Every young racecar driver dreams of eventually competing at the highest level of motor sports. For Noah Gragson, his dream is coming true as he prepares for his Nascar Cup Series rookie campaign with the Legacy Motor Club.
Gragson initially signed a deal to compete in the No. 42 car for Petty GMS. Then, seven—time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson purchased a stake in the team in late 2022 to create a rebrand. Along with the pressure of racing for fellow seven-time champion and team ambassador Richard Petty, Gragson is now entering his freshman season as a driver for two of the most successful racers of all time.
“It will be great,” Gragson said at an event in New York City. “They’re great mentors and leaders. There’s a lot of great qualities in those two guys. They’re obviously champions of the sport, but I think there’s more to the day-to-day stuff, learning how to become the best version of myself and the best driver that I can be. I definitely have two great resources to lean on.”
Gragson, 24, is coming off his best Xfinity Series season with JR Motorsports. It was a rough start to the season, though, in which he faced scrutiny throughout the sport after he intentionally wrecked Sage Karam at Road America while battling for a top-10 spot.
“I was shocked, to be honest with you, when I saw Noah make that decision,” team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after Gragson’s incident. “I was just completely shocked and in a bit of disbelief not only that he made that choice but that he, you know, but that it created such an accident and got so many other guys involved. That was tough to watch, really tough.”
But Gragson learned from the incident. He went on to win eight races throughout the year. At Phoenix Raceway, he had a fierce and clean battle for the championship with Ty Gibbs, coming up just short. However, a runner-up finish came with respect earned throughout the industry as he prepares for his first year in the sport’s premier division.
Now, Gragson is ready for the endeavor ahead. Johnson, who’s running a part-time Cup schedule, will serve as his mentor. It’s the perfect fit for Gragson, who actually took over Johnson’s old No. 48 car at Hendrick Motorsports when Alex Bowman had to miss five races towards the end of 2022 due to a concussion.
“Stepping up the ladder is probably the biggest step I’ll ever take in my driving career in terms of competition,” Gragson said. “I know what it’s like to be in Xfinity and there’s a new guy who can bully him around.
“Me being the rookie, I’m going into it trying to finish every lap and every race. I need to earn these guys’ respect. If we can improve every week and every race, we can become better than the week before and that’s the progress I want to make.”
The challenge will not be an easy one for Gragson. He takes over a No. 42 car that was piloted by Ty Dillon in 2022. Dillon finished 29th in the standings, with only one top-10 finish compared to teammate Erik Jones’ win at Darlington and 13 top 10s.
Gragson did gain some experience in the Next Gen car last year, running an additional 13 races in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 car. The experience, he said, prepared him for what to expect in 2023.
But with plenty to learn, Gragson is keeping expectations modest.
“We have good people and good energy leading into the season,” Gragson said. “I have great teammates. I’m excited with how this team has grown from when I first signed and what it’s grown to and where we can get it to.”
“I think we need to set the goals pretty low. The main goal needs to be to finish every race and get experience. It’s going to be tough, no doubt. If we can grow and keep learning, that’s what I’m excited to see.”
Gragson will make his second start in the Great American Race next month.