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Noah Gragson worn out but ready to race for Xfinity title

Noah Gragson can’t decide if he’s more excited about racing for the NASCAR’s Xfinity Series championship in Phoenix on Saturday or catching up on some long-deserved rest when he returns home to Las Vegas afterward.

“Sleep in mostly, to be honest,” the 24-year-old budding star said of his offseason plans after a busy 2021 in which he also drove in 18 races in the marquee Cup Series. “I don’t want to see airplanes for a long time just because I’m so tired and worn out.”

But when the green flag falls Saturday, he doesn’t expect any trouble in mustering a second wind to race JR Motorsports teammates Josh Berry and Justin Allgaier and NASCAR’s newest villain, Ty Gibbs, for the title in professional stock car racing’s top steppingstone series.

The top finisher among those four will be declared the Xfinity champion.

Gragson, who won a series-high eight Infinity races in 2022 and will be moving to the Cup Series full time next year to drive for fellow Las Vegan Maury Gallagher and NASCAR legend Richard Petty, said he’s not exactly sure what kind of championship race to expect.

“Depends on who you’re racing (against),” he said about the possibiity of another close finish after Daniel Hemric edged Austin Cindric in a door-banging duel last season. “Junior racing teammates are not going to destroy each other trying to win this thing. The other guy, you never know.”

Gibbs, the grandson of NASCAR Cup Series team owner Joe Gibbs who is expected to replace two-time NASCAR champion Kyle Busch of Las Vegas behind the wheel next season, wrecked teammate Brandon Jones on purpose as the two were battling for the win at Martinsville, Virginia, last week.

The crash knocked Jones out of championship contention and triggered widespread criticism among drivers and NASCAR fans.

“He doesn’t care. He lives in fantasyland,” said the aggressive Gragson, who has had his own run-ins with Gibbs this season. “I have no clue what goes through his mind. It’s got to be badass to live in the kind of world where you just have no real consequences or anything.”

But win, lose or get taken out, Gragson said it will bittersweet leaving the team headed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. to launch his full-time Cup career.

“It’s been a little emotional these past couple of weeks,” he said. “But hopefully when the checkered flag drops Saturday night, the mood is really happy and we can be lifting that championship trophy over our heads.”

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

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