CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch have been two of NASCAR’s biggest stars of the sport for more than a decade; nearly two, in Junior’s case.
Each made their mark in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, along with putting together a pair of dominant, championship-winning race shops in NASCAR’s lower national series.
But the similarities stop there, according to Busch’s former and Earnhardt’s future driver, Noah Gragson.
“Polar opposites,” Gragson said Saturday night at the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center. “Two race car drivers, but polar opposites. … This is going to get me in trouble.”
Gragson is making the leap up to Xfinity competition next season with JR Motorsports’ No. 1 Chevrolet entry, following a pair of Truck Series seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports. In his time with KBM, the 2018 Snowball Derby winner compiled two wins, 30 top 10s and a runner-up finish in the standings after placing third in last month’s Championship 4 race at Homestead.
The 20-year-old driver will have the fortune of learning first-hand from two of the best the sport has to offer, and credits the guidance he received from the 2015 Cup champion as a stepping stone for where is today.
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“I definitely think going through that growth spurt over at Kyle Busch Motorsports (helped me),” Gragson said. “Kyle, he’s one of the most talented race car drivers in all of NASCAR. Period. Can’t argue it. It is what it is. He’s one of the best, and to be able to learn from him and ask him questions … ‘Hey man, what are you doing on restarts? What are you doing getting into your pit box with your feet on the brake pedal and the clutch pedal and all that?’ That type of experience, to lean on, is priceless.”
While he’s learned countless lessons under the tutelage of Busch the past few years, JRM might feel a little more like home.
“For myself personally, I feel like (Dale and I) have a lot of similarities. … I think I can be even more myself going over to JR Motorsports. I just really enjoy the atmosphere over there with all the guys. It’s more of a laid-back atmosphere and it’s a bit of a change for me. It’s just a different environment; not saying one’s right, one’s wrong.”
The move to the digital/social heavyweight JRM also might help him expand on his outgoing, comical personality — a profile he’s owned and embraces, but one that he wants fans to know that is only one aspect of who he is.
“I think they might see me more as the jokester and the clown,” Gragson said. “Deep down I like to have a fun time, I like to joke around. But when it’s time to put the helmet on, it’s time to strap those belts on, and fire up that motor. It’s down to business.
“I might look like the clown, but all I’m thinking about … is about my race car and how to make this sport better.”