By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
PHOENIX – It’s a tale of two stories for Noah Gragson going into Saturday’s Xfinity Series finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Not only Gragson became the talk of Thursday’s Championship 4 Media Day for not shying away about his feelings for Ty Gibbs. But Saturday marks his swan song at JR Motorsports before going to Petty GMS in the Cup Series next season.
Prior to Media Day, Gragson posted on social media relating to Gibbs’ comment about Jesus following Saturday’s controversial last lap dump on teammate Brandon Jones at Martinsville.
The move cost Jones a spot for the Championship 4, but created an opportunity for Justin Allgaier to join the Championship 4 fight. It was an afterthought as Gibbs’ actions rubbed more people the wrong way and Gragson assured his disdain for the 20-year-old.
“I guess kinda race guys the way they race you. I got no problem with talking about it either,” said Gragson. “Personally, I’m excited about this week and not afraid to speak my mind.”
At one point in the season, Gragson received tremendous criticism for causing a multi-car crash at Road America. Fans, drivers, and people in the garage chastised the veteran for his actions. Some wanting him to sit out for a race.
Since then, it’s been a matter of growth for the Nevada racer.
“Anyone that’s close to me know the situation. But personality, I take it as a learning experience. I’m not glad of the outcome of other people, but I’m glad for the outcome for me and to learn,” Gragson on his previous controversy.
“I have learned, and I don’t plan on racing that way ever again. It was a heat of the moment and trying to take it as a learning experience and how I can be better. Obviously, I made a big mistake and it’s part of it. Just how to rebound and learn from it.”
At the same time, Gragson felt that Gibbs is disingenuous and his driving actions being worse. It became loud and clear after last Saturday’s incident and with the title on the line, Gragson said there’s “three and a half men” looking to be king of Xfinity.
The “half” is a shade to Gibbs, who Gragson feels he’s in fantasy land and just doesn’t care.
Animosity aside, Gragson knows this weekend will be bittersweet. Notably, he’ll have a special helmet commemorating his time at JRM where he captured all 13 of his Xfinity wins. Eight of those taking place this season that put him in an excellent spot of fighting for a championship.
Another aspect of Gragson’s personality is being surrounded by a huge support system. This includes his teammate Allgaier and Josh Berry, who’ll also fight for a championship as well. While Gragson will move on to Cup, the bond and friendship will stay intact.
“I’ll remember them as friends. We came out here on the flight last night. I was on the same flight with Josh and his daughter was on the flight. I was kicking a water bottle with her at baggage claim on the ground just trying to keep her entertained,” Gragson on a moment with Berry.
“It’s fun and we’re a family. I’m just enjoying the time with each other. We’ll still be friends at the end of the day. Being with each other every weekend the past couple of years. Emotional being the last one.”
Regardless of the outcome, Gragson will move up to the next level. In terms of maturing due to driving for both Kaulig Racing and Hendrick Motorsports – he wants to have fun.
Considering how last year ended up where he felt that focus over fun wasn’t genuine to his true self.
“I’m just trying to have fun as much as possible. It’s my last year in Xfinity, obviously I want to win. Last year, I wasn’t even myself and overly trying to be focus. Didn’t appreciate the opportunity and take a second to look around. I was very tunnel vision on the task at hand,” Gragson explained.
“This year, I’m going with a completely different approach and it’s going to be what it’s going to be. I feel like we’re prepared and don’t have to change anything up.
“We’re obviously the top doing going into this weekend. We didn’t get here by accident. We’ve won a lot and earned our way into the Final Four. It’s going to be exciting.”
With speculation that seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson being involved with Petty GMS in 2023, Gragson talked about being a seven-time champion in NASCAR: Inside Line on Xbox 360.
Naturally, dodging the Johnson rumors as he’s more excited about being a part of the Cup tour full-time.
“I think Jimmie is a great guy. He’s been doing great in INDYCAR, so it’s pretty cool for him. I really looked up at Richard Petty and him kind of being a face of NASCAR. The cowboy hat is so iconic and really appreciate what he’s done for the sport.”
Not only he’ll be joining a team that won a Cup race with Erik Jones at Darlington this year, but he’ll also have crew chief Luke Lambert joining the organization.
“I’m just really excited to work with Erik, Maury Gallagher, and Mike Beam. Luke’s going over there, and Dave Elenz (Jones’ crew chief) is over there. I’m really excited to work wit those guys and focus on how to build that program up. All in and all, I’m excited for the opportunity next year.
“Richard Petty is a great champion of our sport. I think he’s been through this sport a lot. With that being said, the Petty family is a huge name to drive for and learn from.”
For the time being, this year’s spring winner will look to sweep Phoenix and hoist the Xfinity Series championship trophy after 200 hard fought laps.
Live coverage of the NXS Championship Race beings Saturday at 6:00 p.m. ET on USA Network.
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