Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang Dark Horse, is coming off a sixth-place finish in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Gragson participated in a media call earlier today to talk about that event as well as what lies ahead this weekend at Phoenix Raceway.

NOAH GRAGSON, No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang Dark Horse – HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR START? “They’ve been alright. They’ve been good, but what satisfies me probably the most is how we’ve been able to deal with the challenges and adversity that come our way. Obviously, Atlanta was a tough weekend overall with wrecking on lap one and then going into Vegas negative in points, so seeing how we rebounded was really big for me and stood out in my mind, so I’m really proud of our team and being able to show an effort of coming back after a tough weekend and tough week leading into Vegas, so the rebound was big and then to be able to hopefully roll on with this momentum is good as well, coming off a sixth-place finish at Vegas.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS RACING WITH FORD SO FAR AND WHAT ARE THE KEYS TO DOING WELL AT PHOENIX RACEWAY? “It’s been a lot of fun to work with Ford so far. A lot of the OEM’s are all the same, but they’re different. From the simulators, they’re all pretty close, and the motors I feel like are all pretty close. I’ve never been able to really feel too big of a difference, but they’ve been strong so it’s been fun getting to know the Ford camp and not only the group of drivers, but just seeing how they go about the superspeedway stuff. It’s always been tough to race against the Fords on the superspeedway and now being a part of it and seeing how they go about things, I felt like we’ve had speed, so that’s a good thing. I like the way the car drove in Vegas and it’s been good so far. No complaints. Phoenix is a fun racetrack, but challenging with both ends being different. That makes it a challenge for a driver and a team to get the car balanced right. You might be good on one side or the other and vice versa, you might struggle on the opposite side of the racetrack. With that being said, it’s important to get the car dialed in during practice as good as you can on both side and get the corners connected, so I like Phoenix. It’s always a fun race. It’s one of the closest hometown races for me, a lot of fans that I’ve been able to make memories with and relationships over the past handful of years. I see them a lot and Phoenix as well. That’s always a lot of fun. The fan support is awesome there and then it sets us up for the championship race, which is really important, so I think you might see a lot of guys trying stuff this first race every year and then in order to learn something for the championship race that’s where everybody wants to get to and have a good showing to end the year off, so it’s a fun racetrack, challenging and it’s a fun city as well.”

HAVE YOU FELT THE PRESSURE OF PEOPLE SAYING THE SHR TURNAROUND IS ON YOUR SHOULDERS? “No. I don’t really feel any pressure. I think it’s because I feel like I have a lot of trust in the organization as a whole and I feel like they have a lot of trust in me. I know it’s still early, but I’m just making relationships and developing those in the shop over the past two or three months has been good. To be able to have that support in the shop takes pressure off myself. They’ve been saying on matter what the department is they’re like, ‘Hey, we’ll rebuild the race cars. We just want you to be out there hauling ass and going to the front.’ So, that gives me confidence that I have the trust and the support from every department inside the shop, and that’s big as a driver to have – not only the trust and support, but the respect of every individual at the race team and vice versa. I have the respect and trust in those guys as well and we’re gonna continue to grow as an organization.”

WHAT ABOUT THE MOTIVATION COMING OFF THAT SIXTH-PLACE FINISH? “I think we had good speed, but I also want to see where we’re at at Phoenix and I won’t really know, so it does feel good. There is a little extra confidence in the tank leading into Phoenix, but, at the same time, you’re only as good as your last run, so once we get on track at Phoenix the Vegas run doesn’t really matter. We can talk about it all week, but once the tires hit the racetrack it’s a new opportunity, so we’ve been working hard this week to get in position to run good at Phoenix hopefully, but we just want to become better and learn throughout practice. It’s still very early in the season and I think our expectations are pretty realistic. We want to finish better than we start and we want to improve all day. If we can do that, no matter if it’s a sixth-place finish or if it’s we ran 18th all day and finished 14th that’s still good in my mind because we made improvement and we finished better than we ran all day. Everybody is really pumped up and excited to get to Phoenix and to have that support and everybody’s motivation and confidence, they’re excited to go to work and that makes me feel good as a driver.”

WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT TAKING ON THE BRISTOL CONCRETE IN A CUP CAR FOR THE FIRST TIME? “I’m excited. I’ve never been on the concrete in Bristol in a Cup car, so I’m excited for it. It’s not one of my best tracks. I know we have two wins there in Xfinity and it’s always a lot of fun, but my confidence level going to Bristol is probably lower than most tracks for whatever reason. Even though we’ve had success, it just always seems like it’s a little different, especially with the spray being laid down and with how it rubbers up. I’ve been doing a lot of hard work to learn that track and, really, Kyle Larson was probably the turning point around there when we were in Xfinity in 2022. I spent all week talking to him leading up to the fall race there and just picking his brain on how to run the top lane and just figure out how to get around there. I also listened to Kyle Busch when we were in the trucks. He’s very good around that place, so I feel like I probably should have more confidence on that track. I love going there always, especially now that it’s concrete. I was probably a participant when it was the dirt race, so I have a little bit more confidence going for the concrete race.”

