NASCAR’s Next Generation: A Q&A with Noah Gragson

Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

Not too long ago, Noah Gragson “didn’t respect” NASCAR.

For the obvious reasons.

“I thought it was just a bunch of guys going in left-hand circles,” Gragson told NBC Sports. “I didn’t think it was hard.”

Raised in Las Vegas, Gragson was an “extreme sports guy” who admired the likes of Travis Pastrana, taking up mountain biking, skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing. Now, the 18-year-old Gragson is trying to make a name for himself in NASCAR, just as Pastrana attempted in 2012 and 2013 in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series.

Noah Gragson poses next to his car with the trophy for winning the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Tucson Speedway on May 2, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

His conversion began when his dad, Scott Gragson, took him to an indoor go-karting facility.

“I fell in love with it the first time out on the track,” said Noah Gragson, who go-karted for more than a year. At 13, an opportunity from a business partner of his dad’s led to test in a Bandolero car at the 3/8th-mile Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I didn’t know if I was going to like it, what it was going to be like,” Gragson said. “The season started that Friday, it was my spring break, so we went out there on the Wednesday. It was a blast.

“I found what I wanted to do. I finished third in my first race, and man, I was hooked for life. My dad always calls it ‘the most expensive mistake he’s made.'”

That mistake has led to Gragson being named to the NASCAR Next program in just his fourth year of racing, his second in NASCAR. The “action sports guy” has three K&N series wins. While competing for Jefferson Pitts Racing, Gragson is the first driver to attempt to race full-time in both the East and West series.

In doing so, he has one win in the East series (at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut). In the West, he has two runner-up results, including to former NASCAR Next member and Sprint Cup rookie Chase Elliott at Sonoma Raceway.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: What did you learn from driving against Chase Elliott at Sonoma that you can’t pick up from TV?

Gragson: I just learned that he’s really experienced. He’s been racing these stock cars for I don’t know how many years, but at least five, so he really knows the tires and how much falloff they’re going to have and he had a lot of experience there in the Cup car. I learned a little bit off him with his line and kind of what he was doing. He’s really smart. He played his cards right. It’s a 64-lap race and he was just sitting there riding, saving his tires for I’d say 80, 90 percent of it and we got some cautions there at the end and he was really good all weekend, but he had the most tire there at the end. I kind of burnt my stuff up a little bit.

NBC Sports: Looking at your Twitter profile, what does ‘some call me Nacho mean’?

Gragson: That’s my nickname, I got it in Spanish class in third grade … we had to come up with Spanish names and Nacho just stuck. I went to a surf camp that summer and everyone had nicknames there so that was Nacho there. I guess that just stuck. Every time I go down to the beach in California, everyone knows me as Nacho down there.

NBC Sports: What school did you go to if you were taking Spanish in third grade?

Gragson: I went to a private school here in Las Vegas near my house. I went there from third grade to sixth grade. In sixth grade, it wasn’t really working out where I was, I didn’t really like it. So I went to a boarding school called Army-Navy Academy in Carlsbad, California. I went there by choice (from seventh-eighth grade), it was really cool. I liked it a lot. It was right on the beach in California, I got to surf everyday. It was a military structured school, but it’s not like in the movies or anything like you’re thinking. We’re not doing push ups 24/7 and going to bed in school. It was a good deal for me, and I matured a lot there.

NBC Sports: You also call yourself an ‘amateur snow cone eater.’ What’s your favorite snow cone flavor?

Gragson: I’d have to go with blue raspberry, you cannot go wrong with blue raspberry on any kind of candy. There’s a really good snow cone place here in Las Vegas, I’m actually with my buddy right now and we’re going to go there later, it’s called The Frozen Frog. I’ll tell you the key to a good snow cone. The key to a good snow cone is the compound of ice, it’s got to be really, really fine. The place I go to in Las Vegas, it’s the real deal. It’ll have you hooked.

NBC Sports: Of the 55 accounts you follow on Twitter, which is your favorite?

Gragson: I like the guy named @nascarcasm. He’s pretty funny. He’s hilarious. I followed @TheOrangeCone, but he tweets way too much for me, so I had to mute him on there.

NBC Sports: If you were in a Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which song would you choose to be introduced with?

Gragson: Oh, we were talking about that actually today, me and my buddy. That’s so ironic. I would do “Friends in Low Places” (by Garth Brooks).

