finishing second.”
Sauter appeared poised as the favorite to earn his second straight playoff victory at NASCAR’s oldest track until a slow pit stop at the end of Stage 2 sent him tumbling seven positions down the running order, costing valuable track position in the process.
“We had a good day, but just didn’t execute when we needed to. I just know [the pit stop] was slow. Track position is king. You’ve got to have clean air, and you can’t give up anything. When you give up seven spots, it’s pretty tough to overcome.”
John Hunter Nemechek, who entered Saturday’s race 4th in points, suffered a brake failure and made heavy contact with the outside wall in turn two on Lap 39. The 20-year-old will now likely need to win at either Texas Motor Speedway or Phoenix Raceway in order to keep his championship hopes alive.
“No brake pedal. It didn’t give any warning,” Nemechek said after exiting his heavily damaged Chevrolet. “We were just riding around, biding our time. I dove into [turn one] normally, hit the pedal, and it went straight to the floor.”
The doubleheader race weekend at Martinsville Speedway continues Sunday, with the First Data 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
Qualifying is at noon with the race starting at 3. The First Data 500, is the first race in the Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. If the winning driver is in the Playoffs, he would be the first to clinch a spot in the Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Last fall, Jimmie Johnson won his ninth grandfather clock, on the way to winning his record-tying seventh NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Tickets for the First Data 500 are on sale and may be purchased by calling 877.RACE.TIX, online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com, or at the track ticket office on race day.