Petty GMS signs Noah Gragson for full-time Cup Series ride in No. 42

STATESVILLE, N.C. — Petty GMS Motorsports announced the final piece of its 2023 driver lineup Wednesday, promoting Noah Gragson to the NASCAR Cup Series full-time in the No. 42 Chevrolet and signing him to a multiyear deal.

Gragson was presented during a news conference at the Petty GMS shop, flanked by stock-car king and team co-owner Richard Petty, team president Mike Beam and a gathering of the organization’s 100-plus employees. As he sat beside a new No. 42 Camaro with his name above the driver’s door, Gragson said he was already savoring the fit.

“Just the atmosphere, the people,” Gragson said. “I think that’s the most important thing is the people and being able to feel comfortable at an organization, that’s pretty unique as it is, I feel like. JR Motorsports, it’s been a home for me the last four years and the leadership and the same qualities that they really instill in their company, I feel like that’s what we’ve seen here at GMS. So looking forward to the opportunity.

“I know it’s gonna be a big challenge and a lot of hard work, but I feel like with the atmosphere here and the people, I can be myself and that’s when I feel like I’m doing the best job possible is when I’m like myself. So I’m just happy for it.”

Gragson arrives after four full seasons in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, where he is an eight-time winner. The 24-year-old driver will team with Erik Jones, who signed a multiyear extension to drive the No. 43 Chevy for the Richard Petty and Maury Gallagher-owned organization in July.

Gragson replaces Ty Dillon, who announced July 15 that he would not return to the No. 42 team next year. Dillon was originally signed by Gallagher’s GMS group last October and was kept in the fold when it joined forces with Petty’s organization last December. But in setting a course with Gragson, Beam said that making a change with the No. 42 team was a part of an accelerated timeline to reaching the organization’s performance goals.

“We don’t have time. We’ve got to go, and that’s just the honest to God’s truth,” Beam said. “And Maury will tell you, we’re not gonna mess around here. I mean, we’re committed to this. What it costs to do it, it’s like there’s really no budget. We’re just buying what we need to do to run well but we cannot have any … I don’t want to say weak link, but we just gotta go. And that’s just the honest to God’s truth. We’re not gonna mess around here, and Noah knows it. I talked to Noah about it. I said we’re going to support you, but we gotta go. Erik knows it. You know what our plan is? Our plan is just to run hard. If you wreck it, we’ll bring it home and fix it. That’s just the way it is.”

In signing Gragson, Petty GMS has snapped up one of the Xfinity Series’ top prospects. Gragson ranks fourth in the series standings with three wins already this season — at Phoenix, Talladega and Pocono — for JR Motorsports’ No. 9 team. He placed a career-best third in the final standings last year, finishing behind champion Daniel Hemric and runner-up Austin Cindric in the title race.

Gragson has made nine Cup Series starts this season — seven for Kaulig Racing and two for Beard Motorsports. The Las Vegas native’s best finish so far is an 18th-place result at Kansas Speedway in Matt Kaulig’s No. 16 Chevy, which he is sharing this season with teammates Hemric and AJ Allmendinger. The Cup Series experience was a plus for Beam, who says he’s been appreciative of the Kaulig group’s support in bringing him to NASCAR’s big leagues.

The move keeps Gragson in the Chevrolet camp, which he joined in 2019 with JRM. He entered NASCAR’s national ranks through the Toyota pipeline, primarily with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series.

Along the way, Gragson has earned a reputation for his aggressive nature behind the wheel. Last month, the driver was fined $35,000 and penalized 30 points in the Xfinity Series standings for a payback crash at Road America. Being himself, as Gragson says, is one thing. But taking a measured approach with cutthroat-style tactics is another, Petty says.

“Might have to calm him down a little bit, but the way that Cup racing is now, he’s got to be aggressive,” Petty said. “I think from that standpoint, I just hope that we can calm him down where he’s not too aggressive, but he’s going to be in a learning process because Xfinity is a little bit different crowd of people. They race different. When it comes to Cup, he’s going to have to learn to respect his other drivers and he’s going to have to respect them. So it’s going to be interesting.”

The move also marks something of a reunion for Gragson. Dave Elenz was his crew chief at JRM for three years before making the jump to Petty GMS and the No. 43 team with Jones this season.

Beam said that he had been so focused on completing the contract talks with Jones, Gragson and GMS Racing’s Truck Series drivers that he hasn’t had a chance to settle on a crew chief for the No. 42 team for next season. But Beam also indicated that splitting up Elenz and Jones to pair him with Gragson again was not a consideration.

“Dave’s the guy, and him and Erik do really well,” Beam said. “That was part of Erik’s negotiation, too, which it should be. So no, that’s all fine.”