BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Noah Gragson will pilot a second car for Jefferson Pitts Racing during the $30,000-to-win, third annual SRL Southwest Tour Winter Showdown, Feb. 9-11 at Kern County Raceway Park.
The 18-year-old Las Vegas native, who will compete full-time in the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports, joins teammate and former NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Greg Pursley in the JPR stable.
Gragson has been a part of both prior Winter Showdowns, saying that his prior experience at the event will be a boost as he searches for his first victory in the now-annual crown jewel event.
“This will be my third time running this race, and they say that the third time’s the charm, right?” Gragson told Race Chaser Online. “I’m really looking forward to it. I think last year we had a car capable of winning, so I’d love a chance to prove what we’ve got and finally check the Winter Showdown off my to-do list.”
In the inaugural race in 2015, Gragson cut a right rear tire in morning practice on Friday and pounded the turn three wall, destroying the rear of the car and leaving his participation in the race in doubt. However, a quick rebuild from Victory Circle Chassis allowed Gragson and his crew to make it back to the track later that day, transfer into the feature through the final qualifying race and ultimately finish 12th.
Last year, a strong showing across the weekend saw the teenager and NASCAR Next alumni finish fifth after contending for the win all race long.
So what’s the goal this year?
It’s simple: just win.
“I think we’re going to be pretty good this year; if last year was any indication then speed won’t be an issue, at least,” Gragson explained. “I’m hoping to test with the team the week before the race, so that we can get the setup down and be ready to go. I really, really want to win this race badly. After the way the last two years have gone, that’s our main focus this time around.”
Gragson added that having a fast car at Kern is truly a team effort, as opposed to a situation where the driver can eke out extra speed from an ill-handling car.
“You really have to have a good setup to be fast at Kern. That’s where it comes down to the team and where they’re so vital. There’s not one thing that it takes to have a fast race car … the team has to be firing on all cylinders and have everything right, otherwise it’s just a long day.”
“The track is tricky and very fast, so obviously the driver has to be on their game too, but the team is everything in a longer race like this. I think going back there with some knowledge will really help both me and (crew chief) Jeff Jefferson to figure out what we need and hopefully it’ll pay off for us.”
Having an experienced teammate in former K&N West champion Pursley, who won the first two K&N races ever held at the Kern County half-mile, doesn’t hurt either.
“It’s awesome to have a shot to race alongside Greg,” Gragson added. “I had the chance to be teammates with him in 2015 at Phoenix when he came back on a one-off deal … but I didn’t really know him at all. I had only met him one time prior to that race. Getting to know him since then, talking to him over the phone and picking his brain on some of the different tracks we’ve been to has really helped me.”
“He’s won two K&N races at Kern and has a pretty good program going, with all the help he’s given to Jeff and Jerry, so hopefully all that will be a boost to both of us and we can both be contending for the win at the end of 250 laps in February.”
Two weeks after the Winter Showdown, Gragson will turn his focus to the first race of his full-time Truck Series career, the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
With that fact in mind, the rising star was appreciative of having at least one more chance to race for the team that catapulted him into the national spotlight, after they scored four K&N Pro Series wins together between the East and the West in 2016.
“I started my stock car career with them (Jefferson Pitts), and to be able to have one last hurrah … I don’t want to say it’ll be the last time we race together, because I hope to be running some more races with them in the future, but I don’t know exactly what the plan for that is right now. I thought when I ran with them in Las Vegas at the end of this year that it would be my last race with them, but this deal will be pretty cool.”
“Whatever happens, whether it’s later this year, next year or somewhere down the road, I’m looking forward to racing with these guys again in the future.”
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as both the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series and the co-track announcer at Millbridge Speedway.
Email Jacob at: [email protected]
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