DO YOU FEEL THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HISTORY AT BRISTOL WHEN YOU’RE BEHIND THE WHEEL? “Yeah, always. It’s just a special place no matter if it was my first time there in the K&N Series or walking in the last time I was there for the dirt race . It just has a different atmosphere. It has a different feel. It is a special place. There’s no place really like it. When people ask me where they should go if they’ve never watched a race, I always tell the Talladega if they like to have a lot of fun or Bristol if they really like a cool atmosphere and a cool race, a cool racetrack that’s really unique. I always love going there and enjoying it.”

DO YOU FEEL QUALIFYING COULD BE AN ISSUE GOING FORWARD OR WAS IT A ONE TIME THING AT LAS VEGAS WHEN YOU SAID YOU UNDER DROVE THE CAR? “No, I think the preparation has been good, but also at the same time I don’t really know how the cars are gonna drive and we don’t have a notebook built up yet. I’m sure when we go back to Vegas I’m gonna know, but these handful of race to start the year it’s still gonna be a lot of learning and learning how these cars drive and handle and how our practice balance ends and how big of a swing we need to make and how far we just think a qualifying adjustment needs to be. WIth that being said, it is gonna take a little bit to knock the rust off at a lot of these tracks qualifying, but I felt really confident going into practice, but after Preece went to a backup car I knew I just had to manage a lap and didn’t carry as much throttle as I needed to, which ultimately hurt us and put us in a back qualifying spot. If I could have redone it five minutes later, I would have definitely run a much faster lap, I think, but that was the position you’re in. You only get one time. It’s gonna take a few weeks to keep learning and figure out how much balance we need to make and how much throttle I need to carry.”

WHEN A TEAMMATE IS GOING TO A BACKUP DOES THAT IMPACT THE REST OF THE TEAM WHEN THEY GO TO QUALIFY? “Yeah, I think just trying to be smart for the company overall. I’ve already gone to one backup car in the Duel, which sucks. I think I’ve only been in three backup cars in my career, I think two at the Roval – maybe four – two at the Roval and one at Portland and one at Daytona, so I don’t like doing that at all just because it’s not the car you’ve been massaging all week going down to that racetrack. The backup car, it’s pretty close but it’s not as massaged I guess you could say, and then at the same time it’s just a lot of money and resources that you don’t want to crash. You don’t want to wreck at all. It definitely is in the back of my mind. ‘Hey, let’s just get through here unscathed and we’ll go race tomorrow.’”

HOW MUCH WERE YOU THINKING ABOUT FOCUSING ON WHAT YOU HAD AND TAKING YOUR TIME AS OPPOSED TO MAYBE TRYING TO GET TOO MUCH OR OVERDRIVE THE CAR? “The amount of pace we had in practice allowed me to be patient. The amount of pace we had in the race allowed me to patient because I knew, ‘Hey, if I’m in a position to make a pass and if I don’t get that pass complete, I know there’s gonna be another opportunity, where last year we might not have had that pace and I felt like I had to attack that one time – like I only had one opportunity and most of the time I’d mess it up and I was driving over my head. When you have a fast car, it allows you to be more patient. I feel the most comfortable I’ve felt and the most patient I’ve felt this year just because they do have speed and I know there’s plenty of opportunities to make those passes. ‘Hey, if I don’t get them this corner, let me re-try and mount a run and I’ll have an opportunity the next lap. That definitely gives me a lot of confidence as a driver and I feel like I have that this year.”

DO YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE OVERALL WITH THE NEXT GEN CAR? “Yeah, I think if you would have asked me that before this season started, I would have said no I don’t feel comfortable in a Next Gen car at all, but all this year and this past weekend especially, because that was our true first real race other than a superspeedway, I feel really comfortable. It’s the most comfortable I’ve ever felt by a long shot inside the race car, and I told our crew that after the race. It’s like, ‘Man, I feel like I can feel every corner of this race car.’ I could feel how the tires were loading, where I couldn’t feel it last year. It was evil to drive. That allows me to be a lot calmer and a lot more patient and allows me to give better feedback, too, because you’re only worrying about one or two things. We were pretty close the way we unloaded this past weekend. ‘Hey, I’m a little loose here. I’m a little tight here,’ and there’s two or three things that you’re trying to fix in practice, where last year I would get out of the car and I’m like, ‘Man, I don’t even know where to start because there’s like 10 different things going on,’ and it was hard to pick the priority to fix because there were nine or 10 different issues throughout a lap where you’re like, ‘Man, it’s hitting the left-rear too hard, but then I’m getting loose. I’m tight here.’ This year, you only have like two or three things – at least we saw at Vegas – that it allows you to really pick the priority and focus on, ‘Hey, we’re either too loose on entry or we’re a little tight on exit.’ What do we want to fix, instead of 10 different issues, which was really challenging last year because I didn’t know what to prioritize. I don’t want to say it’s easier, but it’s simpler if anything so far this year.”

