Gragson eyes CTMP as opportunity to capitalize
By Steven Ellis
September 3, 2017
BOWMANVILLE, Ont.—When your boss is Kyle Busch, life can’t be easy.
You’re always under the spotlight. Your boss is the greatest driver to ever race in the Truck Series. Your teammates are expected to raise to the occasion every week. One of them in particular is leading the points standings heading into the playoffs.
And you’re still on the outside looking in.
That’s the situation for Noah Gragson, the 18-year-old rookie coming off of two great seasons in the K&N East and West Series.
Gragson enters the second-to-last event before the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs begin, and with just two top-fives to his credit, he’s struggling to prove himself while racing in one of the more competitive trucks in the entire series.
He hopes, however, that this weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park changes everything for him.
“This has been circled on my racing schedule all year as the race I’m most looking forward to the most,” Gragson said.
Gragson qualified sixth for Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250, one of his better starts of the season. It’s a good sign for the youngster, who has finished 24th and 15th in two of the last three races this season, which included a crash at Pocono.
Gragson had two wins at the Utah Motorsports Campus in the K&N West Series in 2016, giving him two road-course wins on the season. Those were the only two wins he had during the year, but it proved he knew how to turn both left and right with the best of them.
Sunday’s affair at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park is the biggest challenge of his life on road courses, however. He’ll have to fend off the likes of 2016 winner John Hunter Nemechek, road course ace Alex Tagliani and Matt Crafton, who has finished every lap the Truck Series has raced at CTMP.
Still, Gragson is confident in his abilities.
“I feel like the playing field is more level for me on a road course as opposed to an oval, based on the experience I have versus some of the other drivers,” Gragson said.
A win this late in the season is important to give him a chance at the championship. Racing a brand new Toyota Tundra, Gragson is currently 10th in the playoff point system, 34 points out of eighth for the final playoff spot.
Both Austin Cindric and Justin Haley currently trail Gragson in the points, with both drivers starting on the front row.
Drivers like Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger haven't shown much speed this weekend, so Gragson will need to take advantage of their inexperience on road courses.
If Gragson is able to steal a win, it would secure a playoff spot late enough in the season for Gragson to take momentum into the championship stretch-run.
For Gragson, there’s no second place. And he knows that.
“I’m not going to be happy with second, or third or any further back,” Gragson said.
Paul Ellis/The Racing Experts