It would be easy to label Noah Gragson as a typical 21-year-old (who happens to drive race cars for a living).
“I feel like I’m a pretty impatient person looking for instant gratification I would say,” Gragson tells NBC Sports.
But he’s working on that.
“I’m starting to learn to be more patient and just appreciate the process maybe a little bit more,” Gragson says. “I think that is showing me it can be more rewarding at times when you can just trust that process and not look for that instant gratification and just be results driven.”
Gragson came close to instant gratification in the Xfinity Series two years ago when he finished second in his first career start at Richmond Raceway while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.
The 35 races between that near miss and his win last Saturday at Daytona International Speedway “got frustrating at times” for the JR Motorsports driver.
“I don’t know if I feel regret,” Gragson says. “Last year I put a lot of pressure on myself, like ‘Do I not know how to do this? Do I suck really badly? Like what’s the deal?’ Put a lot of pressure on myself, more than anybody else. Just trying to learn a new organization and a new group of guys and new situations, scenarios. It took me a little bit, but that also is what made that win at Daytona so much sweeter.”
After giving JR Motorsports its third straight win in the season-opening race, Gragson milked the moment for all it was worth. He performed a burnout that caught the track on fire, climbed the catchfence with his team, chucked his water bottle into the stands (on his second attempt), planted the checkered flag in the roof of his No. 9 Chevy and slid across its hood like Bo Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard.
“My biggest focus after the race on Saturday was to try to soak it all in, try and experience the moment because you don’t get to race at these places all the time … much less win there,” says Gragson. “You can’t take it for granted. I feel like I’m one of the guys who tries to live up every moment I get because you never know how many times you’re going to get to go back there and experience that.”
Gragson is quick to acknowledge Daytona and the biggest win of his career are in the past. Up next is a trip to his home track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“There’s still a task at hand,” Gragson says. “We can’t lose sight of what our goal is this weekend and definitely need to stay available and accountable and ready to go for this weekend. It’s really easy to get sidetracked with the past weekend’s results.”
Saturday’s race (4 p.m. ET on FS1) will be Gragson’s third Xfinity start on the 1.5-mile oval and his sixth overall after three Truck Series starts.
Unlike in Trucks, where he led 57 laps around the track but never finished better than 12th, Gragson has had more success on the Xfinity level.
He finished third there last spring. In the fall playoff race, he started from the rear after a spin in qualifying and drove to a sixth-place finish. In total, he finished sixth or better in six of the nine races on 1.5-mile tracks.
“I feel like last year I really paced the (1.5-mile) races really well and had a car to be able to be in contention at the end of the races,” says Gragson. “I’ve been to these race tracks once or twice now. I know where the bumps and the seams and the cracks are, how the car’s going to be affected. My focus isn’t what it’s going to drive like when I get to these race tracks, it’s going to be OK. I know what the car needs to feel like and I know how to go fast at these places.”
What does Gragson like about the cracks and seams of Las Vegas compared to other intermediate tracks?
“Probably that you can move up to the top side and you have different options,” says Gragson. “It’s a really challenging race track, especially to get off Turn 4. It gets really, really sharp and narrow. … It’s like a double-edged sword. It’s a really fine balance of not being too loose on entry, but having enough turn in the car to be able to wrap the corner on exit where you don’t have to back out of the throttle on exit to make it to the straightaway.”
Gragson says it “would be a dream” to follow up his Daytona win with a victory in front of his home crowd, adding “I don’t know what I could compare it to until if it were to happen.”
If it does, you likely won’t see him attempt another Dukes of Hazzard-esque slide across the hood of his No. 9 Chevy.
“I might get my ACL caught up on the hood pins,” Gragson observes. “I didn’t realize that until they told me the next day. They’re like, ‘Man, you almost caught your leg on that thing.’ ‘Oh, that would not be good. You’re probably right about that.'”
Gragson is a guest on this week’s episode of The Dale Jr. Download, which airs today from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.