MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 10, 2017) – This weekend the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) competes in its second and final restrictor-plate race of the season at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. For Noah Gragson, it will feel like his first drafting race in the Truck Series since he was eliminated from contention on the second lap of the season opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway when he was hit from behind by Chase Briscoe. The old saying “to finish first, first you must finish” is never truer than at a restrictor-plate race where drafting in packs often results in multi-vehicle accidents.
Drivers use different strategies throughout the race to try to avoid “the big one.” Gragson and his crew chief, Marcus Richmond, believe staying up front is the best way to accomplish that. Richmond knows a thing, or two, about winning at Talladega since he has two wins and three poles at the 2.66-mile track. He made it to Victory Lane in 2014 and 2015 with NCWTS veteran Timothy Peters. This time Richmond would like to get his third win, but with a rookie.
Gragson has one prior start at Talladega when he competed in the ARCA Racing Series event for Venturini Motorsports in May. He started on the front row in second place and led one lap, but was scored in 30th place after getting caught up in an accident on lap 36 of 82. Although there are few similarities between an ARCA car and a truck, getting familiar with the track and the feel of the draft gave Gragson some practical experience before hitting the track for practice this Friday.
The 19-year-old has had a pretty good week so far after winning the prestigious Winchester 400 ARCA/CRA Super Series race at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway on Sunday. Gragson had never raced at the half-mile track before, but led 138 laps total, including the final seven, and took the checkered flag in his Switch Camry and celebrated by climbing the fence on the front stretch. It was his second start in a Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) late model this year.
The Las Vegas native will also pay tribute this weekend to those affected by the tragic shooting in his hometown on Oct.1. His Switch Tundra will carry the #VegasStrong hashtag on the television panel, while the DriversforVegas.com logo will be displayed on the rear quarterpanels. Gragson joined with other NASCAR drivers from Las Vegas to give fans a way to help the victims and families of the tragedy. Fans are encouraged to check out DriversForVegas.com to purchase one of the items available, or to simply make a donation.
Noah Gragson, Driver of the No. 18 NCWTS Switch Tundra:
Do you feel like you have some momentum coming off your win at Winchester last weekend?
“I’m definitely pumped up from winning the Winchester 400, but Talladega is a very different ballgame. I’m really excited to get back to Martinsville later this month because it’s a short track similar to Winchester. Talladega is a completely different style of racing, so it’s kind of back to reality this weekend.”
Were you able to learn much about Talladega from running the ARCA race in May?
“Maybe a little bit running the draft and side drafting some, but the trucks handle way differently than the ARCA cars at Talladega. The track is easy to run wide open by yourself, but it’s all about getting that experience running behind and around other drivers, pushing them and having them push you. Being so close is kind of nerve-wracking when you first get out there, but it’s all about getting comfortable and into a zone and clicking off laps until the end.”
What does it mean to you to carry the DriversForVegas.com decal on your Switch Tundra at Talladega?
“Although I moved to North Carolina to pursue my racing career, Las Vegas will always be my home. When I heard about this horrible tragedy, not only did I think about my family and friends who still live there, but all of the visitors who make our city one of the best in the world. I immediately wanted to do something to help, but it took a few days to even wrap my head around what happened. When Spencer (Gallagher) called me with this idea, I was all in to help do anything to try to heal our community.”
Marcus Richmond, Crew Chief of the No. 18 NCWTS Switch Tundra:
What can a crew chief do during a race at Talladega to help the driver since so much is out of his control?
“The biggest thing is to make sure he maintains good track position and stays in the top five most of the race to stay ahead of trouble. If you get yourself in a situation where you fall to the back, you definitely have more of a chance to get in a wreck, or something to happen outside of your control.”
Noah Gragson’s No. 18 Switch Tundra:
KBM-040: The No. 18 Switch team will race KBM-040, for Saturday’s Fred’s 250. Gragson has raced this truck in Daytona but his night ended early with an accident on the second lap when he was hit from behind. Christopher Bell finished sixth with this Tundra at Talladega in 2016.
Entering the 2017 season, Marcus Richmond had collected nine wins, 11 poles, 52 top-five and 107 top-10 finishes across 222 races in his 11 seasons as a crew chief in the Truck Series. The veteran crew chief has been to victory lane with five different drivers (Ty Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Timothy Peters, Johnny Sauter and Dennis Setzer) and has recorded at least one win every year since 2012. The North Carolina native’s drivers have finished inside the top five in the Truck Series championship standings four times in the last five seasons, including a runner-up finish in the standings with Ty Dillon in 2012. His most recent stop was at JR Motorsports last season, where he guided Cole Custer to two poles, four top-five and 12 top-10 finishes over the last 16 races of 2016. Richmond joined KBM in December 2016 to coach rookie Noah Gragson in 2017.
Richmond has two wins, three poles, three top-five and four top-10 finishes in 10 starts as a NCWTS crew chief at Talladega. He claimed the victory in 2014 and 2015 with Timothy Peters.