By: Ashley McCubbin
Starting up front, Noah Gragson’s ability to run strong on the road courses shined over the course of the first stage en route to a second-place finish. However, the second segment did not start how he wanted.
In his own words, he “stepped on my ding dong there,” and spun the car around, backing it into the tire barrier in a move he says should not have happened due to racing too hard early.
“I don’t know if I’m allowed to say it where you guys will write it,” Noah Gragson told POPULAR SPEED about his response at the time of incident. “But I was disappointed in myself. Definitely bummed, but more importantly, I felt like I let my team down, my Bass Pro Shops / True Timber / Black Rifle Coffee JRM guys down. I don’t like mistakes and I’m hard on mistake, but definitely made a really big one
“Just fortunate to hit the way we did – obviously, you don’t want to spin, but we were able to recover and get the car back to 80-90%. So just tried to take care of it from there on and end it with a top-three, and focus on my own race. But I had a lot of fun, none the less.”
Gragson would make his way back through the field while avoiding incidents ahead of him, finding his way into the top-five in the final laps. He then out-battled Andy Lally and AJ Allmendinger to score a third-place finish.
“Dave Elenz and the rest of the guys really stood behind me and we just never gave up,” he commented. “(I was) just trying not to make enemies out there; it seems like some guys are mad at each other. But I had a great time. It was tough on brakes, tough on tires, the track got really greasy there at the end. Everybody’s brakes were worn out and everybody was going as hard as they can – 105%, over the top. So just trying to save my car to the end. We recovered for third so just really thankful for the opportunity.”
Without the mistake, Gragson could have possibly been part of the battle for the win between series front runners Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric.
“They might be a little smarter than me not running off the track early in the race, but I think they’re both great racecar drivers,” he commented. “They have great teams behind them, and same with myself. I have a great team behind myself. It’s been quite the pleasure racing not just with them, but everybody in the Xfinity Series. There’s a lot of great talent and I’m just lucky to be a part of it and trying to do the best job that I can.”
The third-place finish at Daytona coincides perfectly with how his season has gone thus far. After winning the season opening restrictor plate event at the facility, Gragson went on to win at Bristol Motor Speedway, boosting nine top-five’s while ranked third in points.
“Things are really good for me right now and the guys at JR Motorsports,” he said. “I know the guys are really pumped up and motivated to get back to the race track each and every week. Just got to keep working hard and using the tools around me and making the most of the opportunity and learn, and build on myself every day.”
Knowing the playoffs are right around the corner, Gragson recognizes the speed Cindric and Briscoe have shown to put themselves at the top of the conversation. However, he believes JR Motorsports has the ability to be right there with them.
“I have a lot of faith in my crew chief Dave Elenz and I have a lot of faith in my No. 9 team at JR Motorsports,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “We have a great sponsor with Johnny Morris (and Bass Pro Shops); he’s taking a big risk on me as a driver and gone all-in on me. Very fortunate to have him behind me, along with Rusty Sellers at True Timber. Everything is very good for us right now. Just trying to do the best job possible, and finish these races without any enemies and get into the playoffs.”
Enemies isn’t something that Gragson has avoided all year long, involved in a couple scuffles to get into this point. Though while a lot of conversation surrounds his aggressive nature and perspective at times, the young man is keeping his focus on himself.
“I’ve just been trying to focus on my priorities and focus on what is going to better myself for my team at JR Motorsports and how I can apply myself more,” he explained. “Whether it be friendships that aren’t really the best bringing drama to myself, or different things – just trying to eliminate those options. Just been spending a lot of time by myself at home really not doing anything, studying film, playing Xbox and going to shop. Not really having fun, but trying to clean up my friends and trying to clean up stuff that brings extra drama into my life.
:Things that the less I can think about during the day, the better I can be on the race track because there’s a lot of things that are rolling through my head right now. So I got stuff going on, but happy with where I’m at and happy to be with my No. 9 team. Dave Elenz and the rest of the guys have been great support for me and just to keep focusing on myself and my priorities for sure.”
While he is unsure if all these decisions he is making will ultimately make a difference on the race track, they are part of the bigger picture, which is life in general.
“I hope it helps me as a person moving on in life,” he added. “I think that’s a bigger picture – how to be a better man, how to man up and say you’re in the wrong in the past, and clean up some mistakes that you’ve made in the past and everything. It’s an off-subject and doesn’t really have to do with racing, but just trying to be in the right head space for when I get to race track.
“Obviously, there’s a lot a great competitors here in the Xfinity Series and I need to be at my max. I need to be my focus and take full advantage of the opportunity. I’m just very thankful for this opportunity and I am going to keep trying to be me, keep trying to be better, and compete for this championship.”