Noah Gragson is leaving one successful team owner for another as he makes the jump into the NASCAR Xfinity Series next season. But comparing Kyle Busch, with whom he spent two years in Trucks, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose JR Motorsports team Gragson is joining, was challenging for Gragson.
“Polar opposites,” Gragson said Saturday night after accepting the award for finishing second in the Truck Series championship.
Gragson didn’t give specifics on what he meant, admitting “it’s going to get me in trouble.” The 20-year-old was complimentary of both owners, though, especially the growth he experienced under Busch’s tutelage.
“Kyle is one of the most talented race car drivers in all of NASCAR,” Gragson said. “Period. Can’t argue it. It is what it is. He’s one of the best. To be able to learn from him, ask him questions: ‘Hey man, what are you doing on restarts? What are you doing getting into your pit box with your feet on the brake pedal and clutch pedal?’ That type of experience to lean on is priceless. So, to be able to talk with him and lean on him throughout this past two years, it’s been an incredible opportunity, and hopefully, we can build on that in the future.”
With Earnhardt’s team, Gragson indicated he’s looking forward to being more of himself. He says JRM has a laid-back atmosphere, which will be a change for him.
“It’s just a different environment,” said Gragson. “Not saying one’s right, one’s wrong, it’s just for myself personally, I feel like we have a lot of similarities. I’ve been fortune enough to be in that position — to see how Kyle Busch is and how he operates a team. Obviously, they have a lot of success and they do a really good job, and I’ve learned so much over there. Just super thankful for the opportunity with them.
“To move over to JR Motorsports is a new set of challenges. But I feel like the team chemistry that we already have with (crew chief) Dave Elenz and the rest of that team so far, I’ve only been over there a handful of times, but I feel like that team chemistry and bond is going really well so far. I’m excited for it.”
Gragson will drive the No. 1 Chevrolet with the team being the defending series champions from Tyler Reddick’s No. 9 group including Elenz, who guided Reddick to the 2018 title and William Byron to the ’17 crown. The two have already been spending time together, Reddick — who announced in October he would be moving to Richard Childress Racing for the 2019 Xfinity Series — selling Elenz out about already having Gragson in his office before their team had even made it to the banquet celebration.
“I’ve told him (Elenz), he’s a lot like me but worse,” Reddick said of Gragson. “Not worse as a driver, just like me times three pretty much. I think he sees that already.”
Elenz knew Reddick was talking about personality.
“Tyler obviously has a very distinct personality, and he’s set in what he’s going to do and just trying to figure out how to get that in line with our car was a bit of a challenge throughout the year,” Elenz said. “Noah seems to be his own personality, for sure. Likes to have a lot of fun.”
Regardless, Elenz is looking forward to working with Gragson and expects similar results to what his team had this year.
“He appears to be really fast,” Elenz said. “I hadn’t really followed him until the end of the year in the Truck Series, but he always had speed. I think it should be somewhat like working with Tyler this year — and hopefully, we go down the same path.”