Noah Gragson: ‘I’ve come a long way in the past year’
RICHMOND, Va. — In his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Richmond Raceway, Noah Gragson finished second to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell.
Gragson followed Bell for the final 78 laps of the ToyotaCare 250 and looked like he had enough to attempt a pass in the last 18 laps, but Bell ultimately hung on for his first victory of the season.
Perhaps a lack of patience impeded Gragson from overtaking his teammate late in the running. He said that he would race those final laps differently if he had another opportunity.
Gragson, 19, is still finding his way on NASCAR’s national scene. He competed full-time with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series last year and finished 10th in the standings. Most KBM drivers are virtually a lock for the playoffs, but Gragson didn’t earn a win until Martinsville in late October. Without sugar-coating it, he underwhelmed compared to other KBM alumni including Bell, William Byron, and Erik Jones.
But Gragson has made a promising start to the 2018 Truck season. He has two top-fives in the first four races, including a runner-up at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Rudy Fugle, who won the title with Bell last year, is his crew chief this year.
It was hard to predict how Gragson would run in his Xfinity debut. He started 11th, and it wouldn’t have been a shocker if he flirted with the top-10 throughout the race. But he exceeded all expectations and became the 12th driver in Xfinity Series history to finish second or better in his debut.
“I’ve come a long way in the past year, and I still have a long way to go,” Gragson said. “But I definitely thought I had the drive and the fight in me. Bob Pockrass (ESPN reporter who ranked the top-20 NASCAR prospects and excluded Gragson) might not [think so] — I feel like I’ve always had that drive and that fight.
“I’m always willing to do whatever it takes to be better. Just learning from everybody that I’ve been around whether it’s off the race track at KBM or Joe Gibbs Racing or if it’s on the race track … trying to chase them down.”
Gragson’s race, while impressive, is still only one race. He’ll have a few more opportunities in the Xfinity schedule to prove that he belongs at this level. If Richmond is an indication of how his career will go, he’ll be in great shape.
“Just learning as much as I can is the biggest thing,” he said. “And I still have a long way to go.”