SONOMA, Calif. — The black flag taketh away; the black flag giveth.
In a race where Noah Gragson thought his chance for a win disappeared with a penalty for jumping a restart, the 20-year-old from Las Vegas wound up in Victory Lane after Ryan Preece’s apparent win disappeared under similar circumstances.
In the end, it was Gragson celebrating the win in Sunday’s Procore 200 at Sonoma Raceway.
“Helluva race,” Gragson said. “Kind of had a little bit of … adversity there in the middle of the race. Got called for jumping the start as the leader. Never really heard that one before, but we battled back through adversity and ended up the winner.”
Preece was extremely frustrated with how his afternoon concluded after leading over 20 laps to the finish.
“What are you gonna do?” Preece said. “It’s their sandbox, they’re gonna do what they want. They manipulated the race at the end of the day and we won that race. Jumping a restart is going two car lengths early; it’s part of it. You might as well hold my hands behind my back and tie them up if you’re going to make me go at the same line every single time.”
Gragson started second and took the lead from pole-sitter Hailie Deegan on the initial start. He didn’t relinquish the top spot until he encountered the aforementioned adversity: a restart violation of his own.
Gragson was slicing and dicing his way through the field from that point on, putting his No. 7 Switch Chevrolet in places it appeared wouldn’t warrant a pass.
But Gragson kept clawing back. After a few cautions bunched the field back up, he found himself in position to pounce. And although he was behind Preece when the final caution flew on the white flag lap, he was scored the winner. The NASCAR Xfinity Series regular collected his fifth K&N Pro Series West career win and and seventh overall in K&N.
Daniel Hemric, Austin Dillon, Cole Custer and David Mayhew rounded out the top five finishers with defending race winner Will Rodgers, Jim Inglebright, Deegan, Dave Smith and Paul Pedroncelli Jr. completing the top 10. With the penalty, Preece was scored 20th, the last car on the lead lap.
Derek Kraus, the championship points leader coming into Sonoma, encountered engine issues around the halfway point and was on pit road for multiple laps as his team repaired the issue on the No. 16. After getting the free pass twice and making up three laps, he was in position for a top 19 finish, but crossed the finish line in 19th after being spun out on the final lap.
Kraus saw his championship lead cut to one over teammate Deegan, while Trevor Huddleston is 11 back and Huddleston’s rookie teammate Jagger Jones is now only 13 behind Kraus.
The Procore 200 will be broadcast Thursday, June 27 at 6 p.m. on NBCSN.
The next K&N Pro Series West event will take place on Saturday, June 29 at Douglas County Speedway in Roseburg, Oregon.
-NASCAR Press Release
-Photo credit: Russell LaBounty, NKP/NASCAR