Gragson’s Numbers Rival JRM Champions’ So Far in ’19 Season

Ron Lemasters | 6/26/2019

News Noah Gragson XFINITY Series

Halfway through his rookie season, Noah Gragson's 2019 statistics stack up to those of his predecessors in JRM's No. 9 Chevy.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (June 26, 2019) – When you are a rookie at JR Motorsports, it is inevitable that you will be compared to those who have gone before you.

When those rookies are Chase Elliott, William Byron and Tyler Reddick—owners of the three NASCAR Xfinity Series championship trophies that grace the JRM campus—they can be fairly detailed comparisons indeed.

Zane Smith stacked up fairly well for his first five starts (his sixth will be this weekend in Chicago), but full-time competitor Noah Gragson is right on the tail of the trio after 14 races.

Elliott, who won the company’s first title in 2014, averaged 8.8 per finish for his first 14 races in JRM machinery, which is the best of the lot. Reddick, the 2018 titlist, is at 9.9 for his first 14, and like Elliott’s total, it included a race victory. Elliott had two in his first 14, and under the old points system, that paved his way toward clinching the title one race early.

Byron, the 2017 champion, also had a victory at Iowa in his surge toward the top of the standings, a week after finishing a whisker behind Denny Hamlin at Michigan, but the now-NASCAR Cup Series driver had a few missteps on his way to Victory Lane. His average finish was 11.4 over his first 14 races.

Gragson? He’s at 9.9 after 14 races, with his best finish a runner-up at Michigan...to Reddick, as it happened.

“I think we have been able to finish races, which is key,” Gragson said prior to heading off to Chicagoland Speedway for this weekend’s event. “Some of those, we’ve had bad luck, but we’ve rallied back as a team. During some of those bad-luck, adversity-challenged races, midway through, we were able to come back and get some good finishes.

“Overall, I want to obviously be winning those races, and have an average finish of 1.0, but for now it’s about learning every time I get on the race track and trying to be on the same page as my crew chief, Dave Elenz. If we can do that, and I really feel like we have been doing, we can lower that average to the 5.0 range. That’s the goal, to finish every race in the top five. We’ve finished every race so far, and now it’s just getting to be a little bit higher on the board.”

One of the other points of congruence is Elenz, who was atop the pit box for both Byron and Reddick on their way to championships.

The comparisons among the four drivers are valid. Gragson’s worst finish in his first 14 races is 22nd at Richmond. By contrast, Elliott’s worst showing in that span was 37th at Charlotte, Byron’s was 36th at Talladega and Reddick’s worst run was 23rd, also at Charlotte. Reddick, the most recent champion, crashed at Chicagoland the next time out and finished 33rd, then crashed again at Daytona and was 31st.

Consistency and how you battle adversity are two parts that define champions, and Gragson has done both well early in his career. His two worst finishes could, he said, have been a lot worse.

“That (22nd-place finish) was at Richmond, and I got dumped while running sixth with about 20 laps to go,” he said. “We had to come in and put some old tires on it there at the end and we got a lap down. We would have finished, I feel like, in the top five if I hadn’t gotten dumped on one of those restarts. We had a 19th at Dover this year because we didn’t get all the lugs tight on the right front wheel, and had to come down and lost two laps. We have been up there in the mix, and our average finish would be better if it weren’t for those two. We just have to work harder, apply ourselves and prepare and try to go win races.”

Luck, as it always does, plays a role in each race, and Gragson says that has been a big part of his not having yet scored a victory.

“We’ve had some good runs,” he said. “Ran really well at Michigan, but Brandon Jones checked up in front of me on pit road and we had to start in the back after repairing some damage. We lost all our track position and we could have run with the 2 car (Reddick). It’s really just a couple of these races have come down to having bad luck and having stuff happen. We’re not going to quit; we’re just going to keep on digging as a team.”

Last weekend, Gragson went to Sonoma to race in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and ended up winning the race, his fifth career K&N Pro Series West victory and seventh career K&N win overall. In doing so, he topped fellow NXS driver Cole Custer, as well as Cup Series drivers Daniel Hemric, Austin Dillon and Ryan Preece, despite being called for jumping a restart midway through the race and having to work his way through the field.

It’s all part of the process for Gragson, who has flashed brilliantly on his way up the ladder in NASCAR. He’s learning at a prodigious rate and has adapted well to the full-time grind. The lightbulb went on for him following the May race at Charlotte, he said.

“I’ve been really happy since Charlotte,” Gragson said. “We’ve gotten a lot more speed in our cars and I’ve learned a lot more about how to drive the JRM cars. I’ve adapted. We keep working on getting more speed in our Camaros, and I’ve been working closer to Dave (Elenz), learning what his tendencies are and what he likes out of his drivers. Overall, we’re really clicking since the Charlotte race and we can only go up from there.”

There are 19 races left in the season, and Gragson and his No. 9 team have rounded into a form that could take both to Florida in November with a shot at another NXS championship for JRM.

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • November 2 08:30 PM ET
    O'Reilly Auto Parts 300Texas Motor Speedway
  • November 9 03:30 PM ET
    Desert Diamond West Valley Casino 200ISM Raceway
  • November 16 03:30 PM ET
    Ford EcoBoost 300Homestead-Miami Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Kansas Lottery 300

Kansas Speedway | 10/19/2019
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Christopher Bell (P)31060
2Cole Custer (P)3095-11
3Tyler Reddick (P)3094-12
4Justin Allgaier (P)3059-47
5Chase Briscoe # (P)3057-49
6Michael Annett (P)3047-59
7Noah Gragson # (P)3042-64
8Austin Cindric (P)3029-77