by Brock Beard
Noah Gragson picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Crayon 200 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway when his #9 Bass Pro Shops TrueTimber BRCC Chevrolet completed all 200 laps, but was disqualified for failing post-race heights along with Landon Cassill in the #10 Carnomaly Chevrolet.
The finish, which came in Gragson’s 120th series start, was his first of the season and first in XFINITY since June 5, 2021 at Mid-Ohio, 38 races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 14th for the #9, the 16th from disqualification, and the 598th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 48th from disqualification, the 57th for the #9, and the 1,848th for Chevrolet.
One week after Sage Karam’s mechanical issues at Atlanta, the other party from the Road America tangle two weeks ago becomes the subject of this week’s LASTCAR feature. Gragson’s story, and his “checkers-or-wreckers” approach to wheeling his JR Motorsports entry are both well-known. What is perhaps less known have been his struggles at the Loudon track. While he’s completed both his previous starts under power on the lead lap, he only finished 10th and 14th without a single lap led. He looked to turn things around on Saturday, taking 16th in opening practice and qualified 9th with a lap of 126.261mph (30.166 seconds).
With 39 drivers entered for 38 spots, the final spot would come down to one of two drivers seeking their NASCAR national series debut. One was Julia Landauer, who after years of struggling for sponsorship landed backing from Boss Beauties and GarageXYZ to drive Alpha Prime Racing’s #45 Chevrolet. The other was late model racer Bobby McCarthy, who took the wheel of Mike Harmon Racing’s #47 Autos By Nelson / Solid Rock Carriers Chevrolet. In practice, Landauer was three-tenths faster than McCarthy, the duo ranked 37th and 38th. Landauer remained just under three-tenths ahead of McCarty in qualifying, securing the 32nd spot with a lap of 121.184mph (31.430 seconds). This sent the #47 home.
Securing the 38th and final starting spot was J.J. Yeley, who incurred a redundant tail-end penalty after the Motorsports Business Management team changed engines on his #66 Workpro Tools Toyota. Yeley’s teammate was Akinori Ogata, making his first XFINITY start of the season in the #13 BlabaBooth Toyota. Ogata was one of seven drivers sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments. During the qualifying lap that earned him the pole, Josh Berry suffered minor damage to the right-rear corner of his car coming off Turn 2. Jeremy Clements, set to start 21st, required a tire change on his #51 Spartan Waste / Fox Sports 98.3 Chevrolet. The other penalized drivers were 27th-place Alex Labbe in DGM Racing’s #36 Chevrolet, 34th-place Howie DiSavino III in the #44 Clear Cryptos Chevrolet, and SS-Green Light Racing teammates Joe Graf, Jr. in the #07 G Coin Ford (26th), and David Starr in the #08 Pro Ambitions Hockey Ford (31st).
The engines had hardly fired when Akinori Ogata was having radio issues. The issue was on the driver’s end as one of the few transmissions from him to the crew had heavy static. Team owner Carl Long instructed him to pull into his pit stall, where the crew spent at least a lap checking over the connections. Ogata rejoined the field, but the crew still couldn’t hear their driver. “You have to talk or they’re going to park us,” said someone on the crew. Long told Ogata to pit, and when he still didn’t hear a response, instructed NASCAR to black flag him under the pace laps. There was no indication if NASCAR did this. “Come down pit road right now,” said Long firmly. “You’re not driving my car if I can’t hear you.” Another extended stop ensued, during which the crew wondered if too many people were talking at once. Long disagreed. It wasn’t until after the one to go signal that the issue was apparently resolved, and the #13 rejoined the pack.
