2021 Season in Review: Noah Gragson

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CREW CHIEF: Dave Elenz

TEAM: JR Motorsports

POINTS: Third in Xfinity Series

WINS: Three (Darlington II, Richmond, Martinsville II)

LAPS LED: 363

TOP 5s: 13

TOP 10s: 20

QUALIFIED FIRST: Once (Bristol)

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Noah Gragson’s first half of the regular season ended with three consecutive DNFs at Circuit of the Americas, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Following Mid-Ohio, he held the 12th and final playoff position by a mere 15 points.

But in the second half of the regular season, Gragson and the No. 9 JR Motorsports team revived their fortunes. In those 13 races, Gragson claimed back-to-back wins at Darlington and Richmond, six top-five finishes, and 11 top-10 finishes (average finish of 6.2).

In the playoffs, Gragson advanced past the opening Round of 12. But his title hopes seemed crushed following the middle race of the Round of 8 at Kansas. There, Gragson was collected in a crash with 21 laps to go and was left with a 35th-place finish.

Gragson went to the next week’s elimination race at Martinsville 24 points behind the cutline to advance. Needing a win to reach the Championship 4, Gragson was in contention as the race entered overtime and then took the lead off the restart – just as a caution came out to force a second overtime attempt. On the final lap of 2OT, Austin Cindric got inside of Gragson through the final turns, but Gragson held on to win the race and claim his spot in the title finale at Phoenix.

WHAT WENT WRONG: In that finale at Phoenix, Gragson again threatened for the win – which was what he needed to do as he ran third behind fellow Championship 4 drivers Austin Cindric and Daniel Hemric with seven laps to go. But Gragson went up the track in Turn 1 and clouted the wall. He ultimately faded to 12th with a damaged car.

From a full-season perspective, Gragson’s overall performance dropped a bit this season after he set career-highs in top-five and top-10 finishes in 2020. Four finishes of 28th or worse in this season’s first five races, as well as eight DNFs throughout, didn’t help.

Perhaps the most brutal setback came in February at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Gragson led the race with three laps to go when David Starr blew a tire and hit the wall in front of him. Gragson couldn’t avoid Starr and slammed into the back of his car. After Myatt Snider went on to win, Gragson aired his frustrations with Starr post-race, saying he was tired of “dips—- in the way, every single week.”

It wasn’t the only early-season feud Gragson had. Less than a month later at Atlanta, he and Daniel Hemric traded post-race punches after Gragson had backed into Hemric’s car on pit road during the race.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022: Gragson is returning for a fourth Xfinity season with JR Motorsports but will have a new crew chief following Dave Elenz’s move to the Cup Series with what’s now known as Petty GMS Motorsports.

On the Cup side, Gragson has joined the driver roster for Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevy, where he’ll make 14 starts. He’ll share that entry with AJ Allmendinger and, interestingly, Hemric, his “sparring partner” from Atlanta. Gragson is also looking to make the season-opening Daytona 500 with Beard Motorsports.