Noah Gragson returns home, revels in Las Vegas roots
The primary time Noah Gragson went to a NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he was an 11-year-old fascinated by an argument two followers had been having in entrance of him.
One was sporting a Jimmie Johnson No. 48 shirt; the opposite was sporting a Jeff Gordon No. 24 shirt. The 2 males talked a lot crap to 1 one other, Gragson — then a novice fan — figured the drivers should have been hated rivals as an alternative of the teammates they really had been.
“I had no clue what was happening on the time,” Gragson stated. “I assumed they had been going to try to wreck one another.”
Johnson ended up profitable the race that day. Now, 13 years later, Gragson is again in his hometown making ready to compete Sunday on the identical Las Vegas observe as a full-fledged NASCAR Cup Collection driver — who occurs to race for the Legacy Motor Membership group co-owned by Johnson.
On the time, Gragson couldn’t have probably dreamed that huge. He didn’t even begin racing for 2 extra years, driving a beginner-level Bandolero automotive on The Bullring, a observe positioned 700 yards behind the massive speedway’s Turns 1 and a pair of.
Now 24, Gragson is among the few who could make this uncommon declare in a city of comers and goers: He’s a fourth-generation Las Vegan. Noah’s late great-grandfather Oran Gragson holds the title of longest-serving Las Vegas mayor; an elementary faculty 9 miles from the racetrack is known as in Oran’s honor, as is a busy freeway that connects the guts of Vegas to the northwest edges of the town.
(Should you want extra of a refresher on Noah’s Vegas roots, we’ve bought you coated right here.)
After ending a luncheon with native media on Tuesday, Gragson bought in the automotive and known as The Athletic for an interview. The place was he headed? His boyhood house, the place Gragson is staying in his personal bed room throughout race week as an alternative of one of many many shimmering inns on the Strip.
The home will function a base for his favourite Vegas actions: mountain biking, grabbing some tacos al pastor from Tacos El Gordo and spending an evening strolling down Fremont Avenue — the place he’ll eat at Le Thai and play low-cost blackjack on the 4 Queens. (“I don’t like taking part in something larger than $15 minimal fingers,” he stated.)
Though he made a Cup begin final fall — filling in for the injured Alex Bowman in the No. 48 automotive Gragson as soon as watched as a spectator — it’s a special and extra satisfying feeling to return along with his personal group. Gragson is now a Cup Collection rookie, driving Legacy’s No. 42 automotive, and follows the Busch brothers as graduates of The Bullring who made it huge.
Practically all of Gragson’s racing roots are on that little 0.375-mile oval in the shadows of LVMS. He additionally raced Legend vehicles and late fashions there, transferring up the ranks whereas questioning whether or not he had the flexibility to succeed in the highest — no completely different than all of the locals he competed towards.
“That’s the good half about coming again,” Gragson stated. “If I will be the consultant of these folks and be the face of The Bullring, I would like them to have the ability to dwell vicariously by means of what I’ve been in a position to do. I really feel like their ardour for the game is one thing I’m in a position to carry with me.”
The grandstand seats the place Gragson sat at his first LVMS race are actually gone, with the decrease sections eliminated and coated up by dust. As a NASCAR beginner, Gragson had figured one of the best place to sit down can be as near the vehicles as potential. Solely as soon as the race started did he notice that wasn’t a good suggestion.
However as he circles the observe, he’ll have the ability to level to the overall neighborhood of the place he watched as a fan. And chances are high Gragson might have a better-than-expected race for a Cup Collection rookie, as nicely.
Gragson by no means completed worse than sixth there in eight Xfinity Collection begins (a streak that included 5 top-three finishes) and was eleventh final fall throughout his substitute Cup Collection responsibility. Oddly, although, he isn’t positive why it fits him so nicely.
“I don’t even really feel like I’m good right here, which is so bizarre,” he stated. “I began trying on the stats on myself at this place and was like, ‘Man, perhaps I’m form of first rate right here.’ I’ve by no means gained, so perhaps that’s why I really feel like I suck right here.”
However he suspects being house might have one thing to do with elevating his efficiency.
“You would possibly put in just a bit extra and cling it on the market slightly extra,” he stated, “simply due to desirous to win at your own home observe.”
(Picture: James Gilbert / Getty Photos)