As the third-seeded driver in the playoff hunt Noah Gragson says he only has eyes and time for the Camping World Truck Series championship. And that means tightening up teamwork within his Kyle Busch Motorsports team.
“Now it’s time to do business,” said Gragson ahead of the opening round of the series’ postseason this weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Part of that business involves his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland. Gragson’s No. 18 is the only KBM Truck eligible for a shot at the 2018 title as Gilliland failed to qualify his No. 4 for the postseason and the No. 51 truck is run using a slate of different drivers.
Gragson says he and Gilliland are good friends off the track but aren’t necessarily on the same page in the heat of competition. The helmet goes on, and suddenly it’s about winning — and the two often race each other too hard and don’t cut the other any breaks for being within the same camp.
“I don’t think Todd and I have really worked together, and I’ll take some of the blame — not all of the blame, but I feel like we need to do a better job of working together,” said Gragson. “These last two races have been kind of tough, but now that it’s playoff time I’m going to have a sit-down deal with him and say, ‘Look, man, we need to really start trying to help each other.’ If it’s not me winning at Kyle Busch Motorsports, the next guy I want to see win at Kyle Busch Motorsports is Todd Gilliland.”
Asked why he felt the two haven’t worked well together, Gragson noted Gilliland has been fast and aggressive, and sometimes that can hurt as much as help.
“I’m not pointing fingers,” said Gragson, but “it’s like, what are we doing? We need to be teammates here. It kind of hurts us sometimes.”
A win in Kansas locked Gragson into the playoffs. Between Gragson’s victory and seven stage wins, he is seeded third on the playoff grid and will start the first round Sunday afternoon down by 20 points to leader Johnny Sauter.
If having a shot at the championship wasn’t enticing enough, Gragson admits having to sit out the June 28 race at Pocono Raceway because of illness has made him even hungrier. Gragson watched from inside his hauler as Erik Jones led laps and finished second in his No. 18 truck, taking notes and listening to the radio.
Gragson is determined to do anything he needs to be a champion. He’s even gone so far as to change his lifestyle. Having worked with a sports psychologist throughout the year, Gragson says he has learned about going the extra mile and having the mindset of a champion. In this case, Gragson has applied it to his everyday life.
“I’d say before Pocono I started having a set bedtime and going to bed early, waking up early, just trying to be more productive with my Monday-through-Friday schedule,” said Gragson. “Trying to be more organized and to have a structured schedule. Going to the shop, working out, trying to eat healthier, just doing everything it takes to be a champion; going that extra mile. That’s what I’ve really been trying to focus on and it’s been a big change for me.
“I don’t know if it’s what you need to do for a championship but I’m not going to let it be the thing that, ‘Oh, I didn’t win the championship because of…’. I want to do everything I can do in my power.”
That would leave the only Achilles heel Gragson has in the playoffs “my own,” he said.