NOAH GRAGSON, No. 10 Black Rifle Coffee/Ranger Boats Ford Mustang Dark Horse – TONY SAID YOU HAVE BROUGHT NEW ENERGY TO THE SHOP. HAVE YOU FELT COMFORTABLE OFF THE BAT? “Yeah. I think with the other drivers, but most importantly all the individuals on the shop floor, upstairs and engineering – just every department. It’s been a lot of fun to get to know everyone and every day is something new. There are over 300 employees over there, maybe 350. I haven’t gotten an exact number, but it’s a big organization and every day something new – you’re meeting somebody new and get to know them. I’ve been going to lunch with a lot of the guys and I’ve just been having a lot of quality time with them. It’s a great organization. It’s nice. I know we hit on it prior, but having everything under one roof, pit stop practice, a gym to go work out, our trainer there. Everything that we need other than the simulator at Ford. I think we have to make an 11-minute drive down to Ford, so it’s not far at all. It’s been really good so far. I’ve been spending pretty much from 7 a.m. until four or five at night every day and I’m enjoying my time a lot. I really fit in with the atmosphere. There’s a lot of energy in the air over there.”

HAVE YOU EVER WORKED ON RACE CARS BEFORE? “I mean, I’ve helped. I’ve never built race cars. I’ve always really envied guys who do work on their own stuff, but, no, I’m not one that could go build a race car. I can help them nut-and-bolt stuff a little bit. The basics, but I like being a part of it. The other day I just wiped down the whole chassis on the Vegas car. I like doing the stuff that nobody wants to do. Sweeping the floors and doing stuff like that. I know it’s kind of probably over used, but I do enjoy sweeping and wiping stuff down, probably the nonsense of the little things that you don’t want to do, the headaches. If I can help somebody else out, I like to do it.”

YOU’VE DRIVEN FOR KYLE BUSCH IN TRUCKS, DALE EARNHARDT JR. IN THE XFINITY SERIES AND NOW YOU GET TO DRIVE FOR TONY STEWART IN CUP. YOU ONCE SAID YOU PUT ALL THE PRESSURE ON YOURSELF AND THAT IT DOESN’T COME FROM WHO YOU DRIVE FOR. “I think it’s just the desire and the want to succeed. There’s a lot of people that are a part of this. No matter what the driver is there are hundreds of people behind those drivers that allow us to do this and everybody in those race shops, everybody that supports them from a close relationship standpoint, management, logistics, there’s a lot that goes into it. Yeah, the drivers get all the credit, but I put a lot of pressure on myself at the end of the day to be successful for those that work hard. I guess for us drivers it’s a privilege to be able to go out here and race, and I’ve regained my love for this sport, where I might have lost appreciation over the past handful of years than what I had as a kid. I’ve refound that love for it and I’m just grateful to be back and get to work.”

WHAT ARE YOUR EMOTIONS AROUND THIS WEEK? “Just for me personally, instead of getting on a plane, I get to get on a plane and fly down here and drive into the tunnel and look around and just really soak everything in because it truly is a privilege. Being able to wear a fire suit and talk to everyone and see faces that I haven’t seen in a while is really special. It’s somewhat emotional just because I’ve missed it and it’s great to be back.”

WHAT AT SHR MAKES IT FEEL LIKE HOME FOR YOU? “They’ve just allowed me to be myself. It’s a good group of people. It’s great to be wanted and appreciated and the atmosphere over there, there’s just a lot of good people who enjoy coming to work every day. It’s a great work environment. I know when I wake up in the morning I’m like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to go see everybody at the shop today and go work alongside them’ and continue to develop these relationships. It’s just a place that suits me.”

TONY SAID THAT LAST YEAR’S PERFORMANCE AT SHR HAS TO CHANGE IN 2024. DO YOU GET THE SENSE IT’S A DOUBLE-DOWN TYPE OF YEAR TO TRY AND TURN THINGS AROUND? “Absolutely, 100 percent. You can’t hide the fact, which I haven’t been there and Josh hasn’t been there, but there’s no denying the fact that they struggled. They went from winning how many races in ‘21 or ‘22, whatever that year is that they all won races and had like 12 or 13 wins as an organization to having only one driver with one win. It’s challenging, but I think we use it as motivation. We all want to be leaders. We all want to be the best teammates possible, and we all want to work together to be a part of this deal. It takes everyone’s effort and and if we can be better than we were yesterday, that’s how we’re gonna be successful in the long run is if we can constantly keep improving and working together.”