NBC Sports: You tweeted a few times this morning about the passing of Bryan Clauson. How well did you know him?

Gragson: I never met the guy, I don’t really know much about him. My teammate, Gracin Raz, he likes him a lot, Bryan Clauson, so I started becoming familiar with Bryan and just hearing Gracin talk about it. I realized he was doing a deal this year, a tour called “Chase to 200.” That’s 200 races in one year, which is insane, unreal. I’ve done 35 or 36 races this year and it feels like I’ve done a million, so he’s racing pretty much every night, or was I should say unfortunately. We’re all competing against each other on the race track, but when something happens like that we all come together. It’s definitely in our hearts and everyone is thinking about him. He’s in our prayers. It’s just an unfortunate deal. He’s a total wheelman, really good race car driver from what I’ve seen and never really seen anyone say a bad thing about him.

NBC Sports: Have you ever lost someone you knew in a racing accident?

Gragson: I haven’t lost anyone I know that races. But the guy who got me started in the Bandolero stuff, we rented out Bandolero from, he crew chiefed and everything, his name was Jim O’Hanley. It was February 2015 , he passed away. The news broke to me, I was racing down in Tucson, Arizona, for like my fourth Super Late Model start or whatnot, a pretty big race, like $10,000 to win. I was sitting up in the stands and I was on Snapchat. And a girl who races in Las Vegas Snapchatted me and said ‘Hey, did you hear that Jim O’Hanley passed away ?’and I was like ‘Oh, no.’ And it was right before my race, not even 20 minutes before my race. I just went into shock. I never really get emotional about that stuff. I was really close to Jim and he was a really good guy. He really got me my start in my racing career. Without him I wouldn’t be in the position I am right now.

Previous 2016 NASCAR Next Q&A’s

Ty Majeski

Winners and losers at Charlotte Motor Speedway


A look at winners and losers from Monday’s NASCAR Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway:


Ryan Blaney — Blaney stopped his winless streak at 59 races and, by the way, gave team owner Roger Penske his second major race victory in two days. Blaney had the night’s best car but had to fight through late-race restarts to get the victory.

William Byron — Byron, the season’s top winner with three, barely missed getting No. 4. He finished second and scored his fifth straight top 10.

MORE: Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin crash and disagree

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex logged his third top five of the season.

23XI RacingBubba Wallace was fourth and Tyler Reddick fifth, giving 23XI Racing a pair of top-five finishes for the first time in a points race.


Jimmie Johnson — The seven-time champion admitted having problems adjusting to the Next Gen car on a 1.5-mile track. He crashed early and finished last.

Legacy Motor Club — It was a bad night for Jimmie Johnson and his team’s drivers. Erik Jones was 32nd and Noah Gragson 36th.

Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin — Two drivers who had strong cars didn’t make it to the finish after crashing near the halfway point.

NASCAR Xfinity Series results: Justin Allgaier wins at Charlotte


CONCORD, N.C. — Justin Allgaier finally broke through for his first win of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season Monday night.

Allgaier stretched his last fuel load over the final laps to finish in front of John Hunter Nemechek. Cole Custer was third, Austin Hill fourth and Ty Gibbs fifth. Gibbs ran both races Monday, completing 900 miles.

The win also was the first of the season for JR Motorsports.

Charlotte Xfinity results

Justin Allgaier wins NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway


CONCORD, N.C. — Justin Allgaier won a fuel-mileage gamble to win Monday night’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Allgaier stretched his fuel to outlast second-place John Hunter Nemechek. Following in the top five were Cole Custer, Austin Hill and Ty Gibbs.

The victory was Allgaier’s first of the year and the first of the season for JR Motorsports. He has 20 career wins.

MORE: Charlotte Xfinity results

After a long day at CMS, the race ended at 11:25 p.m. The race started Monday morning but was stopped twice because of weather before it was halted with 48 of 200 laps completed so that the Coca-Cola 600 Cup Series race could be run.

When the race was stopped, Gibbs, Nemechek and Allgaier were in the top three positions.

Gibbs won the first two stages.

Stage 1 winner: Ty Gibbs

Stage 2 winner: Ty Gibbs

Who had a good race: Justin Allgaier has had good cars in previous races but finally cashed in with a win Monday. He led 83 laps. … John Hunter Nemechek, in second, scored his fifth top-two run of the season. … Cole Custer scored his sixth straight top-10 finish. … Ty Gibbs lasted 900 miles for the day and led 52 laps in the Xfinity race.

