Noah Gragson disappointed after letting Kentucky victory slip away

Barry Cantrell/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

SPARTA, Ky. — In retrospect, Noah Gragson had much to be proud of after his debut at Kentucky Speedway. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie earned his first stage win, overcame an early spin, beat team owner Kyle Busch and rallied to his second-career top five.

But after scoring a fifth-place finish in Thursday’s Buckle Up in Your Truck 225, Gragson had only two words to describe his day – rookie mistake.

“I’d say rookie mistake if I had to describe this race in a couple words,” Gragson told Kickin’ the Tires. “I felt like we were the best truck here, and should have won that race.”

Gragson appeared to have one of the best trucks in the field once Thursday’s rain-delayed Truck Series race kicked off shortly after 10:00 p.m. ET. The Las Vegas, Nevada native was one of only four drivers to tally points in both stages, finishing ninth in Stage 1 before claiming a Stage 2 victory.

After his stage win, Gragson was one of many to lose positions on pit road after his Kyle Busch Motorsports team elected to take four tires during their stop. The Nevadan was battling for position on Lap 78 when he ran through a large bump on the frontstretch apron, sending his No. 18 Toyota spinning up the track.

“We were really good out front, and I just go too aggressive going down the front straightaway,” Gragson said. “Not running here, I didn’t know that there was a big bump near the start-finish line. I put a wheel into it and just spun out. It was just a really big mistake on my part. I wish I could go back and be a bit more patient, but I’ll learn from that error and go on to the next one.”

Incredibly, Gragson kept his machine on the track’s lower groove, and the entire field avoided him. The 18-year-old lost track position, but continued on with minimal damage.

Marching Forward

Gragson surged through the field to tally his second-career top five. (Photo: Barry Cantrell/NKP)

From there, the rookie’s race became a fight through the field.

After restarting at the back of the field with 68 laps remaining, Gragson began a steady ascent through the field – a feat he admitted proved challenged after the race.

“It’s definitely difficult,” Gragson said. “This track (Kentucky Speedway) is so fast, you’re almost flat out around the whole race track. It just makes it difficult to pass guys here, because there’s so much dirty air and you’re wide open almost the entire time.”

The Toyota prospect took advantage of two additional cautions to rise into the top 10, then made the most of a final 32-lap run to the checkered flag to pass a host of trucks including KBM owner Kyle Busch for his second top-five of the season.

“It’s cool to come home top five after all of the adversity we fought through, coming up through the pack,” Gragson said “But I wish I could’ve gotten our No. 18 Switch team in victory lane.”

Good Points Day

While he didn’t get the finish he’d hoped for, Gragson could take solace in the good points day that came with his sixth-straight top 10.

Playoff bubble drivers Ryan Truex, Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger all crashed out during the 225-mile race, tallying results of 23rd, 27th and 28th, respectively. Those results allowed Gragson to close to within 17 points of the current playoff cutoff, the closest the rookie’s been to joining the postseason field since his early crash out of the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway.

With the playoff berth within reach, Gragson believe the onus is on him to continue racking up solid performances.

“I definitely think it’s big,” Gragson said of his points day. “We’ve fought through a lot of adversity this year with stuff not going our way – being involved with wrecks, parts breaking. It’s really set us behind this year, but we’re staying consistent and knocking off top 10s. We just got our second top five of the year.

“We’ve had speed everywhere we’ve went. Now it’s on me to minimize my mistakes and put our team in a good position at the end of races.”

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