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Noah Gragson heads home to Las Vegas after Daytona win

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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.”

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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.

Greg Zipadelli to serve as Clint Bowyer’s interim crew chief

Greg Zipadelli
Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images
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Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, will serve as the crew chief for Clint Bowyer in Saturday’s Cup race at Michigan International Speedway, the team confirmed Monday.

Johnny Klausmeier will miss Saturday’s race, serving a one-race suspension because Bowyer’s car was found to have two lug nuts not safe and secure after last weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bowyer enters Saturday’s race at Michigan (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN) 14th on the playoff grid. The top 16 will advance to the playoffs. Six races remain in the regular season.

Klausmeier will be able to resume his role for Sunday’s Cup race (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Michigan.

Zipadelli, who won Cup titles in 2002 and 2005 with Tony Stewart, will reprise the interim role he played earlier in the season in the Xfinity Series.

Zipadelli served as Chase Briscoe‘s crew chief for four races after crew chief Richard Boswell, the team’s car chief and an engineer were each suspended four races because ballast fell out of his car. Briscoe won three of the four races with Zipadelli as his crew chief.

Team Penske extends contract with Brad Keselowski

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Team Penske announced Monday that New Hampshire winner Brad Keselowski has agreed to a contract extension. Keselowski’s contract was to expire after this season.

A media release from the team did not state the length of the extension for Keselowski, 36. The Associated Press reported that the deal was for one year through the 2021 season.

Keselowski, who won the 2012 Cup title, has been with Team Penske since 2010, winning 31 Cup and 33 Xfinity races during that time.

“We are pleased that Brad will continue to be a part of our organization,” said Roger Penske in a statement. “Brad not only demonstrates talent and skill on the track, but his leadership away from it and his dedication to our partners have had a huge impact in making our organization one of the best in NASCAR. I am proud that we will be able to able to keep the continuity we have with Brad, Ryan (Blaney) and Joey (Logano) and look forward to competing for more wins and championships together.”

MORE: Winners and losers from New Hampshire

Said Keselowski in a statement: I have been racing for Team Penske for the vast majority of my NASCAR career and to continue to represent Roger Penske, our partners and his organization is exactly where I want to be. We’ve accomplished a lot of things together over the years, including winning both the Cup and Xfinity Championships, the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Now, my goal is to win the Daytona 500, another championship and continue to build Team Penske into the best NASCAR team in the garage area.”

Logano is signed to at least 2022. In March, Blaney signed a multiyear extension with Team Penske.

Keselowski’s victory Sunday was his third of the season. He’s scored at least three wins in each of the past five seasons. Keselowski is second  in the points to Kevin Harvick.

GMS Racing, Brett Moffitt to honor Jimmie Johnson with special scheme

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GMS Racing and sponsor Plan B Sales have created a special paint scheme to honor seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on championship weekend in November at Phoenix Raceway.

Brett Moffitt, the 2018 Truck Series champion, will pilot the the specially adorned truck at Phoenix.

“Brett has been a part of the Plan B family and a great ambassador for our company over the years,” said Brent Powell, owner of Plan B Sales in a statement. “Last year we partnered with Brett and GMS for the Phoenix race, but this year is different with it being the season finale and Jimmie’s final (full-time Cup) weekend. It truly is an honor for us to showcase this throwback for Jimmie and hopefully see Brett clinch his second championship in our truck.”

Said Moffitt of Johnson in a statement: “I have looked up to him, leaned on him and had the utmost respect for everything he has done for our sport. This is the coolest paint scheme I’ve had in my career because of how much respect and admiration I have for Jimmie. I’m rooting for him to go out on top, and maybe we’ll both get the chance to celebrate a championship in Phoenix later this year.”

Johnson has announced this will be his final full-time Cup season. He drove a Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar in a July 28 test on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Johnson has expressed a desire to race different vehicles after this season.

 

Cup playoff grid after New Hampshire

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William Byron holds a 15-point lead on rookie Tyler Reddick for the final playoff spot in the Cup playoff grid after last weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Six races remain in the regular season.

Byron finished 11th at New Hampshire, one spot behind Reddick, but Byron extended his advantage on Reddick by five points. Byron scored six stage points, while Reddick scored none.

MORE: Could New Hampshire be a sign of things to come in Cup?

MORE: Winners and losers from New Hampshire 

Jimmie Johnson fell to 25 points behind Byron for the final spot in the Cup playoff grid. Johnson overcame a spin after contact with Clint Bowyer to run in the top 10 but lost four spots in the final 20 laps to finish 12th.

“Good fight today guys,” Johnson told his team on the radio after the race. “Overcome a lot of (stuff) again.”

The series heads this weekend to Michigan International Speedway for two races. The Cup Series races there at 4 p.m. ET Saturday and at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. Both races will be on NBCSN.

Ten of the 16 playoff spots have been secured by drivers who have won at least one race this year: Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and rookie Cole Custer.

Here is a look at the Cup playoff grid. Drivers shaded in green are locked in the playoffs. Drivers shaded in yellow are in a playoff spot based on their point total. Drivers shaded in red are outside a spot in the Cup playoff grid.

 

Cup playoff grid New Hampshire