autoracing 4 days ago

Gragson ready to return to Iowa Speedway

Newton Daily News — Jocelyn Sheets Newton Daily News, Iowa

April 20--Bumps, patches and all -- Noah Gragson loves to race at Iowa Speedway. The 18-year-old Las Vegas native was in Newton Monday and Tuesday as five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie drivers did testing at the 7/8-mile track.

Gragson admitted the track feels different when he is driving the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra truck then when he drove his K&N Pro Series car at Iowa the past two years. He learned how the trucks handle on the Fastest Short Track on the Planet.

"This track is just phenomenal. The design of it allows for a lot of speed which makes for fun racing from the driver's standpoint and allows for one heck of show," Gragson said.

"In the K&N cars, we complained about the big tunnel bump between turns 1 and 2. I really felt it in the car but with the truck I hardly noticed it. There are a couple patches between turns 3 and 4 now, which bothered me during the testing."

Gragson was the highest rookie in the standings to test at Iowa. He sits 11th in the driver standings after three races. He recorded a top-five finish in the April 1 race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Va.

Drivers are allowed to conduct testing at two tracks a season. Joining Gragson were four other NCWTS rookie drivers and their teams for the two-day testing at Iowa Speedway. It was originally scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, but NASCAR moved it up to Monday and Tuesday because of the weather forecast.

The teams had a perfect day of testing on Monday. The rain moved in Tuesday late in the morning, halting any on-track activity. The teams -- Kyle Busch Motorsports, Brad Keselowski Racing and GMS Racing -- packed up and left by noon.

Gragson and his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton along with Austin Cindric of BKR and Justin Haley of GMS Racing took turns on the track gathering information. Chase Briscoe, who drives for BKR and is seventh in the NCWTS standings, was on hand but only to observe.

All six drivers are expected to compete in Iowa Speedway's NCWTS Iowa 200 on June 23.

"There's a learning curve going from the K&N cars to the trucks. They handle differently, and with a lot more downforce and side force, you can run faster speeds with the trucks," Gragson said.

He said he remembered seeing current teammate Christopher Bell run at the top side of Iowa track during Gragson's first K&N race in 2015. Gragson said he tried doing the same.

"I really liked running up at the top. In the second K&N race here in 2015, I went straight to the top. I quickly passed cars working my way up through the field," Gragson said.

Gragson finished second in the K&N Pro Series West driver standings in 2016. He was a member of the 2016 NASCAR Next, a NASCAR initiative spotlighting the industry's rising stars.

"Being a part of the NASCAR Next group was a cool experience. Off the race track, we are friends and had a lot of fun with it," Gragson said. "The program helped me the most with off-the-track aspects including brand recognition, interviews and interacting with fans."

Gragson said growing up in Las Vegas racing wasn't on his radar. He played other sports such as basketball, lacrosse, and football.

"Racing's not very popular there. On the east coast, guys grow up around racing, but I didn't. When I was 13, I decided to try driving the Bandoleros at the Bullring in Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That's where Kyle and Kurt Busch raced. My first test drive, I got out of the car and was smiling ear to ear. I loved it."

Working up through the ranks and racing two years in the K&N Pro Series, Kyle Busch Motorsports came knocking at Gragson's door. He was offered a full-time ride in the NCWTS.

"I toured Kyle Busch Motorsports as a young fan and aspiring driver in awe of the massive trophy collection, how immaculate the shop was," Gragson said. "Now, I'm standing on the floor where the trucks are prepared. I'm thankful for the opportunity Kyle and Samantha Busch have given me."

The NCWTS drivers are at Kansas Speedway for their fourth race of the season on May 12.

"I've only been to five tracks with the trucks so I can't really compare tracks. But I really like this place. Testing here was so much fun," Gragson said. "There's just something about it which bears out why it's called the Fastest Short Track on the Planet. The atmosphere is tremendous with great fans. I'm looking forward to coming back in June, I want to get to the top of the track and see how it goes."

Contact Jocelyn Sheets at 641-792-3121 ext. 6535 or jsheets@newtondailynews.com

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