Notes of Interest

● If the Coca-Cola 600 is about being consistently good for a prolonged period of time, it could very well serve as a microcosm of Noah Gragson’s season to date in the NASCAR Cup Series. The driver of the No. 10 Bass Pro Shops/Winchester Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Stewart-Haas Racing comes into the series’ longest race this Sunday at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway riding a wave of front-running consistency. Gragson has scored seven straight top-20s coming into Charlotte, and he has finished among the top-15 in his last four races. His career-best finish of third was earned during this span – April 21 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway – and his average finish of 16.4 in the 13 races held this season is 15th best among the 33 drivers who have run all the races so far this season.

● Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 will be Gragson’s third career NASCAR Cup Series start on Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval. His best result at the track is 24th, earned in the 2022 Coca-Cola 600.

● Gragson’s record in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Charlotte is another example of his penchant for consistency. In four career Xfinity Series starts at the D-shaped oval, Gragson has three finishes of 11th or better, with his best result being a pair of fourth-place drives – May 2019 in his first Xfinity Series start at Charlotte and May 2022 in his most recent Xfinity Series start at the track. That last Xfinity Series race was arguably Gragson’s best at Charlotte as he started seventh and led twice for 36 laps before finishing fourth. The winner that day was Josh Berry, who was a teammate to Gragson in the Xfinity Series and is a teammate today with the duo both driving for Stewart-Haas.

● Gragson has also made two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series starts at Charlotte, earning a pair of top-10s. He finished ninth in May 2017 and eighth in his return to the track in May 2018, where he led twice for 13 laps.

● As part of #NASCARSalutes and the 600 Miles of Remembrance initiative during the Coca-Cola 600, the No. 10 Bass Pro Shops/Winchester team is honoring United States Marine Corps Sergeant Jasper P. Sloan. The native of Corpus Christi, Texas, was a Squad Leader with the Third Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines, Fifth Marine Division, who posthumously received the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity. Born June 30, 1922, Sloan was killed in action against enemy forces during the Battle of Iwo Jima on Feb. 26, 1945. With his platoon held up by a devastating rain of hostile sniper and machine-gun fire, Sloan advanced his squad 75 yards to a strategic position on higher ground where he initiated a daring attack against strongly fortified Japanese positions despite a lack of flanking support. Repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire as he pointed out new targets and directed his men, Sloan waged battle for more than two hours, enabling the remainder of his besieged platoon to move forward. Later that same day, Sloan twice braved heavy machine-gun fire to go to the aid of a seriously wounded comrade and, while ministering to him on the second occasion, was mortally struck down. Sloan’s dauntless courage, cool decision and self-sacrificing devotion to duty in the face of tremendous odds were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service.

Noah Gragson, Driver of the No. 10 Bass Pro Shops/Winchester Ford Mustang Dark Horse

Before the Coca-Cola 600 goes green, two of motorsports’ biggest races take place earlier in the day – the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. How much racing do you watch prior to the Coca-Cola 600?

“I’ll tune in. It’s a great day of racing. For me, we’ve got our longest race of the year, so my ultimate focus is on the nighttime show, the Coke 600. It closes out the greatest day in motorsports.”

Memorial Day weekend is a big weekend for auto racing between Monaco, Indy and Charlotte. What sparked your interest in racing?

“I like competing in sports, and I like competing in action sports. I love dirt bikes, mountain bikes, snowboarding, skateboarding. If we’re building a jump for our snowboards, I’m going to jump higher and I’m going to jump farther than you. If we’re racing skateboards down a hill, I’m going to be the last one to jump off the skateboard, even if it causes me to get road-rashed up just to go a foot farther. I always like the competition side of things. I love driving. We had a golf cart as a kid and I loved driving that thing. I went and did some go-karting when I was really little at a family fun place where they had roller coasters and arcade games and they couldn’t get me off the go-karts. So I loved it as a kid, and I finally got the opportunity when I was 13.”

