MARTINSVILLE, Va. — The rough and tumble nature of short track racing often lends itself by nature to surprise winners, and Saturday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway, Noah Gragson shocked the playoff field and broke down the door to victory lane.
Using a “perfect” launch on the final restart with 10 to go in the Texas Roadhouse 200 presented by Alpha Energy Solutions, Gragson surged around the outside of two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton and pulled away, powering home down the stretch to collect his first-career win in his 22nd series start.
His enthusiasm was so much so following the race that not only did he climb the fence on the frontstretch, but Gragson also found a new nickname for the Ridgeway grandfather clock trophy: the “granddaddy watch.”
“Thank you so much to my crew for all the hard work they’ve put into this. I’ve had this monkey on my back the whole year,” Gragson said in victory lane. “I’ve been asked pretty much everyday, ‘When are you going to get that win? When are you going to put up the banner at Kyle Busch Motorsports?’ I’m blown away we’re finally going to put that banner up at KBM.”
“We’re taking home the granddaddy watch, or whatever they call it. My crew chief (Marcus Richmond) … he likes to call it the granddaddy watch or granddaddy clock, so that’s what it is and we’re taking it home. This is huge.”
Gragson not only beat Crafton, but prior to that, had to fend off a hard-charging Johnny Sauter for nearly 40 laps before the final caution flew on lap 183.
“It’s really tough, racing against these veterans,” Gragson said. “Those last 40 laps, with Johnny Sauter beating off my back bumper … he did that to us earlier in the spring and I wasn’t going to let him pass me again like that. Thankful we got that caution there at the end. They say you can’t pass on the outside at Martinsville, and I did it.”
Though Crafton and Johnny Sauter split the first two stage wins, a slow stop from Sauter’s GMS Racing crew meant that playoff leader and Oklahoma young gun Christopher Bell was the leader when the final stage of Saturday’s race kicked off with 89 to go.
However, Bell was hounded by Crafton once the green flag flew, and Crafton ultimately nudged Bell into a spin as he looked for the lead in Turn 4 on lap 122.
That dropped the points leader back to 24th, at the tail end of the lead lap, while Crafton assumed command and took off on the next restart with 71 to go.
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