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Miami heartbreak again for Noah Gragson in late crash

Noah Gragson announced his intent to be assertive in a pre-race interview, saying it was “checkers or wreckers” Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With inside three laps left in the scheduled race distance and within reach of the former, the 22-year-old driver got the latter end of his either/or proposition.

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Gragson’s No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet led the field in the closing laps of Saturday’s Contender Boats 250 when the No. 13 Toyota of veteran David Starr bobbled into his path with an apparent issue on his MBM Motorsports entry. Starr’s No. 13 scraped the outside retaining wall, and the faster car of Gragson plowed into his back bumper, ending his day and sending the race into overtime for others to decide.

“You know what they can do is get these guys a (expletive) drivers license,” Gragson radioed his team after coming to a halt.

In Starr’s defense, he had rallied from the last-place starting position to run inside the top 15, clawing to stay on the lead lap when his trouble struck.

Gragson didn’t back down in his televised interview, which also pushed the boundaries of PG-13: “What are you gonna do? You got (expletives) in the way every single week,” he said. “But very thankful for Johnny Morris and Bass Pro Shops. It’s a shame. We’ve dominated the last three races, including this race, and have had stuff happen like that.”

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Gragson started last season in the best way possible, prevailing in the Xfinity Series’ opener at Daytona International Speedway. This year’s first three races have been the opposite, with finishes of 32nd, 28th and Saturday’s 33th — all of which have him stuck in 27th in the series standings.

Adding to the ache: Gragson had made Miami’s well-worn 1.5-mile layout his playground in recent runs. In his last two Miami starts, he led the most laps each time but was forced to settle for top-five finishes. Saturday, his 34 laps out front ranked third in the field, but his late-race advantage was a commanding one before its derailment.

“Definitely a bummer,” Gragson said. “They know who won this race based off speed the last three times we’ve been here, and not meant to show it. But (crew chief) Dave Elenz and the rest of these guys, it’s really unfortunate, but there’s only one thing we know how to do and that’s rebound and keep our heads up and be thankful for the opportunity.”