Kyle Larson is doing the Double – running the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. How interested are you in his endeavor?

“I’m super interested. I’ve been around Kyle a little bit through my career. He’s a remarkable driver, and to be able to see one of our guys who we’ve raced with every weekend go and try a different discipline of motorsports is really cool and awesome. I would love to do it one day. It’s definitely a special moment. I remember buying a Kurt Busch ‘The Double’ shirt back in the day off his website. It was black and gold and had his Indy car and his Cup car on it, and I thought, ‘Man, this is super cool, like I don’t know if we’ll ever see this again.’ So to have Kyle Larson doing it, it’s a lot more rare nowadays than it was in the late ’90s, early 2000s. Tony (Stewart) used to do it quite a bit, but to have a guy doing it now and be a part of the Cup Series and see one of our guys go over and race the Indy 500, it’s really special for everyone.”

Prior to Larson doing the Double, Kurt Busch attempted it in 2014. How much did a 16-year-old Noah Gragson watch of your fellow Las Vegas native’s attempt at the Double?

“I didn’t really know much about what it takes to be a Cup driver and what it takes to do both. Now, obviously, I have a different perspective. Used to think, ‘Man, 1,100 miles, that’s not that long,’ but then I ran a Coke 600 and I’m like, ‘This thing’s long. What if I’d had to run a 500-mile race earlier in the day?’ It’s cool seeing the behind-the-scenes. Hopefully, they’ll do a video showing the whole journey for Kyle Larson from the start to the finish, like a documentary. I think they did that with Kurt Busch. It was cool to see the behind-the-scenes stuff, like him getting the IV in the airplane, flying from Indy to Charlotte, helicoptering into the track, getting there, changing in the airplane, all that stuff, stuff you wouldn’t ever see, I hope they’re able to do that. It’s really cool.”

Much is made about the Coca-Cola 600 being the series’ longest race. Because the race is so long, can it be a good thing where if you’re not where you want to be, you have time to make things right? Or is the other side of the coin being that it’s too long of a race to not be good, as the delta to being off can quickly become insurmountable?

“You definitely have to stay on the lead lap, but it’s a long enough race where you have plenty of opportunity to fix the thing if it’s not handling the way you want it to.”

The Coca-Cola 600 used to be about pushing drivers and their cars to the limit, as attrition was once a key factor. But today, drivers are fitter than ever and cars seem to be built better than ever before. Is that extra 100 miles noticeable anymore, be it from your perspective behind the wheel or from your team’s when it comes to building your racecar?

“The cars are very durable, and us drivers have a different mindset on how we prepare. I think things have evolved a lot to where it’s kind of just another race, but we do know it’s the longest one. It’s still a little intimidating, especially the first one.”

The Coca-Cola 600 is considered one of NASCAR’s crown jewels because it is the only 600-mile race on the schedule. But in this short-attention-span era, is a 600-mile race still needed?

“Yes, I think it’s cool. It’s something different and it’s fun as a driver. It’s different. It’s unique. Do we need all races to be 600 miles? Absolutely not. But one a year is something different, interesting and cool. It’s a long time, though. It’s not short, by any means, and I think the passionate motorsports fans enjoy it.”

What makes turning fast and consistent laps at Charlotte so challenging?

“The Coke 600 goes from day to night. Definitely, the sun in your eyes off of turn four, and really through (turns) three and four, you can’t really see so you might not run the wall. But it seems like in the Cup cars, getting them wound up right against the outside wall on both sides is pretty fun. It’s a rough racetrack in (turns) three and four. There are a lot of bumps because the track has been settling. Actually, the back straightaway is downhill and the front straightaway is uphill. You wouldn’t know that, but if you ride a bicycle, it’s like a two-gear difference if you kept the same rpm. Up the hill you need to downshift two gears to carry the same rpm, the same miles an hour. We don’t really feel that inside the car, but it’s definitely a challenging racetrack, and then 600 miles, the mental side of it, you need to be 100-percent focused until the end of it.”