Notes of Interest

● With three finishes of 12th or better in the four NASCAR Cup Series races run this season, Noah Gragson is rolling. The driver of the No. 10 Bass Pro Shops/Ranger Boats/Tracker Boats & ATVS Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Stewart-Haas Racing has an average finish of 15.8, with his only blemish being a 36th-place result in the year’s second race at Atlanta Motor Speedway when he was collected in a multicar accident on just the second lap. In his 39 career Cup Series starts prior to this season, Gragson has never had such a stretch of front-running consistency. Now, the 25-year-old Las Vegas native turns his attention to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Food City 500, where he will make his first Cup Series start on the concrete-clad, .533-mile oval.

● Gragson has raced a NASCAR Cup Series stock car at Bristol, it just hasn’t been on the concrete. His only two Cup Series starts at the East Tennessee short track came when it was covered in 23,000 cubic yards of red clay. Count Gragson among the crowd happy to see the return of Bristol’s gleaming white concrete. In two starts in the Food City Dirt Race in 2022 and 2023, Gragson finished 27th and 33rd, respectively.

● Despite that limited experience, Gragson is very familiar with Bristol’s high banks and short straights. He has six NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Bristol with an average finish of 7.8. Two wins and two other top-10s helped aid that number.

● Gragson finished ninth in his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Bristol in April 2019. When he returned to the track a little more than year later, Gragson left a winner. After starting ninth in the Cheddar’s 300, Gragson took the lead on lap 46 and paced the field for the next 46 laps. There were other strong contenders, most notably Justin Allgaier, who led a race-high 156 laps. In fact, the race came down to a battle between Gragson and Allgaier, who were teammates at JR Motorsports. On lap 296, Gragson got by Allgaier, who then slipped up into the wall to bring out the caution. That set up a green-white-checkered finish where Gragson held on to the lead, beating his now teammate at Stewart-Haas, Chase Briscoe, to the line by .328 of a second.

● Gragson’s second NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Bristol came in his last Xfinity Series start at the track. In the 2022 Food City 300 – the cutoff race for the NASCAR Playoffs – Gragson again started ninth and again his main rival was Allgaier. This time Allgaier led a race-high 148 laps, but a late-race speeding penalty doomed his race and handed the lead to Gragson on lap 276. However, earning the victory was no walk in the park, as Gragson had to hold off a hard-charging Brandon Jones over the last 20 laps, with Gragson besting Jones by just .145 of a second. It was Gragson’s third straight Xfinity Series victory, a run that would continue the very next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, where he won his fourth consecutive race.

● Gragson has two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series starts at Bristol. He finished 15th in 2017 and then bettered that performance with a ninth-place drive in 2018, when he led seven laps.

● Gragson first experienced Bristol in the NASCAR K&N Series East. He made two starts in this developmental division, debuting in 2016 when he finished 12th. He returned in 2018 for his second K&N Series race at Bristol, and with three more years of racing experience under his belt, Gragson won the pole and led the first 54 laps before finishing third.

Noah Gragson, Driver of the No. 10 Bass Pro Shops/Ranger Boats/Tracker Boats & ATVs Ford Mustang Dark Horse

Are you happy to see the spring Bristol race return to concrete, or are you one of the guys who enjoyed the dirt race?

“I am definitely pumped up to have the concrete race because I was not ever a very good dirt guy. I ran alright at Eldora in the Truck Series, but Cup at Bristol in the dirt, I always struggled, so that was always a tough one. I kind of figured I would finish close to last, so anything better was a successful day, which isn’t a very good mindset to have at all. But now that we have concrete Bristol back, I’m extremely excited.”

You’ve never raced a Cup car on the concrete at Bristol, so you’re a Cup rookie in regard to Cup racing at Bristol. How challenging is that and what have you been doing to prepare for it?

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the sim getting ready for Bristol. I like that track a lot. I feel like I know where I need to be around that track, at least in an Xfinity car and a Truck. Going there in a Cup car, it’s going to take constant learning and being aware all day and seeing how we can improve from the start of practice, qualifying, the race, and then, hopefully, when we go back there for the night race in the fall we can be even better and fire off with more confidence. But we’re going into it pretty open-minded right now.”

We’ve talked about how different the current Cup car is to an Xfinity Series car, but with six Xfinity Series starts at Bristol – two of which ended in victory lane – do you feel you have a good handle on the racetrack despite not having Cup experience at Bristol?

“I think having a good game plan and preparation is good, but you don’t fully know what your car is going to handle like until you get there and see how the grip levels of the traction compound are going to be. Is it going to be faster to run around the bottom? Will the race move up? Those are kind of unknowns until you see just how the rubber’s being laid down. The preparation’s there to have a solid idea of what we’re going to need to have or need to do.”

Bristol is a tough place, period. It’s an even tougher place to win. How satisfying was your first Bristol win in June 2020, which came during COVID?

“It was definitely different during COVID. It felt a little eerie, just because that place has so many grandstands and you’re surrounded by it, so when you don’t have anyone there, it’s a little awkward. But at the same time, it was still really special. I think the coolest part about winning at Bristol is driving up on top of the building to victory lane, and the trophy’s pretty cool – you get a sword, so that’s awesome. Then to do it in 2022 again, with fans there, it was super cool, the whole place just cheering your name and cheering you on. I always like to do a burnout up that driveway up onto the second floor, up on top of that building. That’s always super cool.”

Do you feel like you’ve conquered something when you win at Bristol?

“Yeah, it was the coolest track as a little kid, probably the most unique track that we go to. I feel like every driver probably has that on their bucket list of, ‘Man, I want to win there one day.’ There’s nothing like it.”

How important is patience at Bristol, but when do you also have to determine when enough is enough and assert yourself so you’re not getting taken advantage of out there on the racetrack?

“You have to be disciplined at Bristol, but I don’t know if you necessarily have to be patient. You have to go from the get-go and make as much lap time as possible because, if you get stuck or can’t make a pass, the leaders are coming and they’re not slowing down for anything. You’ve got to be on your game from lap one all the way to the checkered flag.”

You first saw Bristol back in 2016 when you competed in a NASCAR K&N East race. Was that an eyes-wide-open moment?

“I don’t want to say I was scared, but I was just nervous because I didn’t know what to think. It was definitely intimidating because you’re like, ‘Oh, man, this place looks pretty fast.’ You don’t really know when you’re a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kid going there, but after having reps of doing it, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable. But I remember my first laps on the racetrack and I remember looking around and wondering how did I just manage to get around this track with the amount of throttle I was carrying. It’s definitely a daunting racetrack and there are some big moments. I feel like Bristol probably has the highest sensation of speed of any track, even though we’re probably going the slowest of any track. It feels like you’re going the fastest because things happen so fast and you’re around other cars and you’re constantly up close to other cars, or you’re side-by-side with other cars, two-, three-wide. It gets pretty intense. You think, man, I don’t think this thing is going to grip up and it does. It’s a pretty wild feeling.”