This is a somber week after the Daytona 500. I’ve found myself struggling to write about the Cup Series. It’s funny because I’m not a Ryan Newman fan, I actually don’t care for him as a driver, and yet the only thing I want is to see that snarky smile and for him to says he’s okay and he’ll be back for Vegas.
So, instead of focusing on Cup, I wanna take a step down and talk about the young man who won the NASCAR Racing Experience 300, and that’s Noah Gragson.
Noah is a bit of an odd duck. When he first burst into NASCAR I thought that he was quirky and a little weird. I’m not against a driver having a personality though, and I’ve started to find it endearing, but it took me off-guard because I had never even heard of him.
What I didn’t like is that when he first started in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports, he seemed to be emulating his boss and driving over-aggressively and hurting fellow drivers’ finish as well as his own. Specifically, I remember him and Sauter racing at the end of the Dover race in 2018 and it was obvious Gragson attempted to take Sauter out in order to win, but instead he only wrecked himself.
It’s worth noting that he was only 19-years old at the time and I think desperate to prove himself in his second year at KBM. He has since toned it down since moving up to Xfinity.
Here’s a quick look at Noah’s stats through the years:
NASCAR K&N Series:
Top Tens: 34
Gander Outdoors Truck Series:
Top Tens: 30
Top Tens: 26
Something that is becoming a trend is drivers moving up from KBM and running better in the Xfinity. Gragson is running much more consistent in the Xfinity Series as well as former KBM teammate Harrison Burton. There’s a case to be made that KBM is currently in a decline, but that’s an article for another day.
Gragson impressed in his first year of Xfinity and had an average finish of 9th. It was unexpected for me because I thought he would struggle in his first year, but he was a championship contender and one of the best drivers in the field each and every week.
He doesn’t have the hype that William Byron or Christopher Bell had, but he’s been consistent in recent years. I would be willing to call him a late bloomer in terms of him reaching his full potential.
I think what he has lacked is self-confidence. You can see it after he loses a race, his demeanor is different, and he takes a lot of the wind out of his own sails. To start this season off with a big win, coming off a great debut season in Xfinity, I think he’s got the making of something special.
I look at the current competitors in the series and the only two I even see remotely challenging Gragson for the title is Harrison Burton and Chase Briscoe. Gragson has a chance a 6+ win season and a championship.
Not for nothing, he knows that Jimmie Johnson’s ride is up for grabs next season. He is the only driver currently high enough in the Hendrick Motorsports development stable to warrant even thinking about. If Gragson can come out and have a breakout year, dominate each week, and win the championship, he has as good a shot as anyone to drive the 48 car next season.