WHAT ARE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS TEAM AND IS THIS A REBOOT? “Yeah, it’s definitely a reboot. It’s incredible to get an opportunity like this. At the same time, there’s gonna be challenges along the way. There’s gonna be adversity. There’s gonna be good runs and bad runs, but it’s how you react to it and how you keep on moving forward each and every race. It’s easy when you’re winning and I’ve kind of learned that over the past couple of years. When we were in the Xfinity Series and literally could do no wrong. It might have been the best thing for me, but the worst thing of winning all those races because I kind of lost my grounding in sense of ‘hey, I’ve got to keep on working at this.’ It’s not always gonna come as easy as it did in my final year in Xfinity. It was somewhat of a rude awakening in 2023. Obviously, we didn’t unload with race-winning speed, ever, so that was a big challenge. We’ve done a lot of self-reflecting and soul searching over the past handful of months and trying to become the best leader possible. I think that’s what in 20 years when I look back I feel like, man, if I was the best leader for my team and the best piece of the puzzle for my team and did the best job, I’l be satisfied with myself.”

HOW DO YOU BALANCE ALL OF WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED WHILE STILL BEING YOURSELF AND HAVING THAT PERSONALITY SO MANY FANS OF YOURS HAVE GROWN TO LOVE? “There’s a balance to that, obviously, and that’s one of the things that I’ve been working on is just balancing life, and how I balance work from time to relax. Everything is about balance no matter what it is. If they load us up with interviews from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today, and then we go jump in the car for qualifying, you’re probably gonna be a little worn out and not do as good of a job as possible. There’s a good balance because today we’re doing it for a half day and then you get a little time to regroup and then get in the car. It’s an example of everything is about balance, so that’s one thing that I’m learning is balance and being a leader for a race team and how not only do my words influence others, but my body language and just everything being more self aware has been a big part of finding myself and my process. It’s not always gonna be perfect and I’m not perfect by any means, but I continue to try and learn and grow each and every day and become better than I was yesterday.”

HOW MUCH HAS TONY HELPED WITH THAT? “He’s been a big influence on me and being able to lean on him. He’s been through a lot of challenges and adversity in his life and his career, and to be able to lean on him for advice has been very important to me.”

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO GET CALLED INTO THE NASCAR HAULER? “It’s just say what they need to say and really just try and process it. Absolutely don’t argue at all because you’re just gonna make yourself worse. When you’re so frustrated in the moment you’re probably like, ‘man, this is my side of the story and you’re not listening to me.’ But NASCAR’s point is probably the more realistic and right way to go about things and once you settle down and calm down you can understand that.”

DID ANY VETERAN DRIVER GIVE YOU ANY WORDS OF WISDOM ON HOW TO HANDLE YOURSELF IN THOSE SITUATIONS? “No, it’s not really a topic between anyone I don’t think. Probably just like shut up and let them talk and listen kind of deal. I haven’t really talked to any of them too much. You always hear stories every once in a while like, ‘if I could be a fly on the wall for that one,’ but they all take emotions out of it. Emotions are a big part when you go in there and that’s probably why things are happening. Once you push those aside, the picture becomes pretty clear.”

DID YOU AND ROSS GET CALLED TO THE HAULER? “At Darlington we did. It was good. It was fine. I tested micros with him (Ross) the next night at Millbridge. We work out together and I called him after the race. I was like, ‘Nice shot, but if that security guard wasn’t there, I was coming and I wasn’t stopping. I hope you know that.’ That’s part of it and it’s just emotions. Those are the emotions of the sport and that’s what makes this sport so exciting is the emotions are high and the tension is tight and sparks are gonna fly, fists are gonna fly and smoke is gonna rise, but at the end of the day that’s what makes this sport so exciting.”

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE YOUR SPONSORS WITH YOU? “Yeah, we have a lot of great support. It’s just relationships and being able to bring value to a partner and say, ‘Hey, what’s our plan here? How do we achieve it and go above and beyond?’ I can confidently say that we do go above and beyond and try to and we’ve got a lot of great partners that allow us to do this. It’s great to be back with True Timber and Black Rifle Coffee and kick off this relationship with Ranger Boats and Winchester. It’s really special to be able to introduce them on a familiar scheme that we’ve had over the past handful of years in the Xfinity Series. It kind of brings me back to our roots and a little bit of my identity back.”

Ford Performance PR