MOORESVILLE, N.C. (June 20, 2017) – Being a rookie in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) means everything is new. Getting to know your teammates, learning the feel of the trucks and visiting several new tracks for the first time. It can be quite a challenge, so finding something familiar is always a bonus. This weekend Noah Gragson heads to Iowa Speedway for the M&M’s 200 where he has the most experience of any track on the NCWTS schedule.
In the past two years, the 18-year-old has three prior starts at Iowa in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. All three events were combination races between the East and West divisions, bringing the best of the K&N Series together at one track in the middle of the country. In 2015, Gragson finished seventh overall (third in the West division) in May, and then fifth overall (second in the West division) in July. In 2016, he was 13th overall (sixth in the West division).
Gragson also another has a former Iowa winner to lean on this weekend, his spotter Brandon McReynolds. The son of former crew chief turned television analyst, Larry McReynolds, Brandon swept both K&N Pro Series races at Iowa in 2015. His experience and knowledge of the track will benefit Gragson as McReynolds helps him navigate his way around the 0.875-mile oval.
In addition to his K&N experience, Gragson was able to test his No. 18 Switch Tundra at Iowa in April. Although rain washed out most of the second day of testing, he was able to log a lot of laps and get some long runs under his belt during the first day. The test gave him a chance to feel out any changes in the track since last year, and learn how the trucks handle versus a K&N car.
The Switch team has scored top-10 finishes in their last four races and would like to improve upon that streak with a string of top-five finishes, and a few wins. Gragson has not finished outside of the top nine since a broken clutch ended his night early at Kansas Speedway in early May. He had a great run at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago when he captured his first pole and led 13 laps, the first of his NCWTS career.
This weekend as Gragson returns to Iowa Speedway, a place familiar to him, he would like to experience something new – his first trip to Victory Lane in the NCWTS. KBM teams are very familiar with Iowa’s Victory Lane having won the last three consecutive races there (William Byron 2016 and Erik Jones 2015, 2014). Now Gragson wants his turn.
Noah Gragson, Driver of the No. 18 NCWTS Switch Tundra:
Do you have more confidence going into Iowa since you have three previous starts and tested the truck there?
“I’m really looking forward to Iowa and think it’s going to be a good race for us. I have experience there in a K&N car, which is a little bit different, but we tested there in April so I kind of know the characteristics of the track for the most part. It changes throughout the winter since it’s so cold in Iowa and then heats up during the summer, so you get bumps and it’s a little bit different year to year. It will be different racing in the truck, but I have a lot of confidence going into this race and am really focused on winning. I think we have a good shot at it.”
Your spotter, Brandon McReynolds, swept both K&N races at Iowa in 2015. How helpful will it be to have him coaching you from the spotter’s stand?
“It helps being on the same page with your spotter. I live with Brandon, so we sit down and watch film together during the week of the upcoming races. He’s won there and had success, so obviously he knows how to get around that place and maybe he knows some stuff that I don’t know, so I’m always open to listening to him. His knowledge will be very valuable to me and I’ll use it to my advantage.”
Gateway was your fourth-consecutive top-10 finish. What do you need to do to consistently be in the top five?
“I feel like we are there. We have all the puzzle pieces. I didn’t feel like we were great at Gateway, but we were able to finish ninth. The other races at Dover and Texas I felt like we were really fast. We were one of the fastest trucks, so now we just need a little luck to help us out and all the puzzle pieces to fit together. We’ve got to stay focused and eventually it will come.”
Marcus Richmond, Crew Chief of the No. 18 NCWTS Switch Tundra:
What things did you work on during your test at Iowa in April?
“We unloaded really well. KBM has run really well there the last few years, so we had a really good baseline set-up to start with. We let Noah get a lot of laps and make some long runs. Iowa has a lot of different grooves, so he got to run some different grooves to see what he liked best. He got up to speed pretty quickly since he’s already made three starts at Iowa in a K&N car, so he was familiar with the track.”
After four consecutive top-10 finishes, what will it take for Noah to consistently finish in the top five?
“As a team we need to be mistake free. I think once we minimize some of the mistakes we’ve made, the top fives will be there. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just a learning curve and having a month of consecutive races has helped. It’s tough to find consistency with long breaks between races, so I think as a team we’ll hit our stride as the summer continues.”
Noah Gragson’s No. 18 Switch Tundra:
KBM-036: The No. 18 Switch team will race KBM-036, for Friday’s M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway. This is the same Tundra Gragson raced at Dover earlier this month where he finished ninth.
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 three top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 10 starts as a NCWTS crew chief at Iowa. His best finish was second place with Ty Dillon in 2012 and Cole Custer in 2016.