Who had a bad race: Sam Mayer was running 10th when he spun off Turn 2. He finished 35th. … Sheldon Creed finished three laps down in 28th.

Next: The series moves on to Portland International Raceway in Oregon for a 4:30 p.m. ET race June 3.

What drivers said at Charlotte Motor Speedway


CONCORD, N.C. — What drivers had to say during and after Monday’s 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

Ryan Blaney (Winner) — “I might shed a tear. This has been a cool weekend. Obviously, Memorial Day weekend means a lot, growing up here watching Dad run this race for a long time. It’s so cool just to be a part of it, let alone win it. I just was able to get the lead, and that car was so good that I could kind of bide my time a little bit and then we were able to drive off. I was hoping no caution just because you never know. I know we had the car to do it, but restarts can be crazy. … You start to get to feel like you can’t win anymore when you don’t win in a while. It kind of gets hard. So just super thankful to the 12 guys for believing in me. It’s just so cool. What a weekend with (Josef) Newgarden and Roger (Penske) winning at Indy and us winning the 600. I mean that’s just so cool. That kind of snaps our winless streak right there and that’s even better. We just kept working on it all night, and I think the track took a change. I didn’t feel great at the end of Stage 3. I was kind of getting pressured by a couple guys and we had to work on our car, and it was getting cooler outside.”

MORE: Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott crash and disagree

MORE: Charlotte Cup results, driver points

William Byron (Finished 2nd) — “We just needed a little bit. Really happy for Ryan. He really deserves it. He’s a good dude. Cool to see him get a win. We just needed a little bit. I felt like there were enough restarts for him to get back to the front. He had that one pit road where he lost a few spots, and it was kind of between us and the 5 (Kyle Larson). I knew the 12 (Ryan Blaney) and 45 (Tyler Reddick) were a little bit stronger than we were. Thanks to this Liberty University Chevrolet team. The car was great tonight. Just not quite good enough. Really proud of the effort. Pit crew was phenomenal on pit road. Those guys are just high energy, and that pit stall helps.”

Martin Truex Jr. (Finished 3rd) — “It was a handful. We just battled really hard and never gave up on the car. We had some stumbles on pit road – had some issues there. We had some issues getting a flat tire with some contact leaving pit road, which wasn’t our fault, either. Just battled a lot of adversity today, but our Bass Pro Shops Tracker Boats Camry was really fast. At the end of Stage 3, I thought that we had a shot to win this thing and then we got some damage out of nowhere on the splitter, and then I got too tight. We made some adjustments to try to get us balanced back out, but it just wasn’t as fast then, and we still ran third. Just proud of everybody for the effort. We definitely had a shot at this one tonight, just didn’t get enough things to go our way and we didn’t do a good enough job on pit road. It was a fun day overall. We had just too many hiccups, too many issues on pit road with a couple of bad stops and the damage that sent us to the rear and had to come back. I thought through Stage 3 we were going to have a shot at this thing, and out of the blue at the start of the final stage, we got some damage on the splitter from debris and the car was never quite as good. … It means a lot to have all of the soldiers on our cars this weekend. I got to meet an amazing family this weekend. Really wish I could have taken them to victory lane, so it’s a little bittersweet, but overall, it’s a solid day for us.”

Bubba Wallace (Finished 4th) — “It started on Friday. We didn’t get through tech. We are trying to push all we can get, and didn’t happen, so bad pit selection really set us back all day. I knew it would be a grind. I need my pit crew to know that as well – they made a couple mistakes – but they rebounded. We were playing the cards that we were dealt. I’m super proud of this Dr. Pepper Toyota team. Just continuing to make strides and continuing to show up and be a part of the factor. Just makes you think – if you were that close on the final restart, or closer, what could have happened. It looked like the 12 (Ryan Blaney) was lights out all day. About time he got him one. I thought he was done washed up (laughter).” (On confrontation with Aric Almirola) Yeah, we were just frustrated on how we raced each other. We were in Stage 2 of the Coke 600. I finished fourth and that’s a good day for our team.”

