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Noah Gragson is his own person. The Las Vegas native walks pit road on race day with swag, headphones typically on and even having his fire suit open.
Gragson, 23, already has a reputation — for better or worse — as one of the most aggressive drivers in Nascar. Maybe it’s because he races for the Earnhardt family, or it could be because he so desperately wants to make a name for himself.
The JR Motorsports driver is also competing part-time in the Nascar Cup Series in 2022 with Kaulig Racing, living out his dream as someone who can standout among the pack.
“I like to be me at the end of the day, and I want to have as much fun as possible,” Gragson said. “I try my best to be prepared when I get to the racetrack. You never know when your last race is going to be or what it’s going to be like.
“You could have one more race or 10 more years. I try to take every race like it’s my last and have as much fun as possible.”
Regardless of the reason, Gragson isn’t afraid to anger his competitors, and is developing into a leader for Nascar’s new generation of racers.
This past weekend at Road America, he may have found his limit. He was involved in a multi-car pileup during Saturday’s Henry 180 Nascar Xfinity Series race at Road America, specifically with Sage Karam.
“I would be embarrassed to be associated with (Gragson),” Karam’s team owner Tommy Joe Martins told Nascar.com after the event. “How many times is he going to publicly apologize? Now he’s trying to act like he’s a bad dude, tough guy. Like are you kidding me, that’s the softest thing I’ve ever seen. I’ll tell you what’s tough, trying to come out here and racing with a budget that’s less than a quarter of what they’re doing.”
Nascar’s vice president of officiating and technical inspection Elton Sawyer — a former racer himself — got involved on Monday and said Gragson made a “bad decision.”
Gragson represents a new kind of racecar driver, one who is unafraid of backlash on and off the racetrack. He understands why fans love who he is. Whether or not his aggression impacts his pending free agency on the open market remains to be seen.
He is backed by two bold brands that are unafraid of controversy, too. Both Bass Pro Shop and Black Rifle Coffee Company believe in Gragson, and that is reassuring for the young racer.
Right now, Gragson is basking in a wave of success this year. He has two wins through 16 Xfinity Series races with nine top fives, which is a series-high for all drivers.
“It would be the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” Gragson said of winning the championship. “If you get to Phoenix and you get to the Final Four, it’s almost like a championship in its own right, in my opinion.
“You work all season, but you have to have one really good race and that’s the final one. I definitely think it’s achievable and we have the group to do it. It’s been achievable in the past, but we just haven’t done it.”
Gragson came close to winning an Xfinity title in 2021, but pushed his car late and got into the wall. He finished third in the championship standings.
As Gragson looks toward the future, he is still trying to gain experience on the Cup side. He is notably less aggressive in Nascar’s top-tier division, where he isn’t running for a championship and is just trying to turn all of the laps he can.
“This year is about learning and understanding the car to get the general feel of it,” he said.
In Gragson’s first six Cup starts, he has an average finish of 26.2. At Charlotte, he was even running inside of the top 10 at one point. Now, he just needs to put a complete race together.
The goal may or may not be to remain at JR Motorsports for another season. He may want to move up to the Cup Series full time next year. Nonetheless, Gragson is a driver constantly making headlines.