Ever since joining Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016, Noah Gragson has been a force to be reckoned with across all levels of racing. Gragson and KBM picked up a Winchester 400 victory in 2017, multiple NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories and they contended for that series championship this year.
But on Sunday, December 2, that partnership is coming to an end at the 51st Annual Snowball Derby at Pensacola, Florida’s Five Flags Speedway, and Gragson is hoping to end it on top of the short track racing world.
“It would be really special,” Gragson said. “We were able to win the Winchester 400 last year and to be able to get another win with them and with it being the Snowball Derby would be really big. I know we’d enjoy it pretty damn well.”
First, Gragson and his KBM team need to get the car to Gragson’s liking, which is something that has been difficult for Gragson in the past at Five Flags. To help with that problem, Gragson and KBM ran the Blizzard Series finale at Five Flags in September. Gragson said those laps were extremely beneficial for him, even though they only finished in eighth after running in the top two positions early on.
“I think that was my fifth time at Pensacola and I just finally figured out what I need in the setup. I think those were the most valuable laps I’ve ever had there. I think I have a pretty good understanding of what I need in my race car.”
Gragson said the main reason why they didn’t finish near the front was because they lacked speed over the course of a longer run. Long run speed is extremely important at the Snowball Derby. Gragson’s owner, Kyle Busch, showed just how important it is when he outlasted Jeff Choquette and Bubba Pollard over the course of a 65-lap green flag run that ended last year’s Snowball Derby to take the victory.
“I felt like we had really good short run speed (in September). We just kind of lacked on the balance of the race car after about 30 laps. It’s hard to explain without going into detail, but basically I want a lot more longevity in the car for when I need to start backing up the corner. We’re testing and hopefully we can get that feel pretty close.”
The Las Vegas, Nevada native has made three starts at the Snowball Derby, and he’s finished on the lead lap just once in 2016 when he finished ninth racing for Richie Wauters. In his lone Derby start with KBM, Gragson finished 12th, one lap down.
He admits that the fast, abrasive Five Flags Speedway is a challenging track for him. And yet, Gragson is coming back for the fourth time. When asked why he continues to come back, Gragson said he isn’t really sure, but he was able to offer up two reasons.
“It’s the challenge of the race track and all of the competitors and it’s the week long of seeing all your friends, your competitors that you’ve raced against throughout the year. It’s kind of one last hurrah before the end of the season. And, with it being the biggest Super Late Model race in the country, I don’t think it can get any better.”
The only way it could get any better is if he wins in his last hurrah with Kyle Busch Motorsports before moving up to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports in 2019.
“I think with all of that hard work being put in, and all the good race car drivers and big teams that go down there, it’s definitely a career victory and definitely one that you put on the top of your resume because of the history, the competitors, the track. With that all coming full circle, it would be one of the biggest ones of my career.”
Race fans unable to make it to Pensacola, Florida will be able to see all of the unique paint schemes by watching Speed51.com’s live pay-per-view broadcast throughout the week. Five-day video tickets are currently available at a discounted price of $74.99 ($35 savings) by clicking here.
The 51st Annual Snowball Derby will take place on Wednesday, November 28 through Sunday, December 2 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL. For more information regarding the event, visit Snowball Central presented by Schaeffer’s Specialized Lubricants.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Associate Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com