It was already a big week for Gragson, as earlier in the week his team JR Motorsports announced he would return in the 2022 season.
Then, after winning Stage 2 at the start of Saturday’s race at Darlington (SC) Raceway, he secured a position in the playoffs by points.
The win was the icing on the cake – cementing his playoff position and ending a 49-run winless streak dating back to June 2020.
The race was sent into a two-lap overtime when a warning was posted for debris on the back stretch. Gragson and defending Xfinity champion Austin Cindric lined up for first in the restart, but Harrison Burton quickly took second.
On two occasions, Burton attempted to bypass Gragson in Turns 3 and 4, but to no avail, giving Gragson his third career series victory.
After a savage burnout after the race, Gragson and his No.9 team scaled the fence on the frontstretch to the roar of the fans.
“It’s been way too long ago, but the first thing I want to say is thanks to all the badass racing 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 the pit lane. It was quite fun to run there. We made a good set-up in the pit stops and it’s been way too long. Lots of frustration this year and things didn’t turn out the way we did.
“We get momentum when we need it. I can’t thank enough to all of the members of this # 9 team and everyone who made this happen. Darlington, man. It is a dream come true.
Cindric was third, Justin Haley was fourth and Jeb Burton completed the top five.
Justin Allgaier, Tyler Reddick, Jeremy Clements, Myatt Snider and Alex Labbe completed the top 10.
After the break between stages 2 and 3, the lead lap car came to a complete stop with Gragson on the first road out of the pits.
On the restart on lap 98, Gragson was followed by Hamlin, AJ Allmendinger, Cindric and Daniel Hemric.
Allmendinger took the lead after the restart as Gragson fell to third.
On lap 103, Hamlin rounded Allmendinger to regain the lead.
Tommy Joe Martins lost pace on lap 109 with an apparent engine problem and Riley Herbst rushed straight for him, lifting the rear wheels of No.44 off the ground.
All the cars in the lead have chosen to refuel for new tires and fuel to get to the finish of the race. Hamlin was the first road out of the pits. Timmy Hill stayed on the sidelines and inherited the lead.
On the restart on lap 116, Hill was followed by Hamlin, Gragson, Allmendinger, Harrison Burton and Hemric.
Hamlin immediately regained the lead on the restart.
On lap 126, Gragson bypassed Allmendinger and placed second behind leader Hamlin.
With 10 laps remaining, Hamlin maintained a lead of around 1 second over Gragson.
Brandon Jones spun around on lap 138 to bring out a warning and the cars pit the lead lap for the tires. Hamlin was the first off the pit lane with Gragson right behind him.
Hamlin was penalized for passing the equipment over the wall too early and had to start from behind.
On the restart on lap 143, Hemric – among those who stayed on the sidelines – led the way, followed by Landon Cassill, Gragson, Harrison Burton and Allmendinger.
Gragson quickly got around Hemric to regain the lead in the restart.
A debris warning on the back stretch sent the race into a two-lap overtime. Gragson led at the start followed by Cindric, Harrison Burton, Haley and Allgaier.
Despite a break-in with a doubled car one lap from the end, Gragson held on to win the second stage, his third stage victory of the 2021 season.
Hamlin returned to second place, Cindric was third, Allgaier fourth and Hemric completed the top five.
After the break between stages 1 and 2, the leading lap cars all come to a halt with Haley the first road out of the pits. During his pit stop, Hemric made contact with David Starr’s car, 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 outside of Haley at the exit of Turn 4 to take the lead after the restart.
Jones exited Turn 2 after contacting Hemric on Lap 59 and slammed into the inside wall to bring out a warning.
The race returned to green on lap 65 with Allmendinger ahead of Haley, Gragson, Hemric and Harrison Burton.
Gragson rounded Allmendinger on Turn 2 on Lap 7 to regain the lead.
With 10 laps to go in the stage, Gragson held a lead of around 1 second over Allmendinger with Cindric in third.
Hemric won Stage 1 when leader Hamlin exited Turn 4 on the last lap as he raced side by side with a overtaken car.
Gragson was second, Allmendinger third, Hamlin was credited fourth and Haley completed the top five.
Hemric started on pole and led the first 10 laps until Allgaier got inside him entering Turn 3 on lap 11 to take the lead.
On lap 12, Carson Ware spun around Turn 4 and the front stretch to bring out a warning. Hemric pit during the warning to check for a possible engine problem. The race resumed on lap 16 with Allgaier in the lead.
NASCAR posted a competition warning on lap 21 to allow teams to check tire wear. The race returned to green on lap 26 with Allgaier in the lead, followed by Gragson and Hamlin.
With 15 laps to go in the first stage, Allgaier held a small lead over Gragson with Hamlin just behind in the third.
On lap 31, Gragson rounded Allgaier to take the lead for the first time in the race.
Hamlin went inside Gragson as the two ran across the front and came out on top on lap 34.
On lap 40, Hemric – who had tires on the pit under the previous yellow one – had climbed up to second place.
Ty Dillon replaced Brett Moffit in Our Motorsports No.2 Chevrolet due to a medical issue and had to start the race from behind the field. Dillon finished 13th.