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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Noah Gragson Shines in XFINITY Series Debut at Richmond

Noah Gragson made his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut Friday night (April 20) at Richmond Raceway, and what a debut it was.

Gragson ran third-quickest in both practice sessions held early Friday, and when it came to qualifying, he made it to the final round. He lined up 11th on the grid for his first ever start behind the wheel of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

“I’m definitely excited to get out there. I’m also nervous,” Gragson told FOX Sports 1 prior to the green flag. “I feel more nervous than the first time I leaned in to kiss a girl right now. I don’t know what to expect. This is my first time racing with these boys. I’m really excited and even more nervous.”

Despite the nerves, Gragson performed quite well and nearly pulled off the victory. He led just 10 laps but how he got out front in a three-wide battle with teammate Christopher Bell and veteran Elliott Sadler was perhaps more impressive.

As the laps wound down, it became clear that Bell and Gragson were the drivers to beat as the two battled for the lead. But when the checkered flag flew, it was Bell who emerged victorious while Gragson settled for a second-place result in his XFINITY debut.

“I wish I would have won there, I felt good with about 18 to go,” Gragson said after the race. “Hats off to him, we raced each other clean. I didn’t want to wreck him or anything. I wanted to earn this one. But, a heck of a way to kick off my Xfinity Series debut. Great 1-2 finish with Toyota, here at the Toyota Care 250. Thanks to Rob Roy and Switch.

“That’s all I had right there. I found something there in the end of the second stage on old tires and I knew there was speed in that part of the racetrack,” he continued. “I kept that in the back of my mind and knew I needed to break it out there in end with about 18 laps to go. I told my spotter (Rick Carelli), I am going for it. I ran him (Christopher Bell) down about three car lengths and didn’t want to show him too early. We win as a team and lose a team. It’s all about learning.”

Gragson who was just a rookie last season in the Camping World Truck Series spent much of the first two stages just learning to race the track since he had no experience in an XFINITY car.

“With this being my first NXS start here, I didn’t really know what to expect. I found a little something in the track and started getting some speed in the end of Stage 2,” he explained. “I felt good going into the final stage and basically told my team just tell me when to go. About 18 to go, I told them I couldn’t wait any longer and ran Christopher down. My spotter told me not too quick because he might catch on but I am just so thankful for the opportunity. I probably should have gone there with 18 to go but thankful to Switch and Toyota for taking a chance on me to live out my dream out here in the XFINITY Series.

“I’ve come a long way here in the past year. I still have a long way to go. Definitely always thought I had the drive and the fight in me. Just learning from everybody that I’ve really been around whether it’s off the race track at KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) or Joe Gibbs Racing or if it’s on the race track following this guy right here (Elliott Sadler). Just trying to learn as much as I can is the biggest thing and I still have a long way to go.”

Gragson has two more scheduled starts for JGR in the series at Talladega and Dover.

“I’m looking forward to Dover. Talladega, that one might come back in a ball or something and I’m not sure that’s the kind of roll of the dice,” Gragson explained. “I know we’ll have a fast Toyota Camry there with Switch on the hood. Man, I’m not too good of a restrictor plate racer just because I don’t have a lot of experience.

“I watched Daytona this year from the spotter stand of the XFINITY race and man they couldn’t get off of each other. They were beating and banging and spinning out, so I don’t know what my strategy is going to be. I’m going to talk to the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing this week and I’m really excited for Dover. I feel like I run somewhat decent there in the Trucks. I don’t know what it’s going to be like in the XFINITY car, but hopefully it can transfer over.”

About Beth Lunkenheimer

Beth Lunkenheimer
Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 13-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

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