Tyler Reddick (Finished 5th) — “We had a great car. We were really, really strong there. Just made a lot of mistakes – we kind of went to the bad side of it on that one strategy in the second stage. We had a million cautions because we just kept crashing. We got behind there and we had to fight to get our track position back after that and we did. We got to the 12 (Ryan Blaney), and just being too aggressive, got sideways and hit the wall, and front there, hit the wall about 10 more times and pretty much took all of the life out of the race car. We had a fantastic car. We just couldn’t get around the 12 (Ryan Blaney). We were way faster than he was for most of the day. I tried to take our time, because it’s obviously a 400-lap race, but yeah, made a few mistakes along the way and then I knocked the fence down and then every time we did, we lost a little speed in our Jordan Brand 23XI Toyota. So yeah, fifth.”

Kyle Busch (Finished 6th) — “Coca-Cola 600s are normally up-and-down, so we definitely had an up-and-down day. But the guys fought hard all race long and made some good repairs. We made a lot of good adjustments. There were a couple that we had to go back on, and then go back on again. But all-in-all, just proud of everyone on the No. 8 Alsco Chevy team. Our car wasn’t as fast as we wanted on the fire-offs there – we wanted the long run to finish. Even though we hadn’t been good on the long runs all night, we adjusted for that, but we just didn’t get it. We’ll take a good solid effort and top-10 finish.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Finished 7th) — “I feel great. I got up and did the ‘Murph’ workout this morning. My trainer wasn’t too thrilled about that, but went ahead and did that, and then came out here and ran 600 miles. Our No. 47 Kroger/Coca-Cola Chevy was so good all night. We just fought some track position every now and then, and then the No. 8 (Kyle Busch) fenced us there. I felt like we would have had a top-five if it wasn’t for that. But all-in-all, it was a great Coca-Cola 600 for us. It was what we needed after last week at the All-Star Race. We kind of got beat up there a little bit. But it’s cool to get another top 10. This team is doing a lot of good things.”

Chris Buescher (Finished 8th) — “It was a really strong day. Our Fastenal Mustang was really good. We got hit on pit road and definitely took a decent amount out of us, so I’m upset about that, but at the end of the day it was a good recovery. We kept digging back and it’s cool to have this camo paint scheme up front for a lot of the day, but I want to do more.”

Austin Dillon (Finished 9th) — “We never gave up all night, and it feels like we passed more cars than anyone else all race long in our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Chevrolet. It was a hard-earned top-10 finish. We started this year’s Coca-Cola 600 deep in the field – 33rd — after practice and qualifying were canceled due to weather, but I knew that we would have a chance to be in contention at the end because this is the longest race of the year and there are plenty of laps to work our way forward. It was challenging, though. Pit road was tight for us today, and it felt like every time we gained positions we would pit and get trapped in our box and lose everything we worked so hard for. We never gave up and to finish in the top-10 is a testament to the tenacity that this No. 3 team has. We were just too tight at the end to advance any further, but I think we showed how hard we are willing to work. Today is about our heroes who served and made the ultimate sacrifice. I’m thankful that I can do what I love, which is race, because of them. Thank you to the families of Navy Seal Mark Crampton and Army soldier Rusten Smith for allowing us to recognize them.”

Zane Smith (Finished 10th) – “I am so happy, as happy as could be, really. I was worried when we didn’t take tires there and were running really good and had a really good day. It just worked out, so just a great job by this whole 38 Boot Barn FRM team. We got our Mustang better and better every single stop and that’s so cool. We run on half the budget, if that, than a lot of these guys, so to finish top 10 in our sixth start at the Coke 600 is really cool. It’s been a rough three weeks for me. The Cup Series is a different level and obviously I’m trying to prove I belong here and it’s just an outstanding run. Ryan does an outstanding job and it’s so cool to finish this race, but better yet with a top 10.”

Alex Bowman (Finished 12th)“It doesn’t feel very good at the moment, but about what I was expecting. There was no pain in the car really, but now that I’m out, I feel it a little bit. Just proud of my No. 48 Ally Chevy team. We had a really fast long run car. Obviously the short runs were what we needed, but we were just too tight for that. We got stuck on pit road – every stop, we came in like 10th, but lost spots coming out. But that wasn’t on my guys, it was just pit stall selection. We’ll move onto Gateway. Hopefully we’ll get to qualify there, have a good pit box and just go have a normal day.”

