Notes of Interest
● Noah Gragson is set to make his 14th career NASCAR Cup Series start in Sunday’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. It will be his second Cup Series start at Talladega and his fourth and final with Beard Motorsports. Gragson has turned a career year in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – where he has a series-leading seven wins, including a record-tying four in a row coming into Talladega – into a fulltime drive in the Cup Series in 2023 with Petty GMS Racing.
● Gragson has been on an upward trajectory every time he has climbed behind the wheel of the No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet Camaro. The 24-year-old Las Vegas-native 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 machine 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. 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. His third and most recent race with Beard Motorsports was the Aug. 28 Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, and it resulted in the best Cup Series result for Gragson and for Beard Motorsports. Gragson finished fifth after threading his way through four multicar accidents that collected an eye-popping 28 cars.
● Gragson’s fifth-place drive five weeks ago at Daytona was his best in 13 career Cup Series starts. In his 10 Cup Series starts prior to the Coke Zero Sugar 400, Gragson’s best finish was 18th on May 15 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
● Gragson’s fifth-place performance at Daytona was also the best result for Beard Motorsports since the team’s NASCAR Cup Series debut in 2017. The effort came in the organization’s 20th Cup Series start and its 10th at Daytona. Its previous best result also came at Daytona – a pair of seventh-place finishes in the 2017 Coke Zero 400 and the 2020 Daytona 500, both with former driver Brendan Gaughan.
● 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 an example of the resilience Beard Motorsports has displayed since its NASCAR Cup Series debut in the 2017 Daytona 500 where Gaughan drove to a respectable 11th-place finish. 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 recently proven by Gragson when he finished fifth in this year’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, one-upping a pair of top-10 finishes in 2020 at the hands of former driver 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 YellaWood 500 will be the team’s 21st career NASCAR Cup Series start and its 10th at Talladega.
● 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 Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports (JRM) and 2022 serves as his fourth season in NASCAR’s stepping-stone division to the elite Cup Series. Gragson is a 12-time winner in the Xfinity Series, and he scored his first career victory in the 2020 season opener at Daytona. He is currently enjoying his best year yet in the Xfinity Series. He has seven wins so far this season with six races still remaining, easily surpassing his previous season-high tally of three wins, earned last year when Gragson advanced all the way 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.
● The No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet Camaro sports a touch of pink this weekend at Talladega. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Beard Motorsports is doing its part to highlight the annual initiative that raises overall awareness as well preventative measures. Breast cancer is a disease that affects both men and women, and it is among the most common cancers. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. Next year, new breast cancer diagnoses are expected to number more than 200,000 for women and more than 2,000 for men. Family and friends of Beard Motorsports who have battled breast cancer are being recognized on the TV panel of the No. 62 Chevrolet. Their names are Debra Bell, Marcia Funnell, Sara Resnick, Rachelle Palazzolo, Linda Elliott, Sue Puryear, Diane Feldwisch, Linda Young and Kate Shuttleworth.
Noah Gragson, Driver of the No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet Camaro
You scored a fifth-place finish in your last outing with Beard Motorsports in the regular-season finale at Daytona. That race had some chaotic moments and you not only managed to be there at the end, but capitalized on the opportunity. Walk us through some of the moments in that race where you had to make split-second decisions, where you zigged while others zagged, that ultimately put you in a strong position at the end of the race.
“I definitely had a lot of luck. I didn’t initially have a car capable of contending, so I just rode around in the back and waited for them to wreck. The way we were handling all day – the front tires were bouncing around the racetrack – I was super tight, so I couldn’t hold it wide open. But then we got the red flag for rain and before the race went back to green while we were still under caution, we were able to work on the car and kind of diagnose it during that rain delay. It really made it a lot better when we went back racing. I know there were fewer cars on the track, but it was like a completely different car and we were a contender. I guess the wreck before the red flag was pretty hairy, but other than that, we didn’t really get racing until after that red flag, and it ended up working out for us.”
It was a Las Vegas native in Gaughan who teed up this opportunity to drive for Beard Motorsports. Prior to you coming on board, Gaughan was responsible for Beard’s best Cup Series results – a pair of seventh-place finishes in the 2017 Coke Zero 400 and the 2020 Daytona 500. You one-upped him with your fifth-place finish at Daytona. Does that give you bragging rights in your hometown, or at least some good-natured ribbing between the two of you?
“No. Brendan is someone I really look up to. Just fortunate to be able to be friends with him.”
The old adage of to finish first, one must first finish, was definitely on display at Daytona in the regular-season finale. That applies to all kinds of racing, but is it particularly accurate when it comes to racing at Talladega and Daytona?
“It kind of depends on how we’re running, and the handling of the car and the speed of our car, no matter which superspeedway it is. Obviously, you want to finish the race, but you have to learn. If you want to have a shot at winning the race, you need to be spending that time throughout the race racing the whole time, learning where your strong suits are. You might be able to go get a top-10 finish, but if it’s up to me and my car’s good, I want to race the whole time. If you do make it to the end, you know what you’ve got. You’re not trying to figure it out in the last two or three laps when you’re trying to make your runs. You already know where your car is strong and where it’s not. For me, I’d rather just go up there and race every lap as hard as I can.”
Before the race even starts, do you talk with other drivers about how you can help them and how they can help you?
“I just try to haul ass out there and see who else is fast, and try to beat the rest of them.”
You’re having a career year with seven wins in the Xfinity Series and already a top-five finish in just 11 NASCAR Cup Series starts. How helpful has your limited Cup Series schedule been in making you have such a strong season in the Xfinity Series?
“It all helps. The time in the Xfinity car helps when I’m in the Cup car, and the time in the Cup car helps when I’m in the Xfinity car. Just all of it. I’m very grateful and fortunate for the opportunity to race with a bunch of teams this year and I’m definitely enjoying my time behind the wheel with Beard Motorsports.”
Talladega will mark your final race with Beard Motorsports before you embark on your first fulltime season in the Cup Series next year with Petty GMS Racing. How has the experience been, and do you feel better prepared for next season because of the time you’ve put in this year?
“Yeah, definitely. You’ve got time behind the wheel, so you don’t go into next year with question marks about this new car. You have a somewhat more realistic idea of what the thing feels like. So, just going in with some experience is definitely a benefit.”
Your Xfinity Series team owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has always talked about how proud he is of JRM drivers who get the opportunity to move up to Cup. What’s some of the advice he’s given you this year, especially at the superspeedways, and also for next year as you take the next step in your racing career?
“He’s helped me with superspeedway racing and racing the Xfinity car, but more just learning a ton from him over the years about being a better person and navigating challenges in life. Those are the things that stick out in my mind – the times that I’ve gotten to lean on him for advice. To be able to lean on him in certain life situations has been a great help to myself, and it’s something I’m very grateful for.”