RIDGEWAY, Va. — Saturday’s Alpha Energy Solutions 250 may have marked Noah Gragson’s first-ever start at Martinsville Speedway, but you’d never have known it by watching the way he drove in the closing stages.
He learned quickly that Martinsville — and its drivers — aren’t to be trifled with, after a tangle with Chase Briscoe on lap 100 that sent the Las Vegas teenager spinning out of fifth place in turn two and left any hope of a strong finish in doubt.
But calming down, clearing his head and persevering through the chaos of the day ultimately paid off.
By day’s end, Gragson found himself right in the thick of the battle for the win at the half-mile paper clip, running third and sandwiched in between GMS Racing teammates Chase Elliott and Johnny Sauter for a large portion of the third and final stage after a restart with 68 laps to go.
Lap after lap, the 18-year-old rookie would close briefly on Elliott before falling back into Sauter’s clutches, with an accordion effect keeping the trio in near-lock-step formation and flirting with disaster while Gragson’s KBM teammate Christopher Bell led out front.
But with calculated poise, Gragson eventually allowed Sauter passage with 37 circuits remaining, holding the fourth position until Bell tangled with the slower truck of Austin Cindric to bring out the race’s final caution flag.
While the Las Vegas native didn’t pick up a position in that exchange, he did hold down fourth for the race’s final restart with 12 to go and maintained position all the way to the checkered flag, notching his career-best NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finish in the process.
“I’ll be honest with you, after that spin I thought our day was over,” said Gragson. “We were running in the top five and the 29 (Briscoe) got us in the left-rear and cheap-shotted us. But my guys at Kyle Busch Motorsports — crew guys, pit-stop guys — they didn’t give up on me. We kept fighting till the end and managed to get a fourth-place finish.”
It was a run far beyond what Martinsville traditionally gives to a young rookie in their debut, something that Gragson acknowledged after the race.
“Man, to be here at Martinsville for my first time and finish fourth … it’s amazing. I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “This place is not easy, but it’s a lot of fun and I’d say is my new favorite race track. I’m excited that we get to come back here twice a year, and I can’t wait for the October race.”
“To be racing with Christopher Bell and (Cup regular) Chase Elliott … Johnny Sauter who’s a past (Truck Series) champion, that’s really cool for a rookie like me. It’s something special and I’m just very thankful for the opportunity.”
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