In what was likely his final Xfinity Series race at his home track, Las Vegas native Noah Gragson was looking to break through for his first win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Entering Saturday’s Alsco Uniforms 302, Gragson’s worst finish in his seven starts at the track was sixth, and he was in prime position to drive to Victory Lane as he started on the front row of the final restart with fresh tires.
But on the first lap off the restart, Landon Cassill made contact with AJ Allmendinger in Turn 4, and Cassill slid right in front of Gragson, who fell back to seventh.
Gragson, who led a race-high 89 laps, tried to rally in the final 30 laps, but he finished second to JR Motorsports teammate Josh Berry, who also won this race last season.
“We had a seven-second lead and were executing right,” Gragson said. “I just need to do a better job at the end of the day. I’m pissed off, but we’ll go back and learn. It’s my last Xfinity Series race here at Vegas. It’s one that I’ve wanted to win for a long time.”
Gragson had found speed running at the top of the track, which allowed him to take and grow the lead on previous restarts. He said his car was too tight after he fell back in traffic and tried to chase down Berry.
With the win, Berry advances to the Championship 4 round of the Xfinity playoffs, where he will be one of four drivers who will race for the series championship in Phoenix on Nov. 5.
“We had to be at our best,” Berry said. “I’m not going to say we were at our complete best potential, but we had a really fast race car and executed when it counted.”
Berry had a close call as he tried to take the lead. He drove to the outside of Allmendinger off Turn 4 and hit the outside wall as Allmendinger went to block Berry.
With a win and a shot to race for the championship on the line, backing out wasn’t an option, Berry said.
“I felt like that was our opportunity to — if we got out front — to control the race,” Berry said. “We had a lot of speed for about 30-35 laps of each run. It was shaping up to be ours to lose, we just had to get the clean air.”
Riley Herbst, another Las Vegan in the field, had an eventful week before he got to the track after his hauler was involved in an accident in Arizona on Wednesday.
He was in store for a top-10 run, but a safety violation on his last pit stop forced him to serve a pass-through penalty. He finished in 16th place, one lap down.
Herbst had to start at the rear of the field after spinning in qualifying Friday. He worked his way up into the top 1o in the final stage before he had to serve his penalty.