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NASCAR’s Noah Gragson enjoys racing for Stewart-Haas after suspension | NASCAR | Sports

NASCAR’s Noah Gragson enjoys racing for Stewart-Haas after suspension | NASCAR | Sports

Noah Gragson said there was a time last year when he stopped getting his hopes up. He wasn’t sure where, or if, he was going to be racing in the NASCAR Cup Series this year.

The Las Vegas native’s rookie campaign with Legacy Motor Club was cut short when NASCAR indefinitely suspended Gragson in August after he liked an insensitive meme with a photo of George Floyd, a Black man murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020.

Gragson ultimately requested that Legacy release him from his contract so he could focus on the reinstatement process.

“It’s been really eye-opening, and it’s been a big growing opportunity,” Gragson said. “Spending time away from the track, I’ve gotten to self-reflect and just work on myself. It’s probably been the best thing for me.”

NASCAR reinstated Gragson in September, and he was announced as the driver for Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 Ford in the Cup Series for 2024. Gragson will start 30th in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 25-year-old said the past several months have been a big change in his life, but a “positive” change.

“I have a different view and different appreciation — I might have lost that appreciation for the sport and maybe my love for it when times weren’t so good,” Gragson said. “To be able to come back, regain my love for the sport, I’m just grateful to be here.

“It sucks watching on the couch, and to be able to be back, it’s a special moment. We’re going to take (this opportunity) by the horns and take advantage of it.”

Gragson is last in the Cup Series point standings at minus-6 following a 35-point penalty for an infraction with his car’s roof rail deflections that were confiscated following a pre-qualifying inspection last week at Atlanta. Gragson opened the season with a ninth-place finish in the Daytona 500 and finished 36th last week.

While Gragson was suspended, he took part in diversity and inclusion training as mandated by NASCAR to become reinstated. He also sought self-help from a psychiatrist to deal with the everyday pressures of being a racecar driver and find a work-life balance.

“I knew I needed to be better,” Gragson said. “There’s a lot of pressure on a driver. There’s a lot of challenges that come that way — not even away from the racetrack. You get caught up in work, and I had never found balance in my life. I had never probably never truly found who I was.”

After meeting with Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart and competition director Greg Zipadelli, Gragson said the atmosphere at the team suits who he is.

“I really fit in over here. I feel a lot more comfortable,” Gragson said. “I feel a lot more happy and confident in myself. That starts with a good team and a good foundation.”

Stewart said in December that Gragson “deserves to be in the NASCAR Cup Series, and we’re very happy to have him. Noah has performed at every level where he’s competed and has regularly been in championship contention. That’s the kind of driver we need at Stewart-Haas, and that’s why Noah is a part of our team.”

Gragson began his racing career at age 13 in the shadows of turns 1 and 2 of LVMS at The Bullring, a three-eighths-mile short track, running Bandolero, Legend Cars and Late Models cars.

Gragson said leaning on his family the last several months has helped him grow.

“It’s really special when you come back here and race, and to be able to have a bunch of family and friends out to the racetrack and have that support on the racetrack and away,” Gragson said. “Behind closed doors, my mom has been my biggest supporter. I’m really grateful for her, and it’s just special to have them in my corner.”

Contact Alex Wright at [email protected]. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

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