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Las Vegas’ Noah Gragson lights track on fire at Daytona

It was assumed all along that Noah Gragson would be fired up about returning to race in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Boyd Gaming 300 at on his hometown track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

But few expected it in literal sense.

The Las Vegas youngster broke through for his first Xfinity win in the season opener at Daytona Saturday, after which he performed smoke-belching doughnuts that set the track ablaze. When he climbed out of his car, Gragson fanned the flames he had wrought.

He said he got the idea from playing video games about the time he was driving around in circles at the LVMS Bullring during his formative years.

“I played ‘NASCAR Inside Line’ when I was racing Bandoleros and Legend cars and the K&N Series, and I’d do like a 10‑minute burnout after I’d win,” Gragson, 21, said after winning for the first time in 37 starts in NASCAR’s triple-A division. “I figured if I could ever do that in real life, that would be pretty cool.”

He recovered from an early race speeding penalty on pit lane and held on for the win during a three-lap shootout after several contenders were eliminated in a chain-reaction crash. It took Gragson a long time to reach victory lane after he climbed the fence, lit the track on fire and ran down the front stretch before sliding over the hood of his No. 9 Chevrolet to celebrate his maiden Xfinity victory.

Let the celebration begin

A TV reporter suggested that Dale Earnhardt Jr., Gragson’s car owner, might want to teach him to arrive in victory lane in a more expedient manner.

“Let him have his fun, man,” Junior said. “It’s Daytona; you don’t know if you’ll ever get this win again or get a chance to celebrate here again, so do what you wanna do.”

The Cup Series drivers were getting ready to start engines for the rain-delayed Daytona 500 Monday when Gragson was asked to relive the win and the celebration that followed. He said one of the coolest things happened behind closed doors at the JR Motorsports shop when he and the team got to ring the traditional victory bell.

“They ring the bell here as a way to acknowledge everybody’s hard work,” he said. “We were able to speak, and Dale was here, and my crew chief ( Dave Elenz) spoke as well.”

First victories at Daytona are hard to top. But Gragson said if he can set his hometown track on fire on Saturday afternoon it would come pretty darn close.

“To be able to move on back to Las Vegas coming off Daytona with such strong momentum and a win, it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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