WHAT DO FANS NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT GOES ON AND WHAT A DRIVER EXPERIENCES IN A CRASH, AND WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH LAST YEAR AT TIMES? “I just think how hard these hits are and how different each hit is. I’ve had some really big hits in Xfinity cars, but I would take those over probably even just pancaking this car, like if you get up out of th3 groove and you right side the thing into the wall off the corner, which wouldn’t normally be a hard hit, it’s a really hard hit in the Cup car – the Next Gen car. The stack ups on restarts, you don’t even feel it in Xfinity, but in the Cup car you’re like, ‘That hurts.’ I think the car is a lot more rigid, and I will say that NASCAR has made some big improvements to the car from where it was when it first started, but, at the same time, I feel like they’re not, I want to say this respectfully, we still probably could make more improvements because it is tough as a driver. When you see those big crashes like in the old car and the Xfinity cars, you think of Michael McDowell’s big flip, a lot of things come off that car and that all is taking energy away from the driver. When it’s stiff, the hits feel so much harder in the Cup car because it’s going directly to your body, where when things fly off the car and the car crumbles, that’s absorbing a lot of that energy and the driver is not feeling it, it dissipates that, so the stiffer and the less bent up the car looks after a wreck, the more the driver is gonna feel it. It might not look hard from the grandstands, but I’m telling you they’re really hard. I know last year when I had that brake rotor explode into turn one at Gateway, I was like, ‘Man, that’s a hard hit.’ I felt alright. I was a little foggy after the race, but I felt alright, and then as the days progressed I felt worse and worse and worse. I got to Wednesday feeling worse than I did on Tuesday, and Tuesday feeling worse than I did on Monday, and then I was like, ‘Man, something might be wrong.’ And that ultimately led me to the decision to sit out a week because I had never felt that before. Normally, I got better. I appreciate NASCAR’s effort to make it safer, which they have over the past two years from when this car was introduced, but they still hurt way worse than any wreck I ever had before the Next Gen car.”

SO WHAT IS IT LIKE WHEN YOU HAVE ACCIDENT AFTER ACCIDENT? IT SEEMED LIKE LAST YEAR YOU WERE THE UNFORTUNATE MAGNET A NUMBER OF TIMES. “You’re physically in pain, which makes you the week after week you’re just digging yourself in a hole and you’re trying to do everything right and you land Sunday night after and you’re like, ‘OK, let’s regroup. Let’s go back to the racetrack and rebuild our confidence.’ And if you wreck again it’s like it just wears on you week in and week out, and then mentally you start just getting down about yourself. I wasn’t me last year at all for a number of different circumstances, but at the same time wrecking is never fun and it really hurts in these cars, so I think we put a lot of work into our safety over this offseason. I feel good inside the race car. I even wrecked at Daytona this year in the Duel and I felt good. I wrecked at Atlanta on lap one and I felt fine after that wreck. The only one that’s been where I’m like, ‘That kind of hurt,’ was the stack up on the restarts at the Clash. They kind of hurt my head a little bit, but it’s better than it was. I don’t think anybody will truly understand what it feels like to hit in one of these cars unless you do it.”

WHAT GOES INTO GETTING BETTER THROUGH AN ENTIRE RACE? “I think it’s clear communication with your team and it’s ultimately minimizing the mistakes. Everyone is so close that if you can minimize the mistakes, we probably passed a lot of cars just on speed and being able to outwrap them on the racetrack, but also just not making mistakes on pit road, just having a clean, solid day and I think that’s what we had this past weekend, and, really, Greg Zipadelli came up to me before the race and he said it best. He said, ‘We just need to minimize the mistakes as much as possible.’ And that’s all this has turned into these days and it made me think, ‘Man, you’re right.’ You see guys sliding through their pit boxes or speeding on pit road, just worrying about those fine little details and those small victories of not overdoing it. There’s definitely a line where you’d be under doing it if your pace on pit road, too slow in the box, too slow leaving the box where it could cost you, but also being too aggressive it’s a really fine line on what’s enough and what’s too much, but, at the same time, it’s just about having smooth, solid days and putting yourself in position to capitalize on it and just being around there. I was listening to some podcast and they were saying that if you put yourself and you can run in the top five, eventually you’re gonna have an opportunity to be up front. I think they were talking to Rajah about that on some podcast and they were right. If you minimize the mistakes and you put yourself in position, eventually you’re gonna have opportunities and I think that’s what we had this past weekend.”

Ford Performance PR