JR Motorsports announced Tuesday that Noah Gragson will join its 2019 driver lineup in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, taking the wheel of the No. 1 Chevrolet full-time with a two-year deal.
Gragson, 20, replaces Elliott Sadler, who announced Aug. 15 that he would retire from full-time competition at the end of the season. Gragson’s jump to the next rung on the NASCAR ladder was revealed in the latest episode of the team’s JRM 360 video series.
“First off, I’m very thankful for the opportunity to get to race full-time in the Xfinity Series,” Gragson told NASCAR.com. “It’s a great privilege to be able to run full-time and then to do it with JR Motorsports, I’ve looked up to Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. ever since I started racing back in 2012 when I was 13 years old. When I started racing, I never would’ve thought that I’d be at this level, especially so quick. To have that opportunity is definitely a dream come true, so definitely have to work hard, stay focused and make the most of the opportunity.”
Gragson currently ranks second in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings, having qualified for that circuit’s eight-driver postseason field. But he’s also gotten a taste of Xfinity competition this year, placing second in his series debut at Richmond Raceway and sweeping to top-10 finishes in all three of his Xfinity starts.
RELATED: Key players in 2018 Silly Season
The bigger transition, though, is a break with Toyota Racing, which backed Gragson in its development program for young drivers with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series. The decision to shift his allegiances to the Chevrolet camp, he says, was “incredibly tough” but that he will leave the manufacturer on good terms, hoping to wrap up the truck championship as a farewell gift at season’s end.
“They have been so good to me and they really haven’t even been sponsors to me, they’ve been more mentors,” Gragson said. “They’ve been guys that I’ve really looked up to in this sport. I consider them friends of mine, and so it made it very difficult to shy away from the Toyota banner, but I talked to them last week and told them what the plan was, and they said that they understand, that racing is a business and I had to do what I had to do, but that I’m always welcome to come back to drive a Toyota in the future.
“Just very thankful for the relationship that I’ve built with those guys. They’ve invested into me and I’m very thankful for that. It’s been a great relationship, and they said they still want me to win. It’s cool that we’re both on the same page and they’re cool with everything. They’re just great people overall.”
Gragson indicated that his contract calls for a two-year term, providing an extra layer of job insurance as he makes the transition to Xfinity competition. The length of the partnership also should allow him time to grow in the next stage of his development.
THROWBACK: @nascarcasm interviews Gragson
“It’s definitely good to have that two-year relationship set in place and just have that security,” Gragson said. “That doesn’t mean that I can slack off because I’m running two years. To me, that makes me want to work even harder because I know that I’ll have two opportunities to do something and definitely try and learn the first year and then the main goal would be to win the championship the second year, if not the first year.”
It’s an intense leap from his days of winning on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and landing a spot in the 2016 NASCAR Next class. Since then, he’s won twice in the Truck Series — as a rookie last season at Martinsville Speedway and earlier this year at Kansas Speedway.
That progress led to a three-race opportunity this year with Joe Gibbs Racing at the Xfinity level, where he impressed with finishes of second, fourth and seventh.
“I think that just shows that I belong with those guys,” Gragson said. “We had three great races with them and so I felt like I could do it and hopefully we can move up to that next level and actually exceed those expectations and get a few wins under our belt and learn and ultimately become a better driver.”
There’s more to Gragson’s career move, filed under the heading of off-track intangibles. JR Motorsports operates an established, popular media network for offbeat videos, candid audio podcasts and social media campaigns. The organization used those media platforms Tuesday for a humorous video vignette to announce Gragson’s arrival.
It’s a perfect match for a vibrant personality such as Gragson, who has photobombed other drivers in a shark disguise, openly flirted with Olympian Lindsey Vonn in TV interviews, and most recently proposed a multi-state Uber ride from Chicago to Charlotte after a flight cancellation.
Is the NASCAR world ready for a Noah Gragson podcast?
“I really want to do it,” he says. “I feel like I fit in great at JR Motorsports just simply because they love doing that JRM 360 and Dirty Mo Podcasts and all that kind of stuff, so I’m really excited for that part of the journey and the adventure. I watch those videos on Twitter and everything and they’re funny to watch, so that should be a fun deal, for sure.”