By Cole Cusumano
Having been labeled a “punk” by many in the early stages, Gragson’s wild tenacity and aggressive on-track antics appear to be largely a thing of the past. Since joining JR Motorsports in 2019, there’s no denying his gradual progression of maturity and composure.
Yet still, inklings of the old Gragson peek through the crack every now and then, but not nearly at the rate or extremities as his late-adolescent years. Instead, the 24-year-old has done a bulk of his talking on track, specifically this year, by already tying his single-season wins record with three and racking up 16 top-10s along the way with the playoffs looming.
“He’s a roller coaster, that’s for sure,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of his fourth-year driver. “I was listening to him on the broadcast [at Watkins Glen], his whole demeanor and personality and everything seems to be much improved over where we were a couple months ago.”
The growth of Gragson was on display at The Glen, as he scored his 12th top-10 of the season at a track he dubbed one of his worst. This has been a trend for the driver of the No. 9 in 2022, as his Championship 4 ambitions have fueled his hunger to be the best.
Instead of wielding his Chevy Camaro as a wrecking ball, Gragson is reaping the benefits of collaborating with Luke Lambert as his crew chief this year by putting together complete races. Through 22 starts, he has just two DNFs.
But let’s get one thing straight: Gragson’s newfound maturity hasn’t turned him vanilla.
Holding true to his Las Vegas roots, Gragson has a flair that’s essential to NASCAR. In a time where personality and originality are lacking, the 24-year-old has no problem sporting a mullet, giant polarized sunglasses and putting on a show for the crowd.
Whether he’s making burnt rubber bonfires on the frontstretch or climbing the catchfence, Gragson brings an infectious element of excitement to the sports. To put it simply, he comes off as a bro everyone wants to be friends with.
At the end of the day, he’s just a normal, young adult trying to navigate through life and he’s not afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve – positive or negative.
“It’s tough to live life with such lows and such high peaks, but there’s people that are just built that way and that’s going to be who he is going forward,” Earnhardt said. “I think that’s going to be part of the journey for him – the lows will be low and the highs will be really high, but he’ll get in this position where he’ll find some stability and some positivity in his life and that seems to be where we are now.”
Luckily for race fans, the legend of Gragson will grow, as it was announced he’ll be racing the No. 42 for Petty GMS full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series next year. Although he has yet to have a shining moment at the sport’s top level in the 10 starts he’s made between Kaulig Racing and Beard Motorsports, there’s no denying the talent and excitement he radiates.
In the meantime, Gragson is seen as one of the favorites for the NASCAR Xfinity Series title this season and he’ll look to follow up his Championship 4 run last year with another in 2022.
“Even though that’s something he can look forward to, it’s not a distraction,” Earnhardt said. “I think in his situation, it’s a good thing going on in his life that will support a positive attitude during the work weekend, like we had this weekend at Watkins Glen.
“I expect it to be a plus for us as we try to win a championship with Noah this year.”