By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The start of the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season has not gone as planned for Kyle Busch Motorsports rookie Noah Gragson. After getting wiped out in a lap two melee at Daytona International Speedway and being involved in a lap two incident at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Gragson was looking for some redemption at Martinsville Speedway.
Gragson and his No. 18 Switch Toyota Tundra team unloaded with speed. In the first and only practice session for the Alpha Energy Solutions 250, he was third fastest on the speed charts. In qualifying, Gragson placed his truck ninth on the starting grid, his best career start in the Truck Series.
At the drop of the green flag, Gragson stayed ahead of the trouble. Only three laps into the race, Bryce Napier spun in turn one. Gragson was also ahead of the next incident 10 laps later.
When the race finally had a long green flag run, Gragson held firm. He kept his nose clean and was in eighth when Stage 1 ended. This netted Gragson three Championship points.
The race seemed to slip into cautions breed cautions philosophy as multiple cautions flew back-to-back. On lap 101, Gragson was bumped by the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford F-150 of Chase Briscoe. The contact sent Gragson spinning, but undamaged. Gragson elected to pit, along with race leaders Christopher Bell and Chase Elliott.
Gragson restarted deep in the field. He followed Elliott and teammate Bell as they climbed back up through the field. Another caution just before the end of Stage 2 kept Gragson outside the Top 10 when the stage ended.
Under the caution, Bell, Elliott, and Gragson stayed on track with several others who were on an alternate strategy. Gragson ascended from outside the Top 10 to the fourth position.
The race continued to have cautions disrupt the flow for the next 40 laps.
Gragson eventually found himself in third, behind Bell and Elliott as the race finally found another long green flag run. Gragson hounded Elliott for second, as Elliott fought for the lead.
Meanwhile, Johnny Sauter, who won Stage 2 was climbing rapidly through the field on fresh tires. Sauter caught the lead trio with about 50 laps to go.
After being hounded by Sauter for the next 30 laps, Gragson’s spotter advised him to yield the position to Sauter. Gragson took the advice and slid back in line in fourth, behind Sauter.
Despite a caution with 15 laps to go, Gragson would remain in fourth for the rest of the race. This is his first career top five finish in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Gragson also climbed from 17th to 11th in the Championship points standings, 70 points behind Sauter.
After the race, Gragson’s crew chief, Marcus Richmond, took to Twitter to congratulate his driver:
— marcus richmond (@MarcusRichmond_) April 1, 2017
Gragson, Richmond, and their Kyle Busch Motorsports team will now keep their heads up for the next few weeks as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns May 12 at Kansas Speedway for the Toyota Tundra 250.