When Noah Gragson started the 2016 NASCAR K&N Pro Series season, he was pretty certain he was going to be racing for a championship out west while making the occasional start on the east coast. Fast forward to the current day, and Gragson has a K&N East win, and sits higher in points in East competition versus West competition.
Gragson had a choice to make. This weekend he heads to the East/West combo race at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. Gragson can only score points for one series at Iowa.
It’s finally come time for Gragson to make #TheDecision.
“The last West race I finished second and the last East race I finished 11th,” Gragson explained to Speed51.com on powered by JEGS on Monday. “We pretty much had our minds made up after the last west race. We just wanted to head into New Hampshire and see what happened and play it by ear. After New Hampshire we were in the hauler talking and we knew which route we were going to take. It’s the more realistic route. Nobody remembers second. Our only shot at the championship really is to choose the west, so that’s what we are going to do.”
Gragson’s reasoning makes plenty of sense. He’s third in East points and fourth in West points, but he’s closer to the West points leader. Gragson currently sits 17 points back of K&N West points leader Ryan Partridge. He is 48 points back of Justin Haley in the K&N East standings, which is more than race deficit in the standings.
The 18-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native also said the tracks out west are better for him than on the east side. He’s been to the tracks out west, but many of the tracks on the East schedule are new to him.
“We’re going to some good tracks like Meridian where I won at and Idaho and Roseville where I ran second before getting dumped by Chris Eggleston,” Gragson said. “So we have some strong race tracks that the team has a good baseline setup for.”
There’s another reason why Gragson chose the West as well, and that’s redemption for letting last year’s championship slip away.
“Last year, man, that was tough,” Gragson said. “I kind of hang my head on it every now and then. Last year we wanted to just get as much experience and learn as much as possible. It was my first year racing stock cars. To be battling for a championship and swapping the lead back and forth basically every weekend, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“We finished seven points out the championship at Phoenix (last year). That really sucked because heading into the second to last race I was leading the points by two over Chris Eggleston. With five to go he was running third and I was running second on a tight quarter-mile race track and he just drove it in and dumped me at Roseville. He finished third and I finished eighth. I don’t want to say that he locked it up there, because it was only a four-point margin heading into the final race, but he just had the momentum on his side. I definitely want to get, not payback, but I want to win the championship in the west. We came oh so close last year. This year I really want it and I feel like we have a really good shot at it.”
While Gragson won’t be racing for the championship out east, he said he and his Jefferson Pitts Racing team aren’t giving up on their east coast efforts.
“We’re not going to quit on the east side. We won’t get points at Iowa, but that doesn’t mean we are going to stop. We’ve just put too much time and effort into it. We can still come out with, I think, realistically, a top five points standings finish at the end of the year.”
Gragson will head to Iowa Speedway on Friday, July 29, and Speed51.com will be there to power the Race Central Live coverage on NASCAR Home Tracks.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Rick Ibsen