George Strait sang about how the stars at night are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas. Friday night those stars might be less visible when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) races under the bright lights at Texas Motor Speedway. The stars everyone will be watching will be driving 180 mph around the newly paved mile-and-a-half track. Rookie contender Noah Gragson hopes to be an emerging star with a shot at leaving Victory Lane with a cowboy hat and trophy of his very own.
Although the 18-year-old has never raced at Texas before, he is coming off two consecutive top-10 finishes and is gaining confidence with each intermediate-track race. He fought his way to a ninth-place finish at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway last month, his first top 10 at an intermediate track. Learning the aerodynamics at that type of track has been a challenge for the rookie, but not one he cannot overcome. The way pit strategy played out at Charlotte, Gragson had the opportunity to gain valuable experience passing trucks. He was as far back as 18th at the start of the second stage, but made a remarkable comeback to finish the race ninth.
Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) has seen much success at Texas, winning four NCWTS races. Owner-driver Kyle Busch has collected two of his team's wins (2010 and 2014), Erik Jones earned the victory in November 2015 and William Byron took the checkered flag in June 2016. KBM Tundras have finished in the top 10 in 17 of the 29 races they entered and led 411 laps.
Gragson is looking forward to the race at Texas for another reason as well. Friday during pre-race ceremonies, he will be doing his graduation walk to celebrate the official end of his high school studies. Track president, Eddie Gossage will present Gragson with his diploma while he dons his cap and gown over his Switch firesuit. His parents, Scott and Jill, will be on hand as well as his sister, Addison (who attends Southern Methodist University in Dallas) and his grandparents.
Friday will be a big night for Gragson in Texas. He'll start the evening on stage with a diploma in his hand and hopefully end the night with a trophy in his hand and a cowboy hat on his head in Victory Lane.