MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 7, 2017) – Last year Noah Gragson made his very first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) start at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway. With the huge learning curve he faced that day, Victory Lane seemed like a mirage off in the distance, but this year is a different story. With one win in the books already, the 19-year-old rookie sees winning at Phoenix as his goal.
Gragson has actually made two starts at the one-mile oval. In 2015, he competed in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Phoenix. He completed all 101 laps, but did not get the finish he wanted having to settle for 14th place. Last year was another new experience making his first start in a Toyota Tundra. To help him prepare for running the full season in 2017, Gragson went to Phoenix and Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway to compete and absorb as much information as he could. He did what he needed to do by once again completing all of the laps and gaining experience from his 16th -place finish. Victory Lane was the last thing on his mind that day.
Now the Las Vegas native returns to Phoenix for the third time with new goals and a new outlook. Coming off his win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last month, Gragson has more confidence, skill and knowledge than before. He also has a veteran crew chief who knows how to win at Phoenix. Marcus Richmond guided Timothy Peters to the checkered flag in 2015 and has three top-five and six top-10 finishes in 11 starts there.
Now it is up to Gragson to put all the pieces together by using what he learned in his previous two starts at Phoenix, along with the experience he has gained at similar tracks this season to fight for the win. Having won the pole at both Iowa Speedway in Newton and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon earlier this year, Gragson clearly has the speed it takes to succeed on smaller tracks. If he can start up front and remain there for 150 laps Friday night, his mirage will come into focus as he drives his Switch Tundra into Victory Lane.
Noah Gragson, Driver of the No. 18 NCWTS Switch Tundra:
You made your first NCWTS start at Phoenix last year. What did you learn from that experience?
“Since it was my first truck race, I was trying to take everything in and figure out how to race a truck. I had to figure out the track and how to race against a new group of drivers I’d never raced against before. Now I feel a lot more comfortable with the tire and the aero, so hopefully I can be a lot better when I get there Friday. I won’t have as much to learn, so I can spend more time trying to help make the Switch Tundra faster.”
Having one race at Phoenix under your belt, what is your focus this year?
“Winning the race is my ultimate focus this time. Before I just wanted to learn about the truck, the tire and the track, but now I feel like I can actually contend for a win. I feel like we’ve been good at the flat, short tracks like New Hampshire. We sat on the pole there and led the first 40 laps, and that’s a lot like turns three and four at Phoenix. Hopefully I can take some of that experience I gained at New Hampshire and apply what I learned from last year to contend for the win.”
Being so close to Las Vegas, do you feel like Phoenix is another home track for you?
“It will be good to go back out west since it’s my second-closest race to home. I’ll have quite a few family and friends at the race. My parents and grandparents will be there, along with a few friends from California, so it will be fun to have all of them there supporting me. I’m used to racing in the dry heat, so it will be nice to get back to that before the humidity next week in Homestead.”
Marcus Richmond, Crew Chief of the No. 18 NCWTS Switch Tundra:
What is the most challenging aspect of Phoenix for a crew chief?
“I think trying to keep track position and making sure your driver is out front for the last stage. You don’t want to get your pit strategy off and put yourself in the back, kind of like we did last weekend at Texas. It’s tough when you have a good truck, but can’t capitalize on a good finish, so track position is definitely key.”
Noah Gragson’s No. 18 Switch Tundra:
KBM-042: The No. 18 Switch team will race KBM-042, for Friday’s Lucas Oil 150. Gragson has raced this Tundra five times this season. His best finish was fifth at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
KBM NCWTS Program
- Holds the NCWTS records for most career wins (65), most wins in a single season (14 in 2014) and most Owner’s championships (five)
- Erik Jones earned the organization its first-ever NCWTS Driver’s championship in 2015
- Has collected 65 wins, 36 poles, 158 top-five and 253 top-10 finishes across 415 starts since originating in 2010
- Ten different drivers have won a race for KBM, led by owner-driver Kyle Busch with 33. Christopher Bell, Erik Jones and William Byron have each collected seven victories, Darrell Wallace Jr., has five wins, Denny Hamlin has produced two victories while Noah Gragson, Daniel Suarez, Kasey Kahne and Brian Scott each collected one trophy
- With Bell’s victory at Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway KBM has at least one win at all 21 tracks on the 2017 NCWTS schedule
KBM NCWTS @ Phoenix International Raceway
- KBM drivers have collected five wins, three poles, 642 laps led, seven top-five and 11 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 10.9 across 17 starts in the desert
- Owner-driver Kyle Busch collected the team’s first win at the one-mile track in 2011, Brian Scott claimed the win in 2012 and Erik Jones won two consecutive races in 2013 & 2014 and Daniel Suarez went to Victory Lane in November 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 one win, three top-five and six top-10 finishes in 11 starts as a NCWTS crew chief at Phoenix. He took the checkered flag with Timothy Peters behind the wheel in 2015.