● Noah Gragson comes to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway with a new team in Stewart-Haas Racing, but with familiar colors. His No. 10 Ford Mustang carries a similar paint scheme to the one he ran for the majority of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career where Gragson was a 13-time race winner and perennial championship contender. Black Rifle Coffee, Ranger Boats, TrueTimber and Winchester Repeating Arms will adorn Gragson’s car throughout Speedweek and will reappear on the No. 10 Ford Mustang for multiple races in 2024, including the series’ second race – the Ambetter Health 400 Feb. 25 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
● The 66th Daytona 500 will mark Gragson’s third appearance in The Great American Race and just his fourth overall NASCAR Cup Series start at Daytona. The driver of the No. 10 Black Rifle Coffee/Ranger Boats Ford Mustang earned his best Daytona 500 result in his second Daytona 500 start – 24th last year. However, it was the 2022 Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona where Gragson secured an impressive fifth-place finish. It was Gragson’s first top-five and it came in just his 11th career Cup Series start.
● With only 39 career NASCAR Cup Series starts, Gragson is still relatively new to the Cup Series, but he is not new to NASCAR. Gragson spent 2015-2016 in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, known today as the ARCA Menards Series. He then ran the full NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule in 2017-2018 before graduating to the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In four fulltime seasons (2019-2022) in the stepping-stone division to the elite Cup Series, Gragson won 13 races and finished among the top-10 in points each year, earning the series’ most popular driver award in his final season. Gragson made it to the Championship 4 twice, finishing third in 2021 and second in 2022 with a series-high eight victories.
● Gragson won twice in the Truck Series – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in October 2017 and Kansas Speedway in May 2018 – and finished second in the 2018 championship, where he picked up the Truck Series’ most popular driver award. Those Truck Series results were a continuation of the kind of talent Gragson showcased in the K&N Pro Series. Gragson raced in this developmental league, regionally split into two divisions – K&N Pro Series East and K&N Pro Series West – for two years (2015-2016), winning six races between the two entities and narrowly missing out on the 2015 West title by a scant seven points, but handily securing the rookie-of-the-year title.
● Gragson has made 12 starts on the Daytona oval outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. He has eight Xfinity Series starts and two apiece in the Truck and ARCA Series.
● Gragson’s first career Xfinity Series win came at Daytona in the 2020 season opener. He started 12th and led twice for 15 laps, including the final two, to take the victory over Harrison Burton. Gragson also owns four other Xfinity Series finishes of 15th or better at Daytona, including a third-place drive in the 2022 season opener and a seventh-place finish in August 2021.
● In two career Truck Series starts at Daytona, Gragson got a taste of Daytona’s fickle nature. He completed just one lap in the 2017 season opener before getting taken out in an accident. He then made only 79 of the race’s 200 laps in the 2018 season opener when another multi-vehicle accident ended his day.
● Seventh is Gragson’s best ARCA result at Daytona, earned in the 2018 season opener.
● On-track action for Gragson at Daytona begins with single-lap qualifying Wednesday night when the front row for the Daytona 500 will be set. The Bluegreen Vacations Duel – twin 150-mile qualifying races that set the 40-car field for Sunday’s race – follows on Thursday. Drivers in odd-numbered qualifying positions compete in the first Duel and those in even-numbered qualifying positions battle in the second Duel to fill out the remainder of the starting grid for the Daytona 500.
Noah Gragson, Driver of the No. 10 Black Rifle Coffee/Ranger Boats Ford Mustang
What is your mindset as you begin your first season with Stewart-Haas Racing?
“I’m excited. We’re going to build our confidence together and build our communication, and just grow closer to each other. Going into Daytona, there are definitely things we want to improve and work on, but I feel really comfortable with this group, and I feel confident with them and believe in them. With all of us coming together to start the season off, I think we’re all in a really good head space with a lot of confidence in each other and in our race team.”
As a kid growing up in Las Vegas, what did the Daytona 500 mean to you, and was competing in the Daytona 500 something you always aspired to do?
“Yeah, absolutely. Being a part of the Daytona 500, it’s the biggest race in NASCAR. So, to make it to the Cup level is a big dream fulfilled, but also to have the opportunity to race in the Daytona 500, it’s just a special day, it’s a special atmosphere at the racetrack. It’s a different feeling walking out, going to driver intros, the drivers meeting, and staying on the grid prerace and looking up at all the fans. There’s a different atmosphere of excitement and it’s a privilege to be a part of it. To be there is special, but to be in the race and a part of the show, it’s very special for a kid who was racing Bandoleros at 13 years old at the biggest bullring, and then to literally the biggest race in our sport, to be a part of that is pretty wild.”
Is there a “pinch me” moment amid all the buildup to the Daytona 500?
“I think the ‘pinch me’ moment is probably the buildup of the whole day, with the atmosphere in the pits and the excitement level, and just all the people is a big part of it. Everywhere is packed with people, from the time you leave the hotel and you’re driving to the racetrack, there’s people everywhere. And that buildup throughout the day of putting your suit on and walking out of the hauler and the whole garage area is full of people, you go to the drivers meeting, that room is packed full of people, more than any other place we go to – all that buildup. You get out to pit road and you can’t even walk because there’s so many people. Being able to just take a moment to stand behind the car and look up into the grandstand, appreciate the moment and say, ‘Dang, this is pretty cool to be a part of.’ I remember watching races as a kid and still watch them, it feels a little different, but seeing the prerace of all the cars lined up and everyone on pit road, and to think that I’m one of those people on pit road and I get to wear a firesuit that day, it’s crazy to think about. Once you get that helmet on and you start the engines and you’re rolling off, down pit road and waving at all the pit crew guys who are standing out there giving you a thumbs up and waving back at you, time kind of stops and you’re focused on the task at hand.”
You scored your first top-five in a Cup Series race at Daytona in August 2022. That race had some chaotic moments and you not only managed to be there at the end, but you capitalized on the opportunity. Walk us through some of the moments in that race where you had to make split-second decisions and zig while others zagged, to ultimately put you in a strong position at the end of the race.
“I definitely had a lot of luck. I didn’t initially have a car capable of contending, so I just rode around in the back and waited for them to wreck. The way we were handling all day – the front tires were bouncing around the racetrack – I was super tight, so I couldn’t hold it wide open. But then we got the red flag for rain and before the race went back to green while we were still under caution, we were able to work on the car and kind of diagnose it during that rain delay. It really made it a lot better when we went back racing. I know there were fewer cars on the track, but it was like a completely different car and we were a contender. I guess the wreck before the red flag was pretty hairy, but other than that, we didn’t really get racing until after that red flag, and it ended up working out for us.”
You were running sixth in the 2022 Daytona 500 but you were caught up in a big wreck close to the end. What happened?
“Five to go, running sixth, passing for sixth and then I was going to have a good shot at a top-five or the win but got clipped with (Kyle) Larson and (Kevin) Harvick. They got me in the right rear as I was passing them through the tri-oval. That was a bummer. It was also going to be a dang good payday, too. That’s a big one, that Daytona 500. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it, but I learned a lot during that race, and that’s really what that race was for, just to learn as much as I could. It was my first-ever Cup race, so to be able to go out there with the big boys and run around and be in the top-10 at the end of the deal, we were close, but not close enough.”
How important is the driver/spotter relationship at Daytona, and what kind of information do you need from your spotter when you’re in a 200 mph freight train?
“It’s extremely important having good communication with your spotter and just having a bond with your spotter and understanding how he communicates things, his language, his tone, all that stuff is very important. Fortunately, you have the Duels to work on that communication if you need to make some tweaks. With Andy Houston, I’ve never superspeedway raced with him before. We’ve had a Late Model race together and the Clash and he’s done exceptionally well, and I feel comfortable and confident with him. But at the same time, superspeedway racing, you’re all tight together and there’s a lot of trust in the spotter, so that’ll be a good first test, the Duels, to see if we need to make some tweaks.”
Drivers are often asked about their strategy in a superspeedway race. But what strategy is there for the entire week of Daytona, where you want to show speed, but also keep a clean car through qualifying, the Duel and then, finally, the Daytona 500?
“For me, you just want to dial in the car during practice and really learn as much as you can about your racecar. So you want to have the thing drive as good as you can while still keeping the speed in it, but also just learning what you can do and what you can’t do, and just learning about the car and how other competitors are and where you’re getting your runs at, just learning about your car, and just getting dialed in and getting laps. For me, it’s always about just getting comfortable with the balance, getting that as neutral as possible, and being able to have as much speed as possible. I don’t know if you’re really holding back or not showing your hand, but I want to go as fast as possible every single lap.”
The first of your 13 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins came at Daytona in February 2020. What are the differences between racing in the Xfinity Series at Daytona and racing in the Cup Series at Daytona?
“There’s a lot that’s different. I got into a rhythm in Xfinity where I treated it like a go-kart race. Every single superspeedway, no matter if it’s Daytona or Talladega, the fall race or the beginning of the year, I went out there and had a very ‘checkers or wreckers’ mentality and I was going to be aggressive from the initial start of the race, going through the restart zone and taking the green flag. The Daytona 500 is different where you have the best drivers out there and you’re kind of taking your time to get up through the field and really being methodical with it and putting yourself in good positions. It’s a very prestigious race, and the old saying is you can’t win it on the first lap but you can certainly lose it, right? So you first have to finish in order to finish first. You want to be there at the end, but just utilizing the whole day, 500 miles, of learning your racecar. And probably the second-to-last pit stop and the final pit stop, that’s when the real race really starts and you’re really working yourself into position. It’s those last two pit stops where it’s really go time and you start getting aggressive.”
Your No. 10 Black Rifle Coffee/Ranger Boats Ford Mustang looks a lot like the Xfinity Series car that you drove to a lot of race victories. You’re an outdoorsman who has a longstanding relationship with these brands. How does it feel to continue with Black Rifle Coffee, Ranger Boats, TrueTimber and Winchester Repeating Arms at Stewart-Haas Racing?
“It’s fun. That paint scheme, we had a lot of success with it, the silver and the orange wrapping up around the nose and the TrueTimber camouflage on the hood and the roof, going over the top of the car. It’s kind of like a rebuilding year for myself, and I think there’s no better paint scheme to have – that was my identity in the Xfinity Series. If you think of our team in the Xfinity Series and what we were able to do, that was our identity. So to be able to have a rebuilding year for myself and kind of re-identify myself, getting back to the winning roots, that’s where we want to be. And with that paint scheme, I love that paint scheme and I think it’s going to be a big hit on the racetrack, and there’s no better way to have success. The first time we ran that paint scheme was at Daytona and we were able to win the race in the Xfinity Series for my first win. So it’d be pretty cool to do it again in the Cup Series.”
Before you compete in the Daytona 500, you’ll be in a Ranger Boat on Lake Lloyd competing to catch bass as part of Darrell Gwynn’s Hot Rods & Reels charity fishing tournament. You’ve already talked about the keys to success in regard to racing at Daytona. What’s the key to success when it comes to fishing at Daytona?
“I’ve done the Darrell Gwynn charity event a couple of times. The first year, we had a lot of success and we were ripping them things up into the boat, left and right. Last year, I don’t know if we even caught one fish on the boat, collectively. The key is to have a good fish-finder – as in boat driver and guide – and being in the right spot and knowing that lake. They have a lot of good guys who volunteer to come down there and bring their Ranger Boats and allow us to go catch fish and have fun. It’s a fun event. It raises a lot of money and we have a good time with our lines in the water and just having a little down time to be able to relax and fish. I enjoy fishing as part of relaxing. Daytona is a heavily scheduled race for us – probably the heaviest schedule that we have, doing a bunch of different appearances – so to be able to go out there and relax, that’s one of the things I like to do in my free time, to go fish and relax and kind of regroup, mentally. It’s a good time to do that at Daytona.”