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Noah Gragson Picking Up Confidence, Forming Good Preparation Habits at Stewart-Haas

Noah Gragson came into his tenure at Stewart-Haas Racing completely lost. He didn't know how to prepare for a race on his own. That's okay, the team has rallied around him, and he is starting to flourish.


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Noah Gragson has impressed mightily in his opening 11 races with Stewart-Haas Racing. Despite being assessed a 35-point penalty following the second race of the year, which was at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Gragson has really found some consistency behind the wheel as of late.

A sixth-place finish at Dover Motor Speedway this past weekend marked the fourth top-10 effort of the season, and it was the second consecutive for the 25-year-old racer. In all, Gragson has now recorded six top-15 finishes. To put it in perspective, Gragson had just one top-15 finish in 21 NASCAR Cup Series starts a season ago.

It's been an incredible turnaround for the driver, and despite the penalty, Gragson and the No. 10 team have clawed their way nearly back inside the top 20 of the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings.

At a NASCAR Media Availability on Tuesday, Gragson talked about the rally in the point standings, and he expressed confidence that he can still point his way into the Playoffs.

"We definitely have gained a lot. I don't know, the 35 points we lost is a big hit, but I know that we can overcome it," Gragson said. "And we're building each and every week to have solid runs. Stage Points are extremely important, so that's kind of our goal is to start getting Stage Points because they kind of rack up. I think that's where [Chase] Briscoe has done a really good job. He's been able to have a good day qualifying, and run up front, and get some Stage Points."

Overall, Gragson is elated with where he and his team stand speed-wise, especially considering he and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer are still getting to know one another.

"I'm really happy with where we're at. We're still fine-tuning and developing our process on our preparation and communication between Drew and me," Gragson stated. "It's hard when you come in. For him [I'm] a new driver, he doesn't know how I explain things, and I don't know what adjustments they typically make. So, we're just building our notebook, I would say. When we're able to go back to these racetracks a second or third time, our notebook gets better."

As Gragson and Blickensderfer, who are currently on the same chapter, get on the same page, who knows what the future could hold for Gragson and the No. 10 team.

But one thing is for sure, none of the success that is currently being enjoyed would be possible if Gragson didn't come into the program with the mindset of wanting to personally improve himself as a race car driver. If Gragson simply came in wanting to go through the motions, it would have been an unmitigated disaster for the driver and team.

As Gragson embarked on the hopeful rebirth of his NASCAR Cup Series career at Stewart-Haas Racing heading into the 2024 season, the driver was nervous, and rightfully so.

From 2019 through 2023, Gragson had been part of Josh Wise's heralded driver preparation program. Wise's company, Wise Optimization, hands drivers information, data, and homework on a silver platter every week to help them prepare for the upcoming event.

However, when Gragson left the Chevrolet pipeline to join the Ford-aligned SHR team, that resource was gone, and Gragson was left scrambling to figure out what to do.

"You have your hand held a lot during that because you're never having to go through the SMT data, and pull up restart clips, and look at all of this data. It's just kind of presented to you," Gragson stated. "It's really good, when you're in it because you can utilize all this stuff and this is what I need to look forward to. But now not having it, it's like oh, man, I don't know where to start."

Before he joined Wise's program, Gragson explained that he would rely solely on re-watching race broadcasts, and he would scour YouTube for any clips that he could in hopes of picking up any pointers about how successful drivers would run certain tracks and make certain passes. Needless to say, that method served Gragson decently well on his climb through the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series ranks. But if he was going to take his career to the next level, he would need to prepare like champions prepared.

With the help of Wise's program, Gragson ascended as a rising star of the sport. From 2020 to 2022, Gragson amassed 13 victories in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and he narrowly lost out on the 2022 series championship in a hard-fought championship race against Ty Gibbs.

Without Wise feeding him the data and homework he needed to dive into how to further his racecraft this season, Gragson entered the Stewart-Haas Racing shop humbled. And he sought out help from anyone who would listen.

"We sat down at the beginning of the year, and I brought out the engineers and Drew [Blickensderfer] the crew chief, and it was myself and I was like, 'Hey, I'm going to need some help on preparing, because I don't really know how to do it at all.' I was asking how does Aric [Almirola] prepare, and what was your process throughout the week of what he did," Gragson recalled. "And [Almirola] would do a lot of stuff kind of at home, where I feel like I'm better in an open environment, where we can sit down and look at something and if someone has an idea just being able to openly talk about it and stuff."

Swallowing his pride and admitting that he didn't know what he was doing unlocked an open door of knowledge inside the Stewart-Haas Racing shop for Gragson.

"I think taking the stance of, 'Hey, I don't know how to do this,' and showing some humility to eventually get to the greater good [has helped]. Because if I would have said, 'Oh, I'm good,' and just watched the race broadcast, I don't know if we would have had these same steps of growth," Gragson admitted.

Not only has Gragson been building rapport with Blickensderfer as he personally learns how to prepare on his own, but the Stewart-Haas Racing driver roster has begun to resemble more of a study group in recent weeks.

"Chase Briscoe, we have been preparing together. And this week, Josh Berry jumped in on us preparing with each other, so all three of us were preparing," Gragson explained. "[There's an] Open invite for anyone who wants to come, but I felt like I needed to take the initiative. Chase and I communicate pretty close to the same on the cars, and our setups are close to the same. I was like, 'Hey, man. We've got to figure it out and like would you be willing to prepare with me?' And so we started doing that, and now Josh jumped on board, and it just helps us have an open dialogue and communication.

"They'll say something, and I'll be like, 'I didn't think of that,' just having an open-minded conversation and being able to learn from what those guys are saying. We're just helping each other out."

This weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway, and Gragson isn't hiding the fact that he's coming into the AdventHealth 400 with loads of confidence.

Gragson has recorded an average finish of 12th in the two 1.5-mile intermediate races that have been contested so far this season, and he feels like he had a car capable of finishing better than the 18th-place that he wound up finishing in at Texas Motor Speedway.

The Las Vegas native is gaining confidence in his ability behind the wheel of the Next Gen car, he has become a true believer of his race team, and he feels the true support of everyone around him as he learns what it is like to be a NASCAR Cup Series racer. If he isn't careful, Gragson may just end up working his way into the Playoffs this season.

Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade, NKP for Ford Performance

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