Ryan Preece (Finished 13th) — “What a night. We battled all night long. Some of those cautions just did not work in our favor at all, but we had a good car and just needed track position and clean air. We made strong adjustments throughout the night, and my crew was on it. I think we had a top-10 car. We’ll take 13th after a day like that, and it’s definitely the momentum our team needed. Those top 10s and top fives are coming, and I’m looking forward to St. Louis.”

Justin Haley (Finished 15th) — “We fired off tight today, but the No. 31 team made some great adjustments and had good pit stops. We made it as high as eighth and thought we would get a top 10 there but just got shuffled at the end. A top 15 is not a bad day, but our car was by far the best car we’ve had all year. We made some major gains today as a team.”

Joey Logano (Finished 21st) — “Tough night for the Shell-Pennzoil Mustang team. We struggled with the balance and unfortunately couldn’t miss the late accident and got damage. So happy for Team Penske, Josef and Ryan on a weekend sweep.”

Aric Almirola (Finished 25th) — (On confrontation with Bubba Wallace) “It was early in the race, and I felt like he ran me all over the racetrack and then when he got by me he shot me the bird, so I just went by and asked him why you shot me the bird. I felt like I gave him a lot of room and a lot of respect and he started mouthing off and saying a lot of bad things and cussing at me after he shot me the bird, so I just wasn’t gonna take that. I think it’s squashed. I got my point across. I let him know it’s not acceptable. He’s not gonna cuss at me and shoot me the bird. It was a good night, honestly, for our Smithfield Ford Mustang. It’s Memorial Day and such an honor and privilege to race on Memorial Day. We were running 10th there with 20-something to go and got caught up in that restart wreck in the middle of one and two and got a lot of heavy damage that really killed the race car after that. I hate we didn’t get out of here with a top 10. I felt we certainly had a top 10 race car, got loose on a restart early and hit the right-rear toe link, we fixed it, got two laps down, got all of our laps back and drove from the back to the top 10. I’m really proud of the effort and the fight, not the result, but we certainly fought hard. We’ll go get ready for Gateway. That was a really good racetrack for us last year.”

Austin Cindric (Finished 31st) – “You’re patient for 550 miles; why be patient for the last 40? I probably could have helped myself there by not drifting up the racetrack and knowing my own strength and weaknesses. It’s just unfortunate to get so close to the end of this race and not being able to finish it last year and the same with this year. I felt we had a lot of positives from today – some really good pit stops. We had good speed at times, but just having to put the whole race together as a team. I definitely made some mistakes today and unfortunate not to be able to finish it off.”

Erik Jones (Finished 32nd) — “We had a fast No. 43 U.S. Air Force Chevy, but nothing to really show for it. Appreciate the U.S. Air Force and their support. Just hate that we had the radiator issue, but hopefully we’ll go to Gateway with the same speed and have a good day.”

Chase Elliott (Finished 34th) — “The 11 (Denny Hamlin) ran us up into the fence there. Once you tear the right-side off these things, it’s kind of over. I hate it. I thought our No. 9 NAPA Chevy was getting better. It was nice to be making some gains there throughout the race. Our pit stops were really good. We had some pretty good fortune to get up towards the front there. I was just trying to get to mile 600 and have a shot, so unfortunately failed to do that again.”

Denny Hamlin (Finished 35th) — “I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightaway (referring to his collision with Chase Elliott). It’s a tantrum, and he shouldn’t be racing next week. Right rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. I don’t care. It is the same thing that Bubba Wallace did with Kyle Larson. Exact same. He shouldn’t be racing. It’s a tantrum.”

Noah Gragson (Finished 36th) — “Bummer day for the No. 42 Black Rifle Coffee Company Chevy team. We made it through the first stage clean. Something went through the radiator. We replaced the radiator and the motor blew up. Just frustrating. Thank you to Black Rifle Coffee Company and the Menusa family for coming out here. Wish we could have had a better run for them, but it was an honor to have Sgt. Menusa on the windshield. It makes this weekend all worth it. Wish we could have given him and his family a better run, but we’ll try again at Gateway.”

Jimmie Johnson (Finished 37th) — “I just didn’t know we were put in that three-wide situation. There were a bunch of us cars that were wrecked and just trying to limp it home. Unfortunately, I ended up in a situation I wasn’t aware of and got turned around. It’s a bummer for the No. 84 Club Wyndham Chevy team.”