Noah Gragson Daytona Advance
Daytona Advance No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet Camaro
Event: Coke Zero Sugar 400 (Round 26 of 36)
Time/Date: 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday, Aug. 27
Location: Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway
Layout: 2.5-mile oval
Laps/Miles: 160 laps / 400 miles
Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 35 laps / Stage 2: 60 laps / Final Stage: 65 laps
V/Radio: NBC / MRN Radio / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Noah Gragson is set to make his 11th career NASCAR Cup Series start in Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. It will be his second Cup Series start at Daytona and his third with Beard Motorsports. Gragson made his Cup Series debut with Beard Motorsports in this year’s Daytona 500. After starting 39th in the Great American Race, Gragson was running among the top-10 with just 10 laps remaining. But on lap 191, another car lost control and slid into Gragson’s No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet Camaro as the two raced through the frontstretch. Gragson was turned into the wall and his car suffered heavy front-end damage. Gragson was unhurt, but the same could not be said for his racecar. He was unable to continue the race and was ultimately credited with a 31st-place finish.
Gragson returned to Beard Motorsports in April for the GEICO 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. In contrast to Daytona, it was a relatively quiet affair. Gragson finished 20th after getting off sequence during the final round of pit stops and lost the draft. Nonetheless, Gragson did what many of his counterparts could not – bring home a straight racecar. The GEICO 500 featured six caution periods for a total of 28 laps with 13 drivers failing to finish.
Aside from his two races with Beard Motorsports, Gragson has run eight other NASCAR Cup Series races with Kaulig Racing. The collective seat time is already proving beneficial. On Aug. 10, it was announced that Gragson would join Petty GMS Racing in 2023 to compete in the Cup Series fulltime.
Beard Motorsports was the first team to provide Gragson with the opportunity to sample the NASCAR Cup Series. A year before he made his official Cup Series debut in this year’s Daytona 500, Gragson competed for Beard Motorsports in the lead up to the 2021 Daytona 500. As an independent, non-chartered team with no guaranteed starting spot in the Daytona 500, Beard Motorsports had to race its way into the 40-car field via the Duel, a 150-mile qualifying race. Unfortunately, Gragson was collected in a multicar accident just four laps short of his finish in the Duel, which prevented him from advancing to the Daytona 500. With qualifying unavailable at the other superspeedway races in 2021, Beard Motorsports didn’t have the chance to race again. The 2022 Daytona 500 provided that long-sought opportunity for Beard Motorsports to get back to the track and Gragson to get his first career Cup Series start.
That ordeal was another example of the resilience Beard Motorsports has displayed since its NASCAR Cup Series debut in 2017. The generational race team founded by the late Mark Beard Sr., has proven to be the little team that could, a modern-day David competing against the Goliaths of NASCAR. Beard Motorsports has taken a strategic approach to its racing endeavors, running only the superspeedway races at Daytona and its sister track, Talladega. With a Chevrolet Camaro powered by an ECR-built engine, Beard Motorsports can race at the front, a fact proven by a pair of top-10 finishes in 2020 at the hands of former driver Brendan Gaughan – seventh in the Daytona 500 and eighth in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.
What drives Beard Motorsports? Passion. Matriarch Linda Beard, along with her children, carry on the pursuit of their husband and father, respectively, in racing and in business. Beard Motorsports and its family-owned company, Beard Oil Distributing – a certified women owned business – is a distinctive qualifier in the male-dominated sport of auto racing. Linda is hands-on with the race team and was alongside her husband as he pursued his passion of racing at Daytona – first as a NASCAR Xfinity Series driver in 1982 and simultaneously as a team owner. Today, Beard Motorsports competes in his honor. The Coke Zero Sugar 400 will be the team’s milestone 20th career NASCAR Cup Series start and its 10th at Daytona.
While it’s Linda Beard at the top of Beard Motorsports’ masthead, the team is managed with ample support from her children, Amie and Mark Beard Jr., along with help from crew chief Darren Shaw and Gaughan, the former NASCAR Cup Series driver who made 17 of his 67 career Cup Series starts with Beard Motorsports. It was Gaughan who, upon retiring from racing at the conclusion of the 2020 season, tabbed Gragson to be his successor in the No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet Camaro. In addition to both being natives of Las Vegas, Gaughan has observed Gragson’s rise from regional racer to a competitor in NASCAR’s top national touring series.
While Gragson is still relatively new to the NASCAR Cup Series, he is not new to NASCAR. The 24-year-old competes fulltime in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports and 2022 serves as his fourth season in NASCAR’s stepping-stone division to the elite Cup Series. Gragson is an eight-time winner in the Xfinity Series, and he scored his first career victory in the 2020 season opener at Daytona. He is enjoying his best year yet in the Xfinity Series as he has already matched his season-high tally of three wins with 11 races still remaining. In 2021, Gragson won three races and advanced to the Championship 4 where he competed for the series title in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway, finishing a career-high third in points.
