Noah Gragson is his own person. The Las Vegas native walks down pit road on race day with swag, headphones usually on and even having his fire suit open.
Gragson, 23, already has a reputation – for better or worse – as one of Nascar’s most aggressive drivers. Maybe it’s because he races for the Earnhardt family, or maybe it’s because he 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 his dream as someone who can stand out among the pack.
“I like to be myself at the end of the day and I want to have as much fun as possible,” Gragson said. “I do my best to be prepared when I arrive on the circuit. You never know when your last race will be or what it will look like.
“You could have one more run or 10 more years. I try to take every race as if it were the last and have as much fun as possible.
Whatever the reason, Gragson isn’t afraid to anger his competitors and is emerging as a leader for the next generation of Nascar racers.
Last weekend at Road America, he may have found his limit. He was involved in a multi-car pile-up during Saturday’s Henry 180 Nascar Xfinity Series race at Road America, particularly 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 badass, badass. Since you’re laughing at me, it’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. I’ll tell you what’s hard, trying to come here and race on a budget that’s less than a quarter of what they do.
Nascar Vice President of Arbitration and Technical Inspection Elton Sawyer – a former racer himself – got involved on Monday and said Gragson had made a “bad decision”.
Gragson represents a new kind of racing driver, one unafraid of backlash on and off the race track. He understands why fans love who he is. Whether or not his aggression will impact his pending free agency in the open market remains to be seen.
It’s backed by two bold brands that don’t shy away from controversy either. Bass Pro Shop and Black Rifle Coffee Company believe in Gragson, and that’s reassuring for the young racer.
Right now, Gragson is enjoying a wave of success this year. He took two wins in 16 Xfinity Series races with nine top five finishes, which is a high for any driver.
“It would be the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” Gragson said of his championship win. “If you get to Phoenix and you get to the Final Four, it’s almost like a full-fledged championship, in my opinion.
“You work all season, but you have to have a very good race and this is the last one. I really think it’s doable and we have the group to do it. It was doable 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 went into the wall. He finished third in the championship standings.
As Gragson looks to the future, he is still trying to gain experience at the Cup side. He’s notably less aggressive in Nascar’s premier division, where he’s not racing for a championship and just trying to lap all the laps he can.
“This year it’s all about learning and understanding the car to get the overall feel of it,” he said.
In Gragson’s first six Cup starts, he averaged 26.2. In Charlotte, he was even running inside the top 10 at one point. Now he only has to organize a full race.
The goal may or may not be to stay with JR Motorsports for another season. He may want to move full-time to the Cup Series next year. Nonetheless, Gragson is a driver who consistently grabs the headlines.