A couple of months back I made an article talking about how Noah Gragson might be in line for a promotion to Cup with Chip Ganassi Racing, but my thoughts have changed on that. A couple of months back, Gragson was struggling but most of his poor finishes were due to bad luck. He seemed like a championship contender, but his wins kept getting stolen due to random circumstances.
Now, it seems his bad luck has manifested into purely mediocre racing. Driving for JR Motorsports presents drivers with some of the best equipment in the sport, and currently, Gragson is averaging a finishing position of 20.8. With these poor numbers, I think his promotion to Cup next year is looking unlikely without a big turnaround.
Overall, Gragson’s career has been full of inconsistencies dating back to the truck series where he would go on stretches of good and bad runs that have never culminated in a championship despite showing flashes of potential. This third year with JRM should’ve shown a lot of growth and start to iron out a lot of those issues.
Gragson is currently the lowest-standing JRM full-time driver and while he’s racing for a top-tier team, he’s racing alongside journeymen. He is supposed to be the most talented driver on that team, but he’s currently being outperformed by the likes of Michael Annett, getting beat by Allgaier is bearable, but there is little excuse for not outperforming Annett.
The success of the team overall means that the issue is with the driver, not the equipment. With the hot or cold streaks being common for him, there is still a chance he pulls it together by the playoffs. He is currently on pace to make as long as he doesn’t fall off any further, but he’s not safe by any means.
Even if he finds a way to turn his season around you have to think that these struggles are a sign that he still has more growing pains to go through before he’s ready for that next step. In today’s age, a driver needing prolonged development time is often frowned upon when Cup teams expedite young drivers’ development.
Noah Gragson has shown glimpses of a Cup-level talent, and that a breakout year in Xfinity is right at his fingertips. At only 22-years old, there is no shame in having to stay in Xfinity another year, he has time. There are so many factors that could be at play besides just his ability to drive a car. Confidence and maturity seem to be the main factors still hurting his overall performance.
After incidents on track, you can see Gragson become visibly dismayed back to his rookie truck season. His confidence has always been shaky and when you mix that with the immaturity he has shown throughout his career and it makes for a cocktail that can break even the best of drivers. His personality is fun and it’s exciting, but at the end of the day, he doesn’t have the confidence to back up what he’s saying off the track this season.
A personal theory, I think that Gragson was causing a lot of issues off the track with other drivers and while he was talking a big game, I think it has affected his decision making. He has been rather quiet the last month, and you must wonder if he has either decided to calm down or was told to calm down by Dale Jr. or sponsors. Having your driving style and competitive fire questioned can affect confidence and maybe that is why his racing itself has dropped off as the year went on.
Jumping into a Cup car next year will not help his confidence. It is clear he’s not ready and considering there is no top-tier Cup ride becoming available there is no need to leave a championship-contending ride in Xfinity if Jr. will have him.
A team like Chip Ganassi Racing that has the #1-car potentially coming available wouldn’t be a bad ride, but I can’t imagine Gragson hopping in it and performing well at this point. Hopping into a ride that is currently sitting 18th in the Cup standings with a former champion doesn’t bode well for a young driver who needs to regain the confidence to reach his peak performance.
Noah still has a lot of growing up to do. He needs to figure out if the fire we saw him competing with is gone and he starts to embrace an easier going persona on and off-track. Or will he relight that fire as the playoffs inch closer? Either way, it’s about personal growth, and staying in a fast race car capable of winning a race is the only way to nurture his confidence as he grows into a capable Cup talent.