Noah Gragson is about to embark on his first full season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, but before he does that he has a pair of big Super Late Model races he’ll attempt to win. Gragson plans to enter both the Chilly Willy at Tucson Speedway in Arizona and the SRL Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway in California during the month of February.
Gragson, a native of Las Vegas, ran both of these races in 2016 and scored fifth-place finishes in each. However, Gragson noted that the two races couldn’t be more different.
“(The Chilly Willy) is a weird race because Tucson is really worn out,” Gragson said. “It’s 150 laps on one set of tires so you really have to save your tires. We spent most of the race trying to save as much as possible, just like other guys. We ran three wide and then the leaders caught us and they made it four wide. We were just riding around almost a lap down. There’s a lot of strategy involved. I’m looking forward to it. I really want to win that one.”
Kern County has like-new pavement since the facility just opened in 2013. That makes the Winter Showdown a race that’s less about saving tires and more about surviving.
“That race usually ends with about 10 or 15 cars left on the race track,” he said. “I just want to keep it clean the whole race. It’s a long race. If I can stay on the lead lap, keep my nose clean and just be there at the end I definitely think we’ll have a shot at it.”
Gragson has run the last two years with Jefferson-Pitts Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Since he is making the jump up to the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports, Gragson will see very limited – if any – K&N Pro Series action in 2017. For that reason alone, this year’s Winter Showdown is very special to Gragson as it is currently the last race he has scheduled with Jefferson-Pitts Racing.
“They’re a great group of guys and we have a lot of fun at the race track and I think that’s why we succeeded in the past,” Gragson said. “I’ll have Jeff Jefferson crew chiefing me. He was with Gracin Raz last year and their hopes kind of unfortunately got taken away. Hopefully we can get one for him this year.”
Ironically, Gragson was the reason why Jefferson’s chances of winning the Winter Showdown with Raz were taken away. Gragson made contact with Raz, his very good friend, late in the race and Raz crashed as a result.
“He was the fastest car on the race track by far and I just drove a little bit over my head. It was completely my fault. I felt really bad and still do.”
Gragson said he thinks he has a strong chance of making up for that incident by winning the Winter Showdown this year. He said he also thinks he has a good chance at winning the Chilly Willy the week before at Tucson with Dustin Ash Motorsports. Gragson said he likes the longer distance races and he believes that will show in both events.
“I like the long races when it doesn’t necessarily come down to the fastest car at the end of the race. You have to have tires on it. (At the Chilly Willy) it’s 149 laps leading up to that last lap. It’s the best prepared team and the best prepared driver and the person who sticks to their strategy the best.”
While Gragson will obviously be thrilled with a win in either race, it’s the big check for $30,000 for the Winter Showdown that he really has his eyes on.
“It would mean the world to me. I’ve never won an actual Super Late Model race. I’ve won some weekly races, but I’ve never won a touring series race that all of the big dogs go to for the big money. I’ve never been in a race where I’ve won and gotten a check in victory lane. I know they do that at the Winter Showdown.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com