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Noah Gragson, fighting a stomach virus, paces final Truck Series practice at Pocono

Photo: Dante Ricci / The Racing Experts

POCONO, Pa. — Noah Gragson is one of the more exuberant drivers in the NASCAR garage, but on Friday at Pocono Raceway, the 20-year-old’s lively personality wasn’t up to par.

Gragson has been dealing with a stomach virus, and he can tell you what that exactly entails — “I was throwing up last night and pretty much s****ing my guts out. Other than that, it’s alright. I’m really under the weather,” he said after Camping World Truck Series final practice.

Nonetheless, though, Gragson set the pace in final practice around the Trick Triangle, clocking 53.339, 0.224 seconds faster than Myatt Snider, who ran second, and 0.471 seconds quicker than his boss, Kyle Busch.

Gragson goes into Saturday with a shot at his fifth pole in 14 races. He has one win, five top fives, 10 top 10s and sits second in the standings, 32 points behind leader Johnny Sauter.

“We have a lot of speed in race trim,” Gragson said. “Really looking forward to getting out there.”

Last year, in his only truck start at Pocono, Gragson started eighth and wound up 24th after crashing out on Lap 39 of 60. Additionally, he has finishes of 30th, ninth and 10th in three ARCA starts at the track.

“The trickiest thing about the Tricky Triangle is that all three corners are different from each other. Turn 1 has a little bit of banking. Turn 2 is really flat and fast. And Turn 3 is really, really long and flat,” Gragson said. “So, trying to set up your truck to be a happy medium between all three corners, making all three corners good. … It’s definitely a challenge behind the wheel for us race car drivers trying to get the balance of our race trucks good.”

Gragson feels like the balance is there for Saturday’s Gander Outdoors 150, as it has been all year long. His qualifying average is 5.1, but the average finish is three positions worse (8.5). Gragson said navigating traffic when hiccups do occur, and recovering from those setbacks, have troubled the second-year truck series driver.

“I feel like we’ve been fast pretty much everywhere [we go]. Practice, we’ve been good everywhere. Qualifying, we’ve been good everywhere,” Gragson said. “Then in the race, we’ll start up front, I’ll be able to maintain that for the first stage, or to the second stage, but that’s been my Achilles heel — is if we have a bad pit stop or something, I’ll get back in traffic trying to ease my way up. There’s just so much to it. Once you get back in traffic, it’s so hard to pass; the aero and everything. That’s what I’ve been trying to work on, just trying to figure out how to race when you get back in that 10th to fifth area.”

Kyle Busch won the race in 2015 and KBM driver Christopher Bell triumphed in 2017. Truck Series qualifying is set for 10 a.m Saturday morning with the race starting at approximately 1 p.m.

“Pocono has historically been a really good track for Kyle Busch Motorsports,” Gragson said. “So, I’m really excited to [race] and hopefully get some more stage points — win a couple stages, hopefully with the race and dig into that championship lead a little bit more.”

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