MOORESVILLE, N.C. — After winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona Int’l Speedway in February, Noah Gragson noted “the stress of making the playoffs just melted away.”
That lack of stress was evident on Tuesday morning when Gragson addressed reporters during Xfinity Series Playoff Media Day, as the 22-year-old carried a big smile into his press availability and cracked several jokes along the way.
Chief among Gragson’s humor was his readily-apparent “playoff beard,” which Gragson told SPEED SPORT was “partially from spending time with (Bass Pro Shops CEO) Johnny Morris” recently.
“I have to start my playoff beard about two years in advance just to get a little bit of a shadow going there,” Gragson quipped. “I can’t really grow a beard that well, so I have to start it early.
“I just kind of had some fun with it, you know? Johnny and Bass Pro Shops, Rusty Sellers at True Timber and Mat (Best, EVP) and Evan (Hafer, CEO) from Black Rifle Coffee … they all really allow me to be myself and have fun with it; they don’t put a ton of guidelines or restrictions on me in that regard,” Gragson noted. “I’m lucky to have them as great partners and it’s been a lot of fun to work with them this year.
“I don’t know if it’s a playoff beard, if I’ll keep it or have to shave it the day before the race and start growing it, but I like hockey and they grow beards and stuff. I don’t know; we’ll see where it goes.”
Gragson was a two-time winner during the regular season, scoring at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in June and at Daytona. He accrued 19 top-10 finishes in the first 26 races.
Not having to worry about his playoff eligibility through the summer months and building his team’s consistency has Gragson as relaxed as he’s ever been heading into a potential championship run.
“We’re really confident in ourselves right now and these tracks at the start of the playoffs,” Gragson noted. “The races leading into the playoffs were pretty decent for us, but I feel like now that we’re getting into the playoffs, there’s a lot of really good race tracks for myself and our team. I have full confidence in Dave Elenz, my crew chief, and the rest of the team.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been, like a family, and it’s really showing,” Gragson continued. “I feel like we have a lot of confidence in each other and a lot of confidence in our race cars. Everyone is working really hard … and overall, I think we’re ready to go after a couple of weeks that maybe haven’t been up to our standards. We know that we can turn it around, though, when times have been rough.
“I’m as excited as anyone on our team and ready to get to the track to show what we’re worth.”
Despite the fact Gragson has been shut out of victory lane since June 1, he’s riding a streak of four consecutive top-eight finishes into the playoffs and believes his squad is finding its stride once again.
“There’s some things that we need to clean up as a team and a few things we really need to focus on, but I’m very, very confident in this team — like I said earlier — and I believe we have the capability to be a contender (for the championship),” Gragson explained. “I know where we’ve been, and I know who we are. With that being said, this team is becoming who we need it to be. Obviously, we can be better, and we always strive to be better, but right now I’m pretty happy with where we’re at.”
Gragson knows his JR Motorsports No. 9 team has experience winning Xfinity Series titles — having done so with Chase Elliott in 2014, William Byron in 2017 and Tyler Reddick in 2018 — but he also knows that winning a championship isn’t the only thing that will define his season.
He’s approaching the playoffs one race at a time and taking a big-picture approach for the next seven weeks.
“I’d consider a successful playoff for us to be winning races and doing the best job we can,” Gragson said. “It comes down to (having) no mistakes on our end, as a race team. Whether that’s myself as a driver, not making mistakes on the race track, or not taking ourselves out of contention with mistakes on pit road, we just have to execute all the way around. The guys have a lot of experience, Dave Elenz is a great leader and a great mentor for myself, and I’m fully committed to this race team.
“If we do everything possible to be the best ourselves, we can’t do any better,” Gragson continued. “I’m not really results-driven, I’m more execution-driven and making sure things are perfect on that side.”
The NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs begin Saturday at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway, Gragson’s home track.
The 22-year-old is a native of Sin City and grew up racing at the three-eighths-mile short track known as The Bullring across the street from LVMS.