NASCAR

Noah Gragson is preparing for his biggest step in Nascar

Every young racing driver dreams of eventually competing at the highest level of motorsport. For Noah Gragson, his dream is coming true as he prepares for his Nascar Cup Series rookie campaign with Legacy Motor Club.

Gragson initially signed a deal to compete in the No. 42 car for Petty GMS. Then, seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson bought a stake in the team in late 2022 to create a rebrand. Along with the pressure of driving for seven-time champion and team ambassador Richard Petty, Gragson now enters his first season driving for two of the most successful racing drivers of all time.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Gragson said at an event in New York City. “They are good mentors and leaders. There are many good qualities in those two guys. They are obviously masters of the sport, but I think there is more in the day-to-day, learning to become the best version of myself and the best driver I can be. I definitely have two great resources to lean on.”

Gragson, 24, is coming off his best Xfinity Series season with JR Motorsports. However, it was a tough start to the season, facing scrutiny throughout the sport after he intentionally crashed Sage Karam at Road America while battling for a top-10 finish.

“I was shocked, to be honest with you, when I saw Noah make that decision,” team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. after the Gragson incident. “I was just completely shocked and kind of in disbelief not only that he made that choice, but that he, you know, but that it created such an accident and got so many other guys involved. It was hard to watch, really hard. “

But Gragson learned from the incident. He went on to win eight races during the year. At Phoenix Raceway he had a tough and clean battle for the championship with Ty Gibbs coming up short. However, a second-place finish came with respect earned throughout the industry as he prepares for his first year in the sport’s premier division.

Now Gragson is ready for the upcoming endeavor. Johnson, who runs a part-time Cup program, will serve as his mentor. That’s a perfect fit for Gragson, who actually took over Johnson’s old No. 48 car at Hendrick Motorsports when Alex Bowman had to miss five races toward the end of 2022 with a concussion.

“Stepping up the ladder is probably the biggest step I’ll ever take in my driving career in terms of competition,” Gragson said. “I know what it’s like to be in Xfinity and there’s a new guy that can bully him around.

“Being a rookie, I go into it and try to finish every lap and every race. I have to earn these guys’ respect. If we can improve every week and every race, we can be better than the week before and that’s the progress I want to make.”

The challenge will not be easy for Gragson. He takes over the No. 42 car driven by Ty Dillon in 2022. Dillon finished 29th in the standings with just one top-10 finish compared to teammate Erik Jones’ win at Darlington and 13 top-10s.

Gragson gained some experience in the Next Gen car last year, driving an additional 13 races in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 car. The experience, he said, prepared him for what to expect in 2023.

But with plenty to learn, Gragson keeps expectations modest.

“We have good people and good energy leading into the season,” Gragson said. “I have great teammates. I’m excited to see how this team has grown from when I first signed and what it’s grown to and where we can take it.”

“I think we should set the goals quite low. The main goal should be to finish each race and gain experience. It will be tough, no doubt. If we can grow and keep learning, that’s what I’m excited to see.”

Gragson will make his second start in the Great American Race next month.

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