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Oct 22, 2022
There is still a championship to be won, but Noah Gragson secured two of the prizes he coveted the most on Saturday at Homestead Miami Speedway.
One, by winning the Contender Boats 300, Gragson has now accumulated eight victories on the season with two more left to go. That means a chance at 10 wins and the kind of season that every kid dreams about on their path to NASCAR.
Two, Homestead had become the White Whale that Ahab had pursued in vain over the past four years but coming up short in the most inconceivable of ways since becoming a NASCAR Xfinity Series full-timer back in 2019.
"Tonight's not about locking into the Championship 4," Gragson said. "It's about all the hardships we've had here at Homestead the past three years, straight up kicking their ass, catching late cautions, not having great short run cars and getting beat, running into the back of a lapper, cording a tire with two to go.
"I feel like we should have four of them here, and we only have one, so coming into the weekend, I really wanted to win this one more than any race in my career."
That’s a pretty high priority for a guy that raced for the championship last year and came up short, don’t you think?
"I just want to win races," Gragson said. "I mean, a championship is really big in this sport, but you've seen guys dominate the entire season, get to the final four and run third or fourth. Sometimes, they struggle a bit or just get beat in one race.
"Don't take this the wrong way, because a championship is the pinnacle and everything, but a dominant season is the same as a championship in this day and age."
To his point, the championship race is such a crapshoot, that simply making it to the final race is the achievement and whatever happens there is potentially the bonus. Gragson entered this season with Luke Lambert as crew chief wanting to prove himself ready for the Cup Series and that meant earning bucket list victories too.
"You can make the final four and that's the same as a championship in my opinion and you get one race to do it," Gragson said. "I wish the championship was here, but it isn't but we did win earlier in the season at Phoenix, so we are going to show up prepared, at the highest level, because we've been executing as a championship team.
"But really, I just hope after the season ends that people remember this season as the one where the No. 9 team was the dominant one."
8 wins … and counting
But again, this one win stands out above the rest because Gragson says Homestead is both his favorite race track and the best race track in the world in his subjective opinion. He believes that running against the wall with a razor thin margin of error, while managing tires, racing both the track and the competition is the truest test of a competitor.
Gragson wanted the boat and waves trophy too, one month after getting the Andy’s Frozen Custard ice cream trophy from Texas Motor Speedway.
"The ice cream cone is really bitchin," Gragson said in a way only he can. "I think this one, with the story, of how much hard work, the losses, the adversity, the pressure, the last race in Xfinity at Homestead...
"Everything combined is what makes this one so special. Normally these things sink in after I've gotten fired up when the race ends, but I know how much hard work has gone into winning here and trying to get this trophy. It's pretty emotional right now in this moment."
With all of that said, the opportunity facing Gragson in two weeks at Phoenix isn't lost on him, and he believes his team is battle tested and up to the task.
"I feel like we can do it," Gragson said. "We've won on old tires, late restarts, Bristol comes to mind. Running the fence here. Pressure moments like this give you the experience you need when you get into this position at Phoenix. Right now, it's trying to learn and be better every day and this will definitely be a step in the right direction.
"This is a really tight-knit team and it's still moving in the right direction ... We have each other's backs until the end and nights like this are really satisfying."