When the green flag dropped, there was a massive stack-up around midway through the pack, which caused the cars further back to scatter out of line. NASCAR applauded the teams for avoiding a possible wreck, and did not penalize anyone as a result. When the drivers crossed the stripe for the first time, Yeley was already up from last spot to 33rd with Ogata now in last, 5.493 seconds back of the lead and just over a tenth back of Jeremy Clements. By the end of Lap 1, DiSavino had slipped to 37th with Ogata now 0.796 behind the #44. When DiSavino passed Yeley for 36th on Lap 5, Yeley started to lose touch with the rest of the field, citing a possible issue with the air cleaner interfering with the throttle. By Lap 7, Yeley had dropped 3.107 seconds behind Savino.
|Landauer (center) behind the wall.|
PHOTO: No Tires Just Gas on YouTube
While Yeley contended with his issues, Ogata remained last, but was now steadily closing on his teammate. During this run, Carl Long helped Ogata figure out the best line around the track. The advice helped, and by Lap 10, Ogata drew alongside Yeley, the pair of them 0.042 apart at the stripe. Ogata cleared him the next time by, but Yeley got back around and reached the stripe first. The leaders lapped Ogata first on the 16th circuit, followed two laps later by Yeley. Long continued to offer advice, telling Ogata to stay close to the outside wall off the corners as he tried to track down Yeley. Ogata continued to improve, and Long passed Yeley a second time on Lap 25, this time clearing him before the stripe.
A few cars in front, Julia Landauer was running in the 35th spot and, on Lap 35, had just lost a lap to the leaders. Among the leaders were Justin Allgaier, his #7 BRANDT Chevrolet running 2nd just ahead of Cup regular William Byron in the #88 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet. As Allgaier ran to the inside of Landauer, the two cars made contact – Allgaier’s right-front with Landauer’s left-rear. Allgaier’s car hooked Landauer’s into a spin to driver’s left, sending her hard into the inside wall with the right-front and right-rear. After rescue crews arrived on the scene, Landauer was able to re-fire the engine, though NASCAR told her to stay on the apron since her car was leaking. The crew, which said Allgaier took Landauer out, said their car wasn’t leaking. Regardless, she made it to pit road by Lap 36, when she took last from Ogata.
Despite the damage, the Alpha Prime crew completed quick repairs on Landauer’s car, which returned to the track five laps down for the Lap 42 restart. Her most critical damage was to the splitter, which was badly twisted and dragging the track bad enough to affect her steering. In just one lap, she managed to clear the “Crash Clock,” and logged laps until the end of Stage 1 on Lap 46. More repairs followed under the yellow with particular attention to the mandatory rear bumper cover to make sure it didn’t come loose. She pitted under a closed pit road, which incurred her a redundant tail-end penalty of her own, leaving her six laps down for the Lap 52 restart.
On Lap 89, Landauer remained in the 38th spot – and still under power – when Stage 2 ended a moment early following Gragson’s spin off the nose of Daniel Hemric. It was during this extended caution period that Yeley lost at least four laps to address what the crew now believed was a carburetor issue. Landauer remained on track, which allowed her to climb past Yeley into 37th on Lap 98. At that very instant, the race restarted with Landauer now catching some of the cars in front. Entering Turn 1, she found her way to the inside of Matt Mills’ #78 J.F. Electric Chevrolet. The two made contact and spun up the track, putting the race under caution once more. Landauer pulled behind the wall on Lap 100, done for the day under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” She retook last from Yeley the next time by. Curiously, she came just one lap short of tying Tony Roper’s record for most laps complete by a XFINITY Series last-place finisher at Loudon. Roper set a mark of 91 laps on May 8, 1999.
High attrition in the race’s final laps allowed Yeley to climb to 23rd at the finish, 10 laps down to race winner Justin Allgaier, who apologized for the Landauer incident in his post-race interview. Initially taking the 37th spot was Daniel Hemric, who after his earlier dust-up with Gragson cut down a tire on his #11 AG1 – Athletic Greens Chevrolet and hit the wall in Turn 3.
The rest of the Bottom Five was collected in the day’s biggest accident, which was triggered by contact between Sheldon Creed and Josh Berry coming off Turn 2 with 75 laps to go. Creed’s contact sent Berry sliding sideways up the track where it blocked the path for Ryan Sieg. Sieg, who won Stage 1, finished 10th in Stage 2, was still 8th when he was collected by Berry. A moment later, Sieg’s car was rear-ended at high speed by Jeb Burton’s #27 Walking With Anthony Chevrolet. Another big hit was suffered by Myatt Snider, whose #31 Bommarito Automotive Group Chevrolet also had significant damage to the nose. Berry was able to continue, but an engine fire a few laps later ended his race.
