Season in Review: Gragson, Lambert Post Season for the Ages with No. 9 Team

Ron Lemasters | 11/23/2022


The duo racked up eight wins at JRM in 2022, and will compete in the Cup Series together next season.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 23, 2022) -- Noah Gragson was the class of the field for much of the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, winning eight races and dominating the summer run to the Championship 4. In the final race of the season -- and what turned out to be the final run as driver of the No. 9 Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber®/Black Rifle Coffee Chevrolet -- Gragson fell just .397 seconds short of the NXS Championship at Phoenix Raceway.

The 24-year-old Las Vegas native rewrote portions of the JR Motorsports record book and obliterated his personal bests on the way to the runner-up finish, logging a team record for victories with eight. That total broke the single-season record of five set by Justin Allgaier in 2018 and surpassed Gragson's own personal best by five races (he won three times in 2021).

A team-best 21 top-five finishes stood alongside 26 top-10 finishes as season bests for 2022, and the latter total fell just three top-10s short of Elliott Sadler's 2016 record of 29. His 1,010 laps led also broke a team record, though by a scant two circuits. Allgaier led 1,008 laps in 2020 to set the previous mark.

Gragson, paired with new crew chief Luke Lambert after three seasons with Dave Elenz, didn't miss a beat from his hot finish to 2021 when the season kicked off at Daytona in February.

Over the first six races, Gragson earned a win at Phoenix, runner-up finishes at both Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas, a third at Daytona and a fourth on the road course at Circuit of the Americas. The lone blemish was a 26th-place result at Atlanta, thanks to a late-race melee in Turn 2 that damaged his No. 9 Camaro.

The next two races—at Richmond Raceway and Martinsville Speedway—were uncharacteristic in that Gragson finished 21st and 20th, respectively. A brake issue at the end of Stage One at Richmond slowed his pace, and the frenetic night race at Martinsville saw Gragson's chance at victory spoiled in one of several late scrums while running in the top five.

The next time out, Gragson banished the bad luck with a stirring performance at Talladega Superspeedway. In a triple-overtime event, Gragson took the lead on the final restart and held on for his second win of the season, outdueling AJ Allmendinger over the final three laps to take the top spot.

The momentum kept going in the right direction as the season entered the first rays of summer. A fourth at Dover Motor Speedway and a runner-up at Darlington Raceway kept the ball rolling, and a fourth-place run at Charlotte took the sting out of a DNF at Texas Motor Speedway thanks to a cut tire late in the race.

With Gragson already in the NXS Playoffs, the mid-summer run was spent working on the postseason, though Gragson did not let up. Following a posted second-place run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Gragson's car failed technical inspection and he was relegated to a 38th-place finish.

As in the earlier two-race segment at Richmond and Martinsville, Gragson responded with a victory at Pocono—JRM's first on the Tricky Triangle—the next race out. A top 10 on the road course at Indianapolis was followed by a third at Michigan, a fourth at Watkins Glen and a rough 22nd-place outing at Daytona.

It was at this point that Gragson, Lambert and the No. 9 Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/Black Rifle Coffee Chevrolet went on a record-tying winning streak.

Consecutive wins by Gragson and Lambert at Darlington, Kansas Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway in the regular-season finale and Texas Motor Speedway in the opening round of the playoffs gave Gragson a chance to become the first NXS driver to ever win five straight races the following week at Talladega. The last to do it was the legendary Sam Ard in 1983, the second year of the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series.

Gragson finished 10th at Talladega to end the streak, but it was an accomplishment that few others had achieved. The four-peat was just the sixth time in series history that a single team had won four straight races, though none of the teams that accomplished it had the same driver for all four races.

Gragson and the No. 9 team advanced to the Round of 8 in the playoffs with the Texas win, the first driver to do so in 2022, and finished third a week later in the cutoff race for the Round of 12 at the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Entering the Round of 8 with momentum, Gragson logged a runner-up finish at his home track at Las Vegas before earning the victory he'd been pointing toward for the past three seasons. Gragson was less than two laps from winning at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2021 when a lapped car blew a tire in front of him in Turn 3. The resulting crash cost him a victory in spirit-crushing fashion.

Gragson started on the front row and led 134 of the 200 laps to vanquish the heartache of a year prior and punch his ticket to the Championship 4.

That left Martinsville, and Gragson ran a solid fourth on the day with no need to replicate the heroics of last year's thrilling win on the .526-mile oval, setting him up to battle for the Championship for the second straight year.

At Phoenix, Gragson raced near the front all day and fell just .397 second shy of winning his first NXS championship and the fourth for JR Motorsports.

"I drove my butt off, but I was just too tight there at the end to catch the 54," Gragson said at the conclusion of the final race. "I'm just super thankful to Johnny Morris and Bass Pro Shops, TrueTimber and Black Rifle Coffee. We had a really great year with this No. 9 team at JR Motorsports, and I really wanted that championship. We just weren't close enough at the end.

"I'm so proud of everyone's efforts this year. Thanks to all the fans for their support. We just came up one spot short. I'm going to miss this whole JR Motorsports team."

As Gragson moves to the NASCAR Cup Series for 2023 with Petty GMS Motorsports, driving the No. 42 Chevrolet with Lambert as his crew chief, it is proof positive that the plan laid out for young drivers like him is working. JR Motorsports and GMS are a big part of the Chevrolet Driver's Edge Development program, which is designed to take drivers up the ladder to the NASCAR Cup Series.

Gragson came to JRM as a 20-year-old phenom and spent four seasons honing his craft at JRM, learning the dos and don'ts as well as race craft and other necessary traits, just as the program and JRM's part in it was intended.

Lambert was proud of what his team and driver accomplished in 2022.

"It was a very special season," he said. "That's the best way I can describe it. We had a lot of success, set a lot of really high goals for ourselves. Our true goal was to try to really be the best team in the garage, and that's really how we designed our objectives, knowing that on-track results don't necessarily reflect that on a weekly basis and we didn't want to be overwhelmed by those objectives. We did a very nice job of getting close to hitting that goal. We had a lot of great moments and high points throughout the year of which I am super proud.

"It was really fun to be part of Noah's progression and to watch all the performance that JRM built. There's so many great men and women at JR Motorsports that pour their hearts and souls into putting fast race cars on the race track, and being part of that was a very special thing for me. I felt like at no point in the season did anyone get comfortable or rest on our laurels, even when we started having early success. To be a part of the passion of this team was a lot of fun."

Gragson and Lambert clicked from the get-go in 2022, and both were able to take a new situation and make it successful.

"We clicked right away, 100 percent," Lambert said. "I felt like JRM was family right away and it felt natural, that's the only way I can describe it. I spent a year there and didn't feel like I really worked a day of it. The success that we put on the race track was a result of the culture that JRM has and it felt great to be part of making that happen."

Asked for a single moment he'll remember from a magical 2022 season, Lambert had to think a bit.

"That's tough," he said. "There were some pretty epic moments. It would have to come down to the entire month of September. From the time we took the checkered at Darlington until the time that we took the checkered at Texas, it was just a magical experience.

"Watching the ability to overcome adversity that Noah had and all the things that JRM brought to the track during that time was special to be a part of. That's the biggest highlight, and very close to that would be the win at Homestead. Noah is a phenomenal talent there, and he's come so close. In the past, the team and JRM has done so many things right there and then had circumstances happen that didn't allow it to be what it could be."



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After Dead On Tools 250

Martinsville Speedway | 10/28/2023
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