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December 13, 2023

Stewart-Haas Racing taps Noah Gragson for Cup Series return in 2024

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday that Noah Gragson will return to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2024, taking over the team’s No. 10 Ford in a multiyear agreement and completing a journey back to the sport’s top circuit after an abbreviated rookie season.

Gragson replaces longtime Cup Series veteran Aric Almirola, who announced in October he would leave SHR after six seasons with the No. 10 team. Earlier Wednesday, Joe Gibbs Racing tabbed Almirola for part-time duty in the Xfinity Series.

Gragson will work with veteran crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, who returns for his third season with the No. 10 Mustang team. Stewart-Haas Racing indicated that sponsorship partner announcements for Gragson and the No. 10 group would be made at a later date.

In a 45-minute sitdown with reporters, Gragson said he was humbled by the opportunity for a second chance at a career in NASCAR’s top division. NASCAR suspended the 25-year-old driver indefinitely in August for a member-conduct violation related to his activities on social media, and Legacy Motor Club suspended and ultimately parted ways with Gragson after a 21-race stint in its No. 42 ride.

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NASCAR reinstated Gragson on Sept. 12 after he completed diversity and inclusion training with the RISE group. Wednesday, Gragson said he found balance and focus in the months that he’d been away from the sport, revealing he had been working with a psychiatrist and had become an avid reader of self-help books to develop better habits in approaching his work and life to help prepare him for his Cup Series return.

“I think just all the opportunities and experiences and time I’ve spent with different people and just listening and learning, right, I think that’s given me a new understanding,” Gragson said. “And being out of the race car, it’s not fun watching somebody else do your job, right? And I’ve grown a new appreciation and love back for the sport, where I might have been a little burnt-out last year and be the first one to admit it. But the passion and the love I have for the sport is higher than it’s ever been right now.”

Gragson specifically addressed the incident that prompted his suspension, liking a social-media meme that made light of the death of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody in May 2020. Gragson said he faulted neither NASCAR nor Legacy Motor Club for his suspension, indicating that he placed both parties in a position where they were forced to react. As for why he engaged with the social-media post, Gragson answered with one word.

“Ignorance,” he said. “I had a lot of garbage on my feed. I was careless when I first got on social media and would accept friend requests from different people, and all of a sudden, you’re friends with people you don’t even know on there, and you’ve just got garbage on your feed, right? So I’ve become a lot more aware of other people, and I was very selfish in the past and only wanted to do things for me. And through this whole process, I’ve learned how to acknowledge others. Everyone’s going through stuff, right? Everyone’s going through their battles. Everyone’s got their challenges in life, and it’s allowed me to just be open-minded to other people.”

Gragson said he had conversations with Bubba Wallace, the Cup Series’ lone Black driver, and with Kyle Larson, who was suspended for most of the 2020 season for using a racist term during an iRacing event, to learn more about their experiences. But he also said his time of reflection was spent visiting civil-rights museums through the RISE program, seeing first-hand and gaining perspective about the struggles of minorities through history and into today.

A standout among those experiences, Gragson said, was a trip to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. The building was formerly a Woolworth’s retail store where four students from N.C. A&T University participated in a non-violent “sit-in” protest at a whites-only lunch counter in 1960.

“To say I was uneducated is an understatement,” Gragson said. “It was impactful, and to be able to learn and understand, and through this whole process put myself in other people’s shoes.”

Noah Gragson suited up for track time
Stewart-Haas Racing

Gragson’s first Cup Series effort came after four seasons in the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports, where he scored 13 wins and reached the Championship 4 in 2021 and 2022. At Legacy Motor Club, Gragson joined a team that has been in a state of flux before, during and after his time there, with a change in ownership through mergers, a full rebranding, and a shift in manufacturers from Chevrolet to Toyota for 2024.

At the time of his suspension, Gragson ranked 33rd in the Cup Series standings, and his most memorable moment was a testy post-race confrontation with Ross Chastain in May at Kansas Speedway. His best finish last season was 12th place in March at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and his 21-race campaign was dotted by six DNFs.

“At the time, you’re going week by week just in hopes to have a good run,” Gragson said, adding that team co-owner Jimmie Johnson has kept in touch with him to offer support. “Looking back at it, there’s definitely a lot of opportunities and self-reflection that I’ve learned where I could have been a better leader for our team. I could have been a better driver. I could have worked harder, too, and I always say what you don’t know. I try and help some young guys out with racing, and Rajah Caruth always comes to our hauler. I always tell him, ‘Well, you don’t know what you don’t know.’ It’s easy to look back and Monday-morning-quarterback it, and it’s hard to ask questions that you don’t know, but looking back and self-reflecting, I think there’s a tremendous amount of value to myself and learning what I could have done better through that whole process. It was a challenge, no doubt.”

Gragson described the time between his September reinstatement and signing in December as a blur. He said that a dinner to get better acquainted with team co-owner Tony Stewart and SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli was less about making overtures for a potential job than it was establishing a baseline.

“I didn’t want to sell them,” Gragson said. “I wanted to tell them exactly where I was in life and have them make that decision. I wanted to be honest and open with them, and I didn’t go in there to pitch them. I went in there to tell them exactly where I’m at.”

With the move for 2024, Gragson joins a team with a new-look roster eager to return the organization to its winning ways. Stewart-Haas Racing made improvement with its Xfinity Series program last season, but the Cup Series side weathered a winless season marked by the key departures of veterans Kevin Harvick and Almirola.

MORE: Season in review: Kevin Harvick

In step Gragson and his former JR Motorsports teammate Josh Berry as the team’s newcomers, joining returning drivers Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece in the four-team stable with an established group of crew and engineers offering their support.

“The pressure hasn’t been really a focus to me. It’s been working my tail off every single day and becoming the best teammate, driver, leader that I can be for the organization,” Gragson said. “They’re a bunch of racers, and they want to win races. Tony, Gene (Haas), Zipadelli — everyone involved, everyone on the shop floor. They want to win races, and I want to win races as well, and we’re working hard to do that.”

Contributing: Cameron Richardson