Race Weekend Central

Hometown Top 10 Shows Noah Gragson Is Back

LAS VEGAS — There were many questions surrounding Noah Gragson and Stewart-Haas Racing coming into 2024 — but pairing took the first step toward showing they can compete with the best in the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday (March 3).

Gragson came up through the field late in the Pennzoil 400 to finish sixth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his home track. It was Gragson’s third career top-10 finish but his first that wasn’t at Daytona International Speedway.

“These guys are good,” Gragson said. “It feels good to do it in front of the hometown crowd.”

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The 25-year-old joined SHR this year after a rookie season that ended with him parting ways with Legacy Motor Club following his suspension for liking a racially insensitive social media post. Gragson struggled in his 21 starts with Legacy, failing to score a single top 10 and averaging a 28.2 finish. So the verdict was out on how he would do with SHR.

SHR as a whole was a question mark this year following Kevin Harvick‘s retirement. The four drivers that now make up the team’s roster have a total of one Cup win.

“This compared to last year just has a lot more speed,” Gragson said. “You can go where you want. We’ve got a good pit crew and just a good team.”

Gragson showed speed out the gate at Las Vegas, posting the second best time in practice. That speed did not translate into qualifying though, as Gragson started the race in 30th.

The 13-time NASCAR Xfinity Series winner methodically worked his way through the field before finally emerging in the top 10 in the final stage. It looked like Gragson might have enough to get into the top five at the end, but Ty Gibbs and Ross Chastain held him off after a fierce battle.

“I was battling Ty and Ross there at the end for a top five,” Gragson said. “I really wanted a top five, but coming from 30th to sixth I’m just really proud of everyone’s effort.”

After he climbed out the car, Gragson walked over and talked to Gibbs, his former rival in their Xfinity days, briefly, giving him a fist-bump before walking away.

Gibbs told Frontstretch that Gragson was apologizing for squeezing the No. 54 into the wall during their battle.

“Yeah, we definitely need to be better, and I need to clean some stuff up,” Gragson said. “Really, other than that last restart, I don’t think I had any net gains on restarts, so I need to keep working on that. 

“I’m still trying to figure it all out, but overall, it’s a good stepping stone to where we’re at right now. We’re gonna take this and get back into the positives in points and just keep on working, keep on learning and becoming better than we were yesterday and just keep that attitude. I think we’ve got the tightest group in the garage. They’re awesome to work with, and I love every one of them.”

The good news for Gragson is he has started the season with two top 10s in the first three races. The bad news is he sits 34th in the point standings after being docked 35 points this past week for the roof rail deflectors not meeting the required criteria at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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But if the No. 10 team keeps showing the speed they showed at the end of Vegas, then Gragson should be able to climb his way back up in the points, if not win. The SHR Fords looked faster at Vegas on Sunday than they did most of last year. Changing to the Mustang Dark Horse might’ve given the team just enough to get over the recent struggles.

“This is the first true testament,” Gragson said. “I don’t know. [Ryan] Blaney was up there and maybe a couple other guys in the Ford camp, but this Mustang Dark Horse is bitchin’. It’s fast, and it’s been really good. 

“You can see the speed that it’s had in qualifying. Not for me, because I drove like a sissy out there. But with the other guys, they have three poles so far this year, so we’re going good.”

About the author

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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