Before announcing Thursday that he’d return to JR Motorsports in 2021 for a third full-time Xfinity season, Noah Gragson had been quiet recently, at least on the race track.
That was on purpose.
After a high-profile summer, which saw the Xfinity Series driver win at Bristol after late contact with teammate Justin Allgaier and a garage area fight with Harrison Burton following contact between them at Kentucky, Gragson reigned himself in.
With two wins that lock him into the playoffs, Gragson has been thinking about the “big picture” over the last five races.
“I got a lot of (expletive) for being aggressive and maybe overly aggressive,” Gragson told NBC Sports. “I think (I’m) just trying to tone that down and pick and choose your battles on the race track. … I’m a racer who is more of a wreckers or checkers type and if I’m running in second, I’m gonna either win the race or wreck and not finish second. So I’ve kind of taken a different approach these last few weeks and have been less aggressive and whatnot.
“Just trying to stay under the radar with these guys not pissing anybody off on the race track and try and be low key for when we enter the playoffs. Then maybe just try and run my own race there in the first round of the playoffs and then kind of see where we go from there. But we have a decent amount of playoff points leading into the playoffs.”
Entering Friday’s race at Daytona (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Gragson is third on the playoff grid with 18 playoff points. He trails Chase Briscoe (35 playoff points) and Austin Cindric (34).
Over the last five races Gragson finished 15th (Kansas), sixth (Road America), third (Daytona road course) and fourth and sixth at Dover.
In that stretch, Gragson says it’s been “difficult when you’re in fourth battling with a guy and you want to stay in that position, but you know, long-term wise it’d be better if you just point them by and let them go if you’re racing hard with him. That’s kind of hard, but I’ve gotten used to it these last few weeks. I feel like it’s pretty normal now, but it was definitely challenging there, those first week or two, just having to concede positions and not piss anybody off on the race track.”
He’s also been working on his personal life. After the race at the Daytona road course, Gragson said he’s “spent a lot of time by myself at home, really not doing anything, studying film, playing Xbox and going to the shop. … Trying to clean up my friends, trying to clean up stuff that brings extra drama to my life, things that the less I can think about during the day, the better I can be on the racetrack.”
Gragson takes his new “big picture” mindset to Daytona, the track he earned his first Xfinity win at in February. He’ll start fourth as he tries to give JR Motorsports its fourth victory of the year after Allgaier won at Dover last weekend.
“I’m happy with where our team is,” Gragson said. “I feel like we have some great race tracks coming up and not really trying to get caught up in results this last month or two, just trying to keep everybody motivated and trying to keep myself motivated. And I feel like we’re really confident as a team right now. And we know the big picture is to make it to Phoenix and race for championship. So that’s what we’re gonna do. That’s what we’ve been focusing on. And we’re just trying to take it day-by-day, step-by-step and just trying to be the best that we can be.”
— JR Motorsports (@JRMotorsports) August 27, 2020