Saturday's motors: Gragson holds off Gibbs in thrilling Xfinity race at Pocono

Associated Press

Long Pond, Pa. — Noah Gragson kept a hard-charging Ty Gibbs at bay down the stretch and held on to win his third Xfinity Series race of the season Saturday night at Pocono Raceway.

Gragson also won at Phoenix and Talladega and he took JR Motorsports to victory lane for the second straight weekend. Justin Allgaier won last week at New Hampshire.

Gragson, linked to the vacant ride next season at Petty GMS Motorsports, bumped doors with Gibbs on the last lap and raced at the bottom of the track to pick up the win. Better yet, Gragson and Gibbs raced side-by-side for a clean, thrilling end in the wake of a feud that started last month at Portland International Raceway. Gragson vowed payback after Gibbs dumped him during the race.

No hard feelings at Pocono. Just great racing.

“That was probably the best I’ve ever driven there,” Gragson said. “I’m working my (rear) off to keep the 54 back there. With 15 to go, I didn’t think we could hold him off. I’m exhausted.”

Gragson, who celebrated by climbing the fence, will make his eighth Cup start of the season Sunday.

Gibbs said he was determined over the final few miles to keep the race and blamed himself for making mistakes that cost him the win driving for his grandfather, Joe Gibbs.

“I just didn’t put it together,” said the 19-year-old Gibbs.

Josh Berry was third, AJ Allmendinger fourth and Sheldon Creed fifth. Chevrolet put eight drivers in the top 10, with Gibbs and Toyota and 10th-place finisher Cole Custer in Ford the outliers.

The red flag was thrown late in the race following a scary wreck that turned Jeb Burton’s No. 27 Chevrolet upside down and it skidded down the track. The 29-year-old Burton, his car launched in the air and slammed on the hood, walked away unscathed.

“Man, that was not good,” Burton said. “Just appreciate the safety crew. They got to me fast.”

Keeping his cool in the television booth as he explained the wreck: Burton’s uncle, retired NASCAR driver Jeff Burton. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Santino Ferrucci and Ronnie Bassett Jr., were also collected in the crash and knocked out of the race.

Sage Karam finished 20th in his first NASCAR race at the track and first time racing at the track since he triggered a wreck in a 2015 IndyCar race that killed IndyCar driver Justin Wilson. The 27-year-old Karam took a bike ride around the track this week, a necessary step to reflect on his own, challenging journey. He tweeted his thanks to the “racing community for all the positive vibes this week.”

NASCAR Truck Series

Zane Smith clinched the regular season NASCAR Truck Series championship and Chandler Smith took the checkered flag Saturday at Pocono Raceway.

Chandler Smith won his second race of the season driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports and is one of only two drivers in the playoff field with multiple wins this season. He led 49 of 60 laps on the 2½-mile tri-oval track.

Chandler Smith (18) leads the pack down the front straight on a restart of the NASCAR Truck Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Saturday, July 23, 2022 in Long Pond, Pa.

“We’ve been going through a little bit of a struggle recently,” Chandler Smith said.

It was clear sailing at Pocono.

Zane Smith and Chandler Smith (they are not related), Ben Rhodes, John Hunter Nemechek, Stewart Friesen, Christian Eckes, Ty Majeski, Carson Hocevar, Grant Enfinger and Matt Crafton are in the playoffs. The run to the championship opens Friday at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Majeski, Crafton, Rhodes and Eckes all drive for ThorSport Racing. Crafton will race for a fourth series championship.

Zane Smith was the Truck Series runner-up in each of the past two seasons and hoped his success -- he has three wins -- over the first 16 races can better position him to win his first championship. One caveat: NASCAR’s Trucks’ regular-season points leader has not won the season championship in each of the past four years.

He finished 13th on Saturday.

Todd Bodine slammed the wall early in his 800th career NASCAR start and the final scheduled one of his career. A two-time Truck Series champion, Bodine ran a limited schedule the past few seasons. He made 241 career Cup starts, 333 in the second-tier Xfinity Series, and Saturday marked his 226th in the Truck Series. He made his NASCAR debut in a Busch Series race (now Xfinity) and finished 27th on Sept. 21, 1986 at Martinsville Speedway.

He finished last in 36th place at Pocono.

Formula One

Le Castellet, France — Charles Leclerc used help from Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. to beat Formula One leader Max Verstappen and take pole position for the French Grand Prix on Saturday.

Sainz had nothing at stake since he was starting from the back of the grid after multiple engine-part changes, so Ferrari used him to give Leclerc a tow on his two runs in Q3.

Leclerc was up by just .008 seconds from Verstappen after his first run. The team worked seamlessly on Leclerc's second run as he beat his own leading time and finished .3 seconds ahead of Verstappen and .46 clear of Verstappen's Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.

Lewis Hamilton qualified in fourth for Mercedes.

Leclerc thanked Sainz on the team radio after his seventh pole of the season and 16th of his career. It was also a good sign of Ferrari working together, after Leclerc expressed frustration at team orders in Monaco and at the British GP.

Verstappen said Ferrari's tactics were “smart” but that it wasn't something Red Bull could try, since they were both going for pole.

Sainz's engine caught fire near the end of the last grand prix in Austria two weeks ago. He was handed a 10-place grid penalty on Friday because Ferrari changed the power unit, and extra engine changes on Saturday sent him to the last row with Kevin Magnussen, whose Haas team made similar engine changes.

McLaren's Lando Norris was fifth and Hamilton's teammate George Russel in sixth. Russel was still in the drop zone with four minutes left in Q2, and was worried about a potential yellow flag scuppering his final lap so he asked to come out as early as possible. McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo was 11th and eliminated.

Fernando Alonso (Alpine), Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri), Sainz and Magnussen (Haas) rounded out the top 10.

Sainz qualified ninth and will start 19th, while Magnussen was 10th and goes last.

The first part of Q1 saw Perez momentarily getting in Verstappen’s way.

After two top 10 finishes at the British GP and Austria, Haas driver Mick Schumacher was confident heading to Le Castellet. But he was among the five drivers eliminated from Q1, along with home favorite Pierre Gasly.

Earlier Saturday, Verstappen comfortably led the third practice by .35 seconds from Sainz and .64 from Leclerc, with Hamilton fourth.

Hamilton is taking part in his 300th race and seeking his first win of the season after three straight podiums.

Ferrari topped both Friday practices through Leclerc then Sainz.

Ferrari is seeking a third consecutive victory following Sainz’s win at Silverstone and Leclerc’s drive to victory in Austria, where he trimmed Verstappen's overall lead to 38 points.

Red Bull and Ferrari have won the first 11 races between them, with Red Bull up 7-4.

The atmosphere at the Paul Ricard Circuit in southeastern France was calm compared to some of the boorish behavior at recent races.