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Noah Gragson is normally a loquacious, upbeat young racer. The man you might remember seeing in the pits at Bristol Motor Speedway last year with a shark head on in attempt to bring some mirth to a wet night. On Thursday (Nov. 15), you saw a different Gragson. One that was a little bit nervous.
Why, you ask? He’s never really been in the situation of racing in a winner-take-all scenario such as Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200. Gragson admitted that he really had no idea how to prepare for the weekend. That said, he did go to Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and others for advice.
In addition to it being Gragson’s first chance at a championship in the Camping World Truck Series, it is his last race with Kyle Busch Motorsports before moving on to JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series next year. In the time he’s spent with KBM, he’s grown by leaps and bounds.
“I feel like I’ve learned a bit more about what to look for going into the weekend,” Gragson said during his media availability. “A lot of that is just me maturing from a teenager to an early 20-year old. My racecraft has definitely improved, but a lot more of it is the off-track preparation and the maturity factor.
Being 20, living away from home is still a relatively new thing from Gragson. Here is where crew chief Rudy Fugle comes into play. He’s much more than just the man on top of the pit box.
“I feel that Rudy’s been a big part of our success this year; obviously, we have fast SafeLite [Auto Glass] Toyotas at the track each week,” Gragson said. “More importantly, he’s helped me more on the off-track stuff. He’s been more of a father figure to me and really helped me grow up. He’s helped me learn what I need to look forward to and things I need to do better. It’s been really good working with him.”
That said, Fugle is not above sending Gragson some extra information to show him about his winning tradition. Earlier this week, Fugle texted Gragson a picture of his seven championship rings. The meaning behind that picture was obvious. Here’s what you have in your corner. No one else has this backing them up. There’s no reason why you can’t bring this home this weekend. Let’s make it eight.
The only problem with something along those lines is that it can crank up the pressure that much more.
“I didn’t know what to think,” Gragson said. “I didn’t know if I’m like, ‘man, I’m going to be super bummed out if I don’t get [Fugle] another one.’ But then more importantly, having that confidence and going in and knowing I’m with the best team and the best Tundra, Safelite AutoGlass on the hood, can’t get much better than that. Really fortunate to be in this position, and going to try and make the most of this opportunity.”
Despite his visible nerves, Gragson is trying to keep himself focused on the task at hand.
“I’m just focused on executing,” Gragson continued. “I can’t think about the trophy. II just have to think about how to get to the trophy. To finish first, you have to first finish. So I’m just focused on execution, doing my job, and the rest will pay off.”
Gragson will enter the Championship 4 as the driver with the least number of victories this season (one), but with what he believes is the best pedigree in the garage. If he executes as the team expects, then he very well could leave Homestead Friday night with the trophy.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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