Noah Gragson wins Xfinity opener at Daytona for first series victory

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Noah Gragson won Saturday’s Xfinity Series opener at Daytona, taking the victory in a three-lap shootout that ended under caution and claiming his first career Xfinity Series win.

The victory comes in his 37th career start.

Gragson, 21, led 15 laps and beat Harrison Burton, Timmy Hill, Brandon Jones and Chase Briscoe.

It is JR Motorsports’ third straight win in the season-opening race at Daytona and its fifth win in the last seven.

Gragson is the seventh Xfinity driver to earn his first win at Daytona.

The Las Vegas native took his time getting to victory lane.

His lengthy celebration on the frontstretch saw him: fan a flame on the track caused by his burnout, climb the catchfence with his crew, execute an impressive Bo Duke hood slide across his car, try multiple times to toss a water bottle into the stands before he finally planted the checkered flag atop his car before driving to victory lane.

“I’m so thankful for this opportunity,” Gragson told FS1. “Man, I’m speechless right now, I didn’t think this would come. … I spent a lot of time with (team owner) Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. this week, talking for about two hours. Wanted to be a better speedway race. He told me ‘go have fun, wreckers or checkers, you got to manage you gaps, be there at the end and just go lead the damn the thing.’ That’s what we did.”

Later in the media center, Gragson said “Without that talk I don’t think I’d be sitting here.”

Gragson had to bounce back from a Lap 32 speeding penalty. It’s the fifth time in the last seven Daytona races that the winner rebounded from an in-race penalty.

The race ended under caution due to a large wreck on the backstretch on the final lap.

The finish was setup by a wreck on a restart with seven laps to go.

It collected Jeb Burton, Austin Cindric, Ryan Sieg, Brett Moffitt and others. It began after Briscoe took the lead and he moved up to  block Gragson as they neared Turn 3. Burton, running behind Gragson, checked up and was turned by Cindric. He bounced off Jones before turning back into the wall, causing a chain reaction.

The wreck resulted in a seven minute and 50 second red flag.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Jeb Burton led a 1-2-3-4 sweep by JR Motorsports to end the first stage.

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier won the stage under caution following a wreck by Riley Herbst, pole-sitter Myatt Snider and Chris Cockrum on the last lap.

More: Race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Harrison Burton earned his best finish in 10 Xfinity starts and his second top five … Timmy Hill earned his best finish and his first top five in 185 career Xfinity starts. It came hours after his MBM Motorsports team received a L2 level penalty for an improper body modification, which included a six-race suspension for his crew chief.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Caesar Bacarella finished 29th after he spun on his own exiting Turn 4 on the first lap of the race … Jeremy Clements finished 28th after the hood on his No. 51 car tore apart on Lap 19 and caused a debris caution … Defending race winner Michael Annett got loose and spun on Lap 38 and collected Austin Hill and rookie Joe Graf Jr in a wreck. Annett was later in the last-lap crash … Justin Allgaier finished 30th after he was involved in a wreck with Josh Bilicki and Clements with 13 laps to go.

NOTABLE: The top three lap leaders of the race – Jeb Burton (26 laps), Justin Allgaier (23) and Myatt Snider (22) all were eliminated in crashes.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “You know, don’t expect I’ll ever (go to victory lane at Daytona) again as a driver, so I’ll take these whenever they’re coming, right.  If I can get in here as an owner or part of any kind of success like this, it’s a great feeling.” – Dale Earnhardt Jr. to FS1 after Gragson’s win.

WHAT’S NEXT: Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 3:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 22 on FS1.

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