Mid-Season Report Card: No. 9 Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/Black Rifle Coffee Company Team

Ron Lemasters | 7/29/2021

Bass Pro Shops Black Rifle Coffee Dave Elenz News Noah Gragson TrueTimber XFINITY Series

Bad luck has plagued Noah Gragson and the No. 9 team so far this season, but they'll look to turn it around as we approach the playoffs.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (July 29, 2021) - Over the first 19 races of the 2021 season, Noah Gragson has had more than his share of ups and downs.

On the plus side, the 23-year-old Nevadan is eighth in series points, well within the field for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, and has six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in the first 19 races.

On the down side, six DNFs-some in heartbreaking fashion-have played havoc with the No. 9 team’s momentum.

The biggest heartbreak came early, in the third race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Gragson and crew chief Dave Elenz had forged a strategy that saw the young driver in the lead with less than three laps remaining when a lapped car cut a tire and went up the banking directly into Gragson's path. Locked in the top groove, Gragson had no chance to avoid contact and blasted the front end, ending his day. He finished in 32nd position.

The first two races were equally disappointing, as Gragson crashed out of the Daytona season opener-along with a lot of other cars-and finished 28th on the road course at DIS before having the Homestead race snatched from him in the final moments.

A fifth-place finish at his home track in Las Vegas stopped the slide, but an engine problem ended his day early the next time out at Phoenix. After five races, Gragson had a single top-five finish and was 19th in the series points.

As tough as the first five races had been, the next four were pretty darn good...and they paid well, too.

The Xfinity Dash 4 Cash bonus series has been a playground for JR Motorsports since its inception, and Gragson staked his claim by taking the $100,000 prize in three of the four races (the other one went to teammate Josh Berry) this season.

He finished second to Berry at Martinsville in the first D4C race, followed that up with a sixth-place finish at Talladega for the second prize and earned his third at Darlington with a fourth-place effort. In the final race, Gragson's bid to sweep them all was derailed when Berry edged JRM’s Justin Allgaier for the prize at Dover. Gragson finished 15th.  

That run of races helped heal a lot of wounds from the shaky season start, but it took its toll on Gragson, Elenz and the rest of the No. 9 Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/Black Rifle Coffee team. There was no single point of emphasis the team could seize on to correct, just a lot of bad luck and trouble.

"The rough stretches, which has pretty much been the whole season for the most part...nobody is doing anything wrong," Elenz said. "It's a lot of unfortunate circumstances created by the season we are having. Everyone is working the right direction and doing the right things, so I think just focusing on continuing to do the right things and having faith that eventually it might change is the way we have to go."

With that momentum in hand, Gragson and the No. 9 team moved into the next segment of the schedule with high hopes that what had plagued them earlier was in the rear-view mirror.

It wasn't.

A mechanical issue in the rain at Circuit of the Americas saw a 36th-place result and the following week at Charlotte, Gragson was involved in a crash and finished 27th. The clincher came the next race at Mid-Ohio, when Gragson was involved in a scrum on the initial start that saw him off the track in the first corner. In getting back on the asphalt, Gragson ran over the lip of an access road and tore the oil cooler out of his Camaro, ending his day.

"The season has been pretty tough on us," Elenz said. "We have had a lot of issues and a lot of different things go wrong for us and not the same thing over and over or in the same area. We're disappointed where we’re at in the season right now, but I feel good about the speed we have had so far and Noah has been doing a great job on the track. Our pit crew has been good, but we've just had random issues that prevent us from making good days. It's really just been a tough season."

Gragson, Elenz and the No. 9 team shook it off, rebounding yet again. Over the six races from Mid-Ohio to New Hampshire and the two-week Olympic break, Gragson went on another run. He was seventh at Texas, eighth at Nashville, fourth at Pocono, ninth at Road America and a coming third at Atlanta despite having to pit from the lead in the final segment for a flat tire.

The young driver got the car onto and off of pit road with no mistakes and avoided going a lap down until the caution flag waved. Putting on a final set of tires, Gragson roared back through the field to earn his third-place finish. A 14th-place run at New Hampshire-thanks to contact with another car that sent him to the fence in the late going-put Gragson and the No. 9 team eighth in the points with seven races left until the playoffs begin.

Over that span, Elenz has a plan to better his team's playoff chances.

"We need to get bonus points," he said. "I think we should be able to get up to about fifth in points which would score us more bonus points going into the playoffs. We need to get stage wins for playoff points and we need to score a couple of wins. I know we are capable of doing it and we have some tracks coming up where we are really confident. We just need to make it happen."

Through the ups and the downs, Elenz said his team's chemistry has remained unshaken.

"I think our guys have been getting along, they are just taking it all in stride and worrying about themselves while working in their own areas trying to push through everything we have had going on," he said. "Noah and I have been getting along really well, we are just trying to make better decisions and have no bad luck as we move forward."

Giving his team a grade was tough for Elenz, and he split the difference at the end. "I give us an A for the effort the team is putting in," he said. "I'll go with a D for where we are in our season right now."

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • September 25 07:30 PM ET
    Alsco Uniforms 302Las Vegas Motor Speedway
  • October 2 04:30 PM ET
    Talladega Superspeedway
  • October 9 03:00 PM ET
    Drive for the Cure 250Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval
  • October 16 03:00 PM ET
    Andy’s Frozen Custard 335Texas Motor Speedway
  • October 23 03:00 PM ET
    Kansas Lottery 300Kansas Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Food City 300

Bristol Motor Speedway | 9/17/2021
RankDriverPointsBehind
1AJ Allmendinger10430
2Austin Cindric1033-10
3Justin Allgaier924-119
4Daniel Hemric895-148
5Harrison Burton871-172
6Justin Haley864-179
7Noah Gragson863-180
14Michael Annett524-519
34Sam Mayer #186-857