Gragson eager for ‘mile-and-a-half season’ for the first time

Noah Gragson sees a month of opportunity ahead for his Stewart-Haas Racing team.

“For the most part, I’m really happy with our mile-and-a-half program,” Gragson said this week ahead of the AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway. “I used to not look forward to the mile-and-a-halfs and just wanted to go to the short tracks, but now I’m super pumped up for the next handful of weeks. I’ve been calling it mile-and-a-half season because we’ve got Kansas, and then Darlington is a faster track where you can move around. You’ve got the Coke 600 (at Charlotte).

“I’m really excited for the month of May.”

Knowing what was ahead, Gragson and his team were focused on “just trying to get through” last weekend’s race at Dover with a top 15 day. But Gragson’s No. 10 Ford Mustang Dark Horse carried the banner for Stewart-Haas with a career-best qualifying effort (fifth) and a top-10 finish (sixth). He was the only Stewart-Haas driver to finish inside the top 10.


Gragson has finished third and sixth in the last two NASCAR Cup Series races. It would not be a surprise to see him continue the streak at Kansas Speedway, considering how the intermediate racetracks have been a strength for his team.

“I really love short tracks and felt like I struggled on the intermediates,” Gragson said. “Now I feel like the intermediates are my strong suit and the short tracks are the weakness, so I don’t exactly know why that’s flip-flopped, but we had a strong run in Las Vegas. We were fast in practice and then [I] was super easy and didn’t drive the car hard enough in qualifying, so we qualified 30th. But we worked our way up throughout the race and were able to make passes.

“In Texas, we were pretty strong and probably were going to pan out seventh and then the caution came out during the [pit] cycle, so that was a bit frustrating getting back in the pack and not having the track position at the end if it went green.”

Gragson finished sixth in Las Vegas, the highest-running Stewart-Haas Racing driver, but it was an 18th-place finish at Texas. Las Vegas and Texas have been the only traditional mile-and-a-half races so far this season.

If the month goes as well as Gragson anticipates, it will continue propelling him upward in the point standings. Gragson is 21st after 11 races with four top-10 finishes. However, his team lost 35 points after the second race of the year when Gragson’s car and teammate Ryan Preece’s car were found to have illegal roof rail deflectors.

The goal has been stage points for Gragson and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer. It’s the area where teammate Chase Briscoe has excelled, and Briscoe is sitting 12th in the standings. To grab stage points, Gragson knows that starts with qualifying well and his team has prioritized such in recent weeks.

“I’m really happy with where we’re at, and we’re still fine-tuning and developing our process on our preparation and the communication between Drew and I,” Gragson said. “It’s hard for him having a new driver because he doesn’t know how I explain things, and I don’t know what adjustments he typically makes. So we’re just building our notebook. When we’re able to go back to these racetracks for a second and third time, our notebook just gets better.”

The time between practice and qualifying this early in the season has been crucial for Gragson and Blickensderfer to gel on their language when making adjustments. Gragson’s number scale for how the car is handling might have meant something different for Blickensderfer when working with previous driver Aric Almirola.

“For the most part, I’m happy with where we’re at,” Gragson said. “I’ve been making a lot of steps with the help of Drew — just as a driver with growth week in and week out.”

Story originally appeared on Racer