By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Noah Gragson wanted nothing more than to leave Kyle Busch Motorsports with a championship before departing for the NASCAR Xfinity Series next year, but the driver of the No. 18 Toyota ultimately came up short of that goal Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Racing for a championship, I never would have dreamed of that when I started racing six years ago that I’d be in this position with Kyle Busch Motorsports and Safelite AutoGlass, Toyota, Switch, everybody who helps me,” Gragson said. “It’s my last truck race with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Man, I wanted to go out on top, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
“It’s just a bummer, but hey, no bad days, right? We’re going to move on to the next year in the Xfinity Series. I’m pumped up about that, but this one is going to hurt for a while.”
After starting third, Gragson climbed up to second place behind polesitter Grant Enfinger and bided his time, finishing the first stage there. When the second stage began, Gragson made his move, taking over the lead for the first couple of laps following the restart before dropping back for the remainder of the stage, finishing second when the green-checkered flag flew for the second time.
When the final stage began, Gragson leaped to the lead once more, staying out front for 32 laps and staging a thrilling battle with eventual winner and champion Brett Moffitt in the process.
As the field neared their window for the final round of pit stops, Gragson fell off the pace, thinking he had a tire going down and by the time pit stops cycled through, the damage had already been done as Moffitt had a nearly four second lead over Gragson.
Though he ran as hard as he could to try and catch him, it was too little, too late for Gragson as he finished third behind Moffitt and Enfiger to finish the season second in points.
“That’s just pretty much just me driving 100 percent, driving my nuts off pretty much,” Gragson said. “I mean, it’s tough, but I guess it just comes down to experience, making good — I gave it all I got. I mean, I had my tongue hanging out. I wasn’t worn. I wasn’t falling out of the seat, but I just burned the front tires off of it.
“We were loose on the first run and then just made it a little bit too tight for the second run through the center and got snappy on exit. We got my exit really good, just too tight through the center and just burnt the front tires off.
“I thought I had a left front going down. I don’t know what was the problem. It might have just been all in my head, but it just started getting really, really tight, three, four, five numbers of a balance shift tighter. Just really challenging. Man, it sucks when you see that thing driving away from you.”
While he may be disappointed with Friday night’s result, Gragson has a Xfinity Series ride waiting at JR Motorsports, taking over the No. 1 car being vacated by Elliott Sadler’s retirement. Ahead of the Truck Series season finale, Sadler had nothing but good things to say about Gragson’s destination for the 2019 season.
“I think Noah will do a good job at JR Motorsports,” Sadler said. “They’ve got a really good track record of developing young drivers coming through. I mean, Chase Elliott won a championship, William Byron won a championship, Tyler Reddick has a chance (tomorrow). I’d say JR Motorsports is doing something right with their young guys coming in.
“Noah is getting ready to get into a really good situation where he’ll feel like he’s the No. 1 priority for their team and their organization and for Chevrolet and all that comes along with it. I think he’ll be happy there and he’ll be successful.”