CARS Late Model Stock Tour
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Aug 10, 2022
Petty GMS really wanted Noah Gragson.
To be sure, the 24-year-old has a handful of corporate partnerships valued by team owner Maury Gallagher and team president Mike Beam, but they valued Noah Gragson the emerging racer and personality.
Gragson and Gallagher share Las Vegas as a hometown and their families go back, but that is only part of the equation. They know Gragson and they believe in his upside. They’ve heard stories from No. 43 crew chief Dave Elenz about the work ethic and passion from their time together at JR Motorsports.
Most importantly, they believe in their own ability to unlock his upside in a similar spirit as what they’ve done with Erik Jones this year.
As a result, it was Gragson joining Beam and Richard Petty on the stage for a press conference introducing Gragson as the new driver of the No. 42 in the Cup Series alongside Jones next season at Petty GMS.
Gragson is represented by Brandon McReynolds at Clear28 and they found out together than Petty GMS were the most committed towards his development.
"We bounced a lot of ideas around, and a lot of places wanted sponsorship money and it was almost a no-brainer because they wanted me," Gragson said. "They're taking a big risk on me -- Maury, Richard and everyone in the company.
"But as long as we can do our job to the best of our ability, the risk will be worth the reward."
That’s the operative word with Gragson, a young unproven driver with an unpolished reputation for his persona off the track and occasional decisions on it, but Petty GMS wanted the entire package -- as long as it came with a haircut anyway.
"I’m a young guy that doesn’t have a lot of experience," Gragson said.
Yeah, but he’s won a good number of Xfinity and Truck races over the past several years, and the biggest Super Late Model race in the country too in the Snowball Derby.
"Yeah, but those aren’t Cup races," Gragson added.
"That’s where I want to be, and that’s the goal and I want to take it step by step because I’m not going to get to the top of Mount Everest overnight."
Beam says the agreement is a multiyear deal for Gragson, and they are committed to his development, while also expecting him to immediately elevate the No. 42 closer to the performance of Jones and the No. 43.
Beam says the pros and rewards outweigh the cons and risk.
"We have taken younger drivers like Sheldon Creed, Zane Smith and Justin Haley and won races," Beam said. "We’ve taken Sam Mayer. Maury has a soft spot in his heart to help young people but at the same time over here (on the Cup side) we want to win.
"So, I had to ask him, which one are we doing here, helping people or wanting to win?"
Gallagher, who was not present due to a scheduling conflict with one of his many businesses, believes Gragson represents both in the same way they hired a young Grant Enfinger in ARCA several years ago. They saw an underfunded driver outrunning their cars and believed they could take Enfinger to the next level.
Enfinger has went on to win seven races and has become a perennial Truck Series championship contender.
Meanwhile, the most recent Gragson controversy at Road America, one in which a retaliatory crash against Sage Karam on the straightaway played no factor in any decision to hire or not hire him either.
"I think they know more of what really happened there and didn't get too sucked into the things you can read on Twitter or whatnot," Gragson said.
To that point, Beam says he's prepared and willing to deal with anything similar that might happen under his watch.
"Yes, Noah is a risk, but all these knucklehead drivers are a risk when you get down to it," Beam said. "The biggest thing is that we want to run every lap and get to May and have a direction of where we’re going …
"Noah can win races, and even the parts of him that might be perceived as a risk, we’re not afraid of that. We started this deal with three banners and now we have 65 and we’ve gotten there by playing peacemaker, babysitter, everything.
"I don’t have any sons, but I have seven girls so I’m well prepared for any drama."
Make no mistake, though. Gragson recognizing that he could be perceived as a risk, isn’t the same as a lack of confidence.
"I have a lot of it," he said. "A lot of motivation too. There have been days where I wonder if I belong but then we have really good days on the Xfinity Series side and then you have Richard Petty telling you that he wants you to drive his cars. How could you not be confident and motivated?"
McReynolds says he’s coached Gragson on occasion, boosting his confidence when he needs it, but ultimately says this announcement is validation that he belongs -- that he was selected over drivers who brought more funding to the table.
"That doesn't happen a lot anymore, right," McReynolds said. "I think they saw the upside of Noah on the race track, but that he's sellable too. There are great brands he's associated with and how he works with the brands associated with the Earnhardt family and saw how that could work with the Pettys too.
"That they believed in him was huge. And seeing what they've done with Erik Jones and how he's grinded to get back to this level and they believed in him too. GMS practices what they preach."
And now, after starting his NASCAR national touring series career with Kyle Busch, and making a handful of starts for Joe Gibbs Racing, Gragson will now transition from racing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to a team co-owned by Richard Petty.
That’s really what the announcement on Wednesday was about -- that a group that included Petty wanted to hire Gragson and pair him with Erik Jones.
"It's surreal," Gragson said. "I've worked really hard to get to this point in my career. If you would have asked me 10 years ago that I would be racing for Richard Petty, I would have said you're full of shit and that's not going to happen.
"But I've worked really hard since that day, and I'm incredibly grateful for each of those opportunities, and ready to attack this next moment."