By: Ashley McCubbin
As young drivers evolve and grow in the sport, maturity is a topic that often comes up in conversation with regards to their outlook in the sport. Noah Gragson has been no different, referencing last season he was making lifestyle changes in those around him and more.
Looking back on last summer, Gragson feels the changes were for the better.
“I still talk to some of those people, but there’s no more distractions in my life,” he commented. “I’ve surrounded myself with good people and had a lot of weight on my shoulders with different life stuff going on, so I feel like it was time to make a change and we were going through a slump there in the middle part of the season.
“It was a struggle – feel better now, feel more confident than ever, and each day getting closer to race season gets me more pumped up.”
Gragson’s maturity was a topic of conversation last year amidst critics about his “wreckers or checkers” driving style, and incidents came out. While changes are happening in his life, the JR Motorsports competitor insists his style behind the wheel is not one of those.
“There’s good and bad that comes with that aggressive racing style, but that’s who I am,” he stated. “I try to make cool moves, three, four-wide moves where people are like how did he do that. I think that’s kind of what I do to try and get people talking, build my brand, and get more exposure for sponsors and what not. I don’t know if I’m going to change, but that’s where I’m at in my head space right now.
“I am going to stay true to my style and what I’m comfortable with and hanging it out on the line and being sideways. I’m an adrenaline junkie so when I scare myself, that’s when I feel most comfortable.”
The beginning of the season in 2019 saw Gragson confronting several of his competitors, including Harrison Burton and Myatt Snider on pit road. It seemed everything came to a head when he won at Bristol Motor Speedway following contact with his teammate Justin Allgaier.
Although not how he would have preferred things to go at times, Gragson recognizes aggressive nature may produce wrecks, and that is fine – as long as you’re learning along the way.
“Before I started at JR Motorsports, I would’ve said no,” he explained. “But the only time it is okay, and the only reason I say this is because my crew chief, my team leader; the only thing I have is my team, JR Motorsports, and our team. Dave Elenz always tells me that I need to go out there and need to find your limits, and drive it until you mess up.
“He used to have Tyler Reddick back in 2018 and Tyler would wreck every weekend in practice, right side it, and he would wreck in the race, and might of looked stupid, but I think a lot of people can agree that Tyler Reddick is a really talented racecar driver, and I think he got the credit he deserved.
“I know it looks bad on paper, but to find your limits, you have to step over the edge. So Dave tells me that it’s okay to wreck, as long as you’re going forward and exceeding your limits. So obviously we don’t want to wreck racecars – that’s the main goal, but the only way to learn is by learning.”
It is worth nothing through the summer after the incidents, he was sat down by his car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and offered advice on how to change things. Gragson tried to follow that, but felt it hindered his performance, resulting in the summer slump he suffered.
“I tried doing what everyone said – be cautious out there, don’t run over guys, and don’t race aggressively,” he recalled. “I think it showed on the stat sheet; we went through a dry spell with seventh, eighth-place finishes, and that’s not where our race team is. That’s not where the driver I am in our racecars at JR Motorsports; I feel like we’re a better company than that, and have better racecars than what we were finishing in – and a lot of it was me.”
It’s why heading into the playoffs, he said “screw that” reverted back to being aggressive – and it almost paid off with a position in the Championship 4.
Now set for the Daytona 500, it seems the advice from Ms. Beard is fitting for Gragson’s approach for 2020.
“Tell that little shit to go drive the piss out of it, and drive it for all it’s worth.”