It was a big week for Gragson already, as earlier in the week his JR Motorsports team said he would be returning in the 2022 season.
Then, after winning Stage 2 early in Saturday’s race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, he locked up a position in the series playoffs by points.
The victory was icing on the top – cementing his playoff position and ending a 49-race winless streak dating back to June 2020.
The race was sent into a two-lap overtime when a caution was displayed for debris on the backstretch. Gragson and reigning Xfinity champion Austin Cindric lined up on the front row on the restart but Harrison Burton quickly powered into second.
Twice, Burton tried to get around Gragson in Turns 3 and 4 but to no avail, handing Gragson his third career series win.
After a wild post-race burnout, Gragson and his No. 9 team climbed the fence on the frontstretch to the roar of the fans.
“It’s been way too long but the first thing I want to say is thank you to all you badass race fans. You’re awesome, baby,” Gragson said. “I appreciate the support, not just for myself but for the entire Xfinity series.
“I hate (Denny Hamlin), that something happened to him on pit road. It was pretty fun racing there. We made good adjustments on the pit stops and it’s been way too long. A lot frustration this year and things haven’t gone our way.
“We’re getting some momentum when we need to. I just can’t thank everyone enough on this No. 9 team and everybody who makes this happen. Darlington, man. It’s a dream come true.”
Cindric ended up third, Justin Haley was fourth and Jeb Burton rounded out the top-five.
Completing the top-10 were Justin Allgaier, Tyler Reddick, Jeremy Clements, Myatt Snider and Alex Labbe.
Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, the lead-lap car all pit with Gragson the first off pit road.
On the restart on Lap 98, Gragson was followed by Hamlin, A.J. Allmendinger, Cindric and Daniel Hemric.
Allmendinger powered to the lead after the restart as Gragson dropped to third.
On Lap 103, Hamlin got around Allmendinger to reclaim the lead.
Tommy Joe Martins fell off pace on Lap 109 with an apparent engine issue and Riley Herbst drove straight into the back of him, lifting the rear wheels of the No. 44 off the ground.
All the lead-lap cars elected to pit for new tires and fuel to make it to the finish of the race. Hamlin was the first off pit road. Timmy Hill stayed out and inherited the lead.
On the restart on Lap 116, Hill was followed by Hamlin, Gragson, Allmendinger, Harrison Burton and Hemric.
Hamlin immediately reclaimed the lead on the restart.
On Lap 126, Gragson got around Allmendinger and moved into the runner-up position behind leader Hamlin.
With 10 laps remaining, Hamlin maintained about a 1-second lead over Gragson.
Brandon Jones spun on Lap 138 to bring out a caution and the lead-lap cars pit for tires. Hamlin was first off pit road with Gragson right behind him.
Hamlin was penalized for having equipment over the wall too soon and had to restart from the rear of the field.
On the restart on Lap 143, Hemric – among those who stayed out – led the way, followed by Landon Cassill, Gragson, Harrison Burton and Allmendinger.
Gragson quickly powered around Hemric to retake the lead on the restart.
A caution for debris on the backstretch sent the race into a two-lap overtime. Gragson led on the start followed by Cindric, Harrison Burton, Haley and Allgaier.
Despite a run-in with a lapped car with one lap remaining, Gragson held on to claim the Stage 2 win, his third stage victory of the 2021 season.
Hamlin rallied back to second, Cindric was third, Allgaier fourth and Hemric rounded out the top-five.
Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, the lead-lap cars all pit with Haley the first off pit road. During his pit stop, Hemric made contact with the car of David Starr, causing damage to both.
On the restart on Lap 54, Haley was followed by Allmendinger, Gragson, Hemric and Jones. Hamlin lined up 12th.
Allmendinger went to the outside of Haley exiting Turn 4 to grab the lead after the restart.
Jones spun off Turn 2 after contact with Hemric on Lap 59 and slammed into the inside wall to bring out a caution.
The race returned to green on Lap 65 with Allmendinger out front followed by Haley, Gragson, Hemric and Harrison Burton.
Gragson got around Allmendinger off Turn 2 on Lap 7 to reclaim the lead.
With 10 laps to go in the stage, Gragson held about a 1-second lead over Allmendinger with Cindric in third.
Hemric took the Stage 1 victory when leader Hamlin spun off Turn 4 on the final lap while racing side-by-side with a lapped car.
Gragson was second, Allmendinger third, Hamlin was credited with fourth and Haley rounded out the top-five.
Hemric started on the pole and led the first 10 laps until Allgaier went inside of him entering Turn 3 on Lap 11 to grab the lead.
On Lap 12, Carson Ware spun off Turn 4 and down the frontstretch to bring out a caution. Hemric pit during the caution to check on a possible engine issue. The race resumed on Lap 16 with Allgaier out front.
NASCAR displayed a competition caution on Lap 21 to allow teams to check tire wear. The race returned to green on Lap 26 with Allgaier out front, followed by Gragson and Hamlin.
With 15 laps remaining in the first stage, Allgaier held a small lead over Gragson with Hamlin right behind in third.
On Lap 31, Gragson got around Allgaier to take the lead for the first time in the race.
Hamlin went to the inside of Gragson as the two raced down the frontstretch and came out the leader on Lap 34.
On Lap 40, Hemric – who had pit for tires under the previous caution – had worked his way back up to second.
Ty Dillon replaced Brett Moffit in Our Motorsports’ No. 2 Chevrolet due to a medical issue and had to start the race from the rear of the field. Dillon finished 13th.