Allgaier’s win came at the cost of Landon Cassill, who led 17 laps in his #10 Carnomaly Chevrolet. Their 50-lap battle went Allgaier’s way with the winning pass with 19 laps to go. As Cassill slid back to 3rd place, struggling with a worn right-rear tire, Gragson was trying to hold off a challenger of his own in Brandon Brown. Brown took on fresh tires on his #68 Zero FG Energy Chevrolet, and looked to finish strong after leading 12 laps. Ultimately, Gragson held off Brown, and the pair finished 4th and 5th. Overall, it was Gragson’s best Loudon performance.
Then came post-race inspection, where both Cassill and Gragson were disqualified for failing post-race heights. For Cassill, his #10 was found too low in the rear while Gragson’s car was too low in the front. Since Gragson finished behind Cassill, NASCAR’s current disqualification protocol put Gragson in 38th with Cassill 37th. Soon after, JR Motorsports tweeted that they would not appeal Gragson’s penalty, making the last-place finish official.
The disqualifications of Cassill and Gragson sweetened the deal for several underdogs who had already enjoyed some of their best finishes. First of these was Brandon Brown himself, who jumped from 5th to 3rd. It was his first top-five finish of the year and first in the XFINITY Series since his win last fall in Talladega.
One spot behind Brown came Jeremy Clements, who rebounded from his tail-end penalty to take home 4th – his first Top Five of the season and his first Top Ten at Loudon.
Taking home 8th was Kyle Weatherman, who stepped in for Jesse Iwuji during the weekend and turned in another sterling effort in the #34 Equity Prime Mortgage Chevrolet - the first Top Ten for Jesse Iwuji Motorsports. Weatherman had already bested his team-best 12th at Darlington and, after the DQs, matched his career-best 8th-place finish for the third time in his career.
In the final laps, Weatherman passed his former Mike Harmon Racing teammate, Bayley Currey, who held the 10th spot at the time in his #4 SEM Chevrolet. Currey originally took 12th, then reassumed the 10th spot after the DQs. It’s just the second top-ten finish for Currey, his first since Phoenix in the spring of last year, when he took 7th for Harmon.
Mason Massey, who finished last in the 2021 running, earned a 9th-place showing in his #91 BRUNT Workwear Chevrolet – his second-best finish of a year where he’s failed to qualify three times.
Passing Brett Moffitt on the final lap was C.J. McLaughlin, who earned a career-best 13th-place finish in RSS Racing’s #38 Sci Aps Ford. This marked only the second time McLaughlin has finished 20th or better in his 22 series starts, besting his 20th at Texas in the fall of 2020.
Patrick Emerling, running double-duty with the Modifieds, took his unsponsored #35 Toyota to an 16th-place finish, besting his career-best 19th earlier this year at Portland. Emerling’s finish comes at the end of a big week for the Emerling-Gase Motorsports team, which announced they intend to field two full-time entries in 2023.
*This marked the first time NASCAR disqualified more than one car in a XFINITY Series race. Excluding Race 1 of the 2017 Can-Am Duel at Daytona, where both Martin Truex, Jr. and Chris Buescher were disqualified, it’s also the first time it’s happened in a full points-paying race across NASCAR’s top three series since the inaugural World 600 at Charlotte on June 19, 1960. That day, six drivers were disqualified for cutting the entrance to pit road: Richard Petty, Lee Petty, Bob Welborn, Paul Lewis, Junior Johnson, and last-place finisher Lennie Page.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
38) #9-Noah Gragson / 200 laps / disqualified
37) #10-Landon Cassill / 200 laps / disqualified / led 17 laps
36) #45-Julia Landauer / 90 laps / crash
35) #11-Daniel Hemric / 105 laps / crash / led 5 laps
34) #31-Myatt Snider / 124 laps / crash
2022 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Alpha Prime Racing (3)
2nd) JD Motorsports, JR Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing, Motorsports Business Management (2)
3rd) Big Machine Racing, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Sam Hunt Racing, SS-Green Light Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)
2022 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (13)
2nd) Toyota (3)
3rd) Ford (2)
2022 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP