Overstock.com Racing: Noah Gragson Sonoma Advance

Stewart-Haas Racing

●  Noah Gragson has made 54 career NASCAR Cup Series starts, and while four of those starts have come on road courses, none have come at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. Sunday’s Save Mart 350k on the 1.99-mile, 10-turn road course in California’s Wine Country will be his first Cup Series race at Sonoma. Gragson was forced to sit out last year’s Save Mart 350k after suffering from the lingering effects of a crash during the series’ previous race in St. Louis. After being sidelined at Sonoma, Gragson returned to racing the following weekend at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway.

●  Despite missing last year’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma, Gragson is still well versed in the twists and turns of the track’s undulating layout. The Las Vegas native has three NASCAR K&N Pro Series West starts at Sonoma. He never finished outside the top-10, improving each year he competed at the track. After finishing seventh in his Sonoma debut in 2015, Gragson finished second in his return to the track in 2016. And in his last K&N West start at Sonoma in 2019, Gragson won, with a roster of Cup Series drivers behind him as Daniel Hemric, Austin Dillon and Cole Custer finished second, third and fourth, respectively.

●  The NASCAR K&N Pro Series is now the ARCA Menards Series, and on Friday at Sonoma, Gragson will return to his roots and run the General Tire 200 ARCA Menards Series West race. Gragson will drive the No. 30 Ford for Rette-Jones Racing in the 64-lap race, which goes green at 3:30 p.m. PDT (6:30 p.m. EDT) and can be seen live on FloRacing.com.

●  Across the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, ARCA Menards Series and NASCAR K&N Pro Series, Gragson has made a total of 38 road-course starts – four in Cup, 21 in Xfinity, two in Trucks, one in ARCA and 10 in K&N – amassing four wins, 16 top-fives and 27 top-10s with 161 laps led.

●  Gragson’s four road-course wins all came in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, and three were earned in a one-week stretch in September 2016. Gragson swept a pair of K&N Series West races at the Utah Motorsports Campus in Tooele, beating Todd Gilliland on Sept. 10 and then besting him again on Sept. 11, when Gragson took the lead from Gilliland on the last lap. Six days and 2,219 miles later, at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, Gragson scored his third straight road-course win, this time in the K&N Series East, where he beat Justin Haley. Gragson’s fourth and most recent road-course win was earned in the 2019 K&N West race at Sonoma.

●  Overstock.com adorns Gragson’s No. 10 Ford Mustang Dark Horse at Sonoma. The partnership amplifies the recent relaunch of Overstock.com, home of crazy good deals that offer quality and style for less. Overstock.com is for the savvy shopper who loves the thrill of the hunt and it includes product categories customers know and love, like patio furniture, home furniture and area rugs, while reintroducing jewelry, watches and health-and-beauty products.  

Noah Gragson, Driver of the No. 10 Overstock.com Ford Mustang Dark Horse

You’ve got one road-course race under your belt so far this year (March 24 at Circuit of the Americas), and it was one to forget (finished 34th). Does Sonoma allow you to hit the reset button when it comes to road-course racing? If so, what do you want to do differently compared to COTA? 

“We were just struggling at COTA. It was a lot of challenges with just the balance of the racecar. We definitely want to run well at Sonoma. It’s definitely one of my favorite road courses, if not my favorite road course. I felt like I used to be pretty good there in the K&N cars, but with it being repaved, it’s kind of a different animal. It’s a lot faster now, so I don’t know if my sim techniques will make speed on a long run. That track was so worn out, I focused on being straight when I hit the gas and really managing the rear tires throughout the run. Now, with it not being that way, you probably can drive the car a little more hung out sideways and create a little more speed there, but definitely going to be a little bit different technique heading into Sonoma. I love that track and I love that area. It’s a beautiful place and it’s always a lot of fun to go there just because it’s so different.”

You weren’t able to compete at Sonoma last year as you recovered from your accident the previous week at St. Louis. That means no NASCAR Cup Series experience there, and your only experience at Sonoma comes in the form of three NASCAR K&N Series West starts, where you won in your last race there (2019).  Knowing how different the NextGen car is compared to any other racecar, what will the learning curve be like for you at Sonoma?

“I think learning how to make speed in the NextGen car, combined with the repave, is going to be challenging, but I feel like I know the common technique on how to get around that track. I know every crack and bump around that place and I’ve really studied hard and have a good notebook for that track. I don’t necessarily know how we’re going to run, but if you have a really good car, you’re going to run good, and if you miss it, then it makes for a long weekend. We’re going to try and be on the earlier part of that and have a good car and run good.”

The entire Sonoma layout has been repaved. Does that help you in the fact that even though you’re competing against other drivers who have a lot of experience at Sonoma, it’s kind of a brand new track with the new pavement?

“In a sense, yes, but no because with the repave, if you hit it, you hit it good and you’re in that elite category for the weekend. If your setup’s off – I mean, we get 50 minutes of practice there, but there’s not a lot of opportunity to throw the kitchen sink at it and wholesale the setup. So with that being said, it’s definitely a challenge being a repave because if you don’t hit it, then you’re kind of off all weekend, where you probably could develop a notebook of what works around that track from years past, but everybody is on an equal playing field, you just want to be on the right side of things.”

When you’re at a newly paved track, how aggressive are you in finding the grip level? Do you try to sneak up on it or are you aggressive from the get-go because track time is so limited?

“I think you have to be aggressive. Luckily, we get a lot of simulator time and we’re able to simulate what the grip’s going to be like. Sometimes you get out there on a repaved track and it’s like, ‘Man, that feels like nothing that we simulated all week,’ but then other times it does. I think with that knowledge and with the repetitions inside the sim, it allows us drivers to get out there and be pretty much balls to the wall from lap one. You will work up to it a little bit, but you’re starting at 90 or 95 percent, you’re not starting at 45 or 50 (percent).”

You and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer have developed a strong rapport. He’s been to Sonoma a lot as a crew chief. Between his experience there and your rapport with him, how much will you lean on Drew to help you turn a fast lap at Sonoma?

“We’ll look at what we think are going to be the most important things. Is it rolling the corner really fast? Is it having a lot of drive on exit, being able to put the power down? How does the car flow through the esses, the ride quality of things? Can you hit the curbs, can you not touch the curbs, will the car get upset if you touch the curbs? Just going over stuff like that. I feel like Sonoma is one of the better road courses for me. I definitely appreciate and am open-minded to his inputs and his opinions, but for that track, personally, I know it like the back of my hand and it’s a good place for me, so I’m excited for it. If he ever sees anything, he always tells me and we have pretty open conversations and there’s nothing personal. If I’m doing something wrong or if he thinks I can do something better, I try and take everything and learn from it and become better.”

How important is qualifying at road courses? Has it become a bit like Formula One where track position is so precious that in order to finish up front, you really need to start up front?

“Absolutely. It’s really hard to pass. Everybody is so close on speed, especially in the Cup Series. With this NextGen car on these road courses, it definitely is somewhat like Formula One, where the winner’s probably going to come from the top-five unless there’s somebody absolutely elite and they messed up their qualifying lap maybe twice and start deeper in the field. But everyone’s so close that it’s really hard to find that advantage, so between strategy and starting up front, that’s where these races are won.”

As a West Coast guy, going to Sonoma and running the K&N Series West there, knowing that the NASCAR Cup Series paddock was right along pit road, did you guys collectively competing in that series look at that as an opportunity to where, “Hey, if I perform well here, it’s a little bit different because Richard Childress is standing on top of his transporter, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is over there, Tony Stewart is over there,” was it something you looked forward to knowing there were those eyeballs there and that success there could mean a little bit more in terms of advancing your career?

“Absolutely. Being in front of those Cup guys and all those Cup teams, they do watch, like we watch now, other races to see how the track is. Especially when you go to a track like that, it’s your biggest weekend when you’re racing in the K&N Series, or now the ARCA West Series. A lot of Cup guys want extra track time at these road courses, so they’ll move down to the lower series, including myself – I’m going to run the ARCA race out there and just get more laps and experience on the racetrack. As a young driver who hasn’t established his name or his presence within the industry, it definitely allows a lot of opportunity to go out there and race against the Cup guys as a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old, and if you can run good against them, it gives you a boatload of confidence on top of you’re probably gaining a little bit of respect and people are learning your name.”

What’s the competition like in the ARCA Menards Series, as you’re now the guy who is dropping into that race at Sonoma?

“It definitely feels different going there, but the preparation level is way higher than it was when I was running fulltime in that series. Even though it’s not our primary focus for the weekend – the Cup car is – it’s to gain experience. That being said, we’re sitting in a simulator, we’ve done probably three or four sessions for that race so far, so we’ll probably run six or seven sessions this year leading up to the Sonoma race. You don’t get that when you’re racing in those lower series. You’re going to school or you’re at the shop and, for myself personally, show up at the racetrack and gain my experience by playing the NASCAR Inside Line video game and turning laps on there and seeing how to create speed. Being in an OEM simulator definitely brings a lot of value on the preparation side and gives you a little bit of a leg up.”


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