Before joining the Xfinity Series fulltime in 2019, Gragson competed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2017 and 2018. He won twice – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in October 2017 and Kansas Speedway in May 2018 – and finished second in the 2018 championship. Those Truck Series results were a continuation of the kind of talent Gragson showcased in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. In 2015 and 2016, Gragson raced in this developmental league, regionally split into two divisions – K&N Pro Series East and K&N Pro Series West. Gragson won six races between the two entities and narrowly missed out on the 2015 West title by a scant seven points.
Noah Gragson, Driver of the No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet Camaro
Beard Motorsports has helped you get established in the NASCAR Cup Series, as you made your first career Cup Series start with them in this year’s Daytona 500. How helpful has your time with Beard Motorsports been as you prepared for the other Cup Series starts you’ve made this year?
“The Beard Family gave me my first shot in Cup, Mr. and Mrs. Beard, Amie Beard and Mark Beard Jr. The whole family, you can’t say enough about them, they’ve really taken a chance on me. Darren Shaw (crew chief), really, they’ve got one employee over there, so it’s pretty special to be able to go there and be competitive. I can’t thank Brendan Gaughan and the Beard family and Darren Shaw enough for the opportunity that they’ve given me to drive their car. Really, starting back at the beginning of 2021, they went out on a limb with Brendan retiring, and to be that next guy for them, it’s a privilege to be able to drive their car and, most importantly, I’m just very thankful for the relationship that I have with them and the memories we’ve made.”
You now have 10 career NASCAR Cup Series starts under your belt, all with the NextGen car. What is it like to drive that car compared to the Xfinity Series car you race fulltime?
“There are differences just with the car itself. I’ve noticed you have to drive it a lot straighter than the Xfinity car, but I’ve gained more and more experience and more and more confidence each and every race. We’re a little behind just because these guys get to race them each and every week. Every gain that I’ve made during each of my 10 starts this year, they’ve been making them every week and can re-adapt to that week in and week out. It’s a little bit challenging, but I feel like I’ve gotten a better feel for it than I had at the beginning of the season.”
Is the level of competition higher in the NASCAR Cup Series?
“I think if everything is going right, it’s not that much different than an Xfinity race, but I think restarts have been the biggest challenge for me. On these tracks, everyone is so aggressive – that’s the best way I can explain the difference between Xfinity and Cup. My best five restarts I’ve had in my career, that’s what these guys are doing on every restart, so you definitely have to be on your gain. A little bit of the struggle has been aero for me, and learning the position of the car in the corner in traffic is a lot different. I think we’re capable of running with these guys, and doing it is just a matter of having all the puzzle pieces come together.”
You’ve made two superspeedway starts with Beard Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series. What did you learn from the Daytona 500 that you were able to apply at Talladega, and how have both of those races shaped your approach for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 Saturday night at Daytona?
“You can’t get caught up in the wreck, but you’ve got to stay in the draft. And especially the green-flag pit stops, they’re an opportunity to mess up, but you have to have fast pit stops. The biggest struggle with superspeedway racing is just staying on the lead lap and making it to the end and having good pit strategies.”
You recently announced that you’ll compete in the NASCAR Cup Series fulltime next year with Petty GMS Racing. With the slate of Cup Series races you’re running this year, do you feel like you’re in a much better position to succeed next year because of the seat time you’re getting this year with the NextGen car?
“I think the opportunity with Beard Motorsports and Kaulig Racing have helped. I know how raw I was getting into the Cup car to start the season and how much I’ve learned since then with more experience. That’s definitely been a big help. And with these guys having a full season under their belt this year, if I were to hop in cold turkey next year, it’d definitely be a lot more challenging. But just getting the understanding of the car and how they feel and the level of competition, all of that has helped.”
Explain drafting with the NextGen cars, and what do you have to do to put yourself in a position at the end of the race to challenge for the win?
“They’re pretty close on drafting, both the Xfinity cars and the Cup cars, their packages, just how you get your runs. The guys are a lot smarter and make bigger, more aggressive moves, for the most part. You’re just racing against really well-prepared guys and smart guys, and I’ve enjoyed that processes of bettering myself and preparing myself going into the weekend. We’ll keep on trying to learn and stay out of the trouble and go from there.”
For those guys around you who are racing for a playoff spot, do you race them differently, or do you treat them all the same, as you’re there to win too?
“I think you want to be considerate of those guys, but the most important thing for us is making it to the end of the race and then having a shot to win and really being smart. This year, trying to gain respect from the other competitors and not doing anything dumb – I think if we take that mindset, it doesn’t really change between playoff guys and non-playoff guys – it’s about getting that experience and getting that respect.”