Noah Gragson speaks during media day ahead of Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Cup Series championship auto race Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
If you’re wondering why Noah Gragson grew a beard — or at least tried to — during his run to Saturday night’s NASCAR Xfinity Series championship race, look no further than his hometown hockey team.
“I’m a big Golden Knights fan, and they grow their playoff beards,” said the 23-year-old Las Vegan, one of four drivers who will race for the title in stock car racing’s top development series at the fast one-mile Phoenix Raceway oval.
After he raced his way into the Championship 4 with a do-or-die victory at Martinsville, Virginia, last week, Gragson received a mostly congratulatory text from ex-Cup Series driver and fellow Las Vegan Brendan Gaughan.
“He was like that ugly beard’s got to go,” Gragson said during Thursday’s championship media day in Arizona. “I wish I could grow a good one, but yeah, it’s like hockey, guys.”
Gragson said he got a haircut before his hometown race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September, and that was when he decided to grow a NASCAR playoff beard. He said win or lose Saturday night, he’s looking forward to a shave.
In keeping with the analogy, he qualified for his first Xfinity Championship race by a whisker.
Gragson still was on the outside looking in during overtime at Martinsville when he passed Daniel Hemric to take the lead in a must-win scenario. He then held off defending series champion Austin Cindric in a second overtime session to win by .064 seconds — the closest Xfinity Series finish ever at Martinsville.
“That’s kind of what these last three years have been about, preparing for this moment,” Gragson, 23, said about joining Cindric, Hemric and regular-season Xfinity champion AJ Allmendinger in a one-race showdown for the title.
It’s his first Championship 4 in three seasons since joining JR Motorsports, the marquee team headed by former NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“We’ve got good confidence coming into the weekend,” said Gragson, whose three race wins this season have come over his past nine starts. “Last weekend’s win was huge with all the pressure, but this is the biggest stage I’ve ever been on. You’d be lying if you said you weren’t at least a little bit nervous.”
RETWEET TO CONGRATULATE NOAH GRAGSON ON HIS MARTINSVILLE WIN! pic.twitter.com/0U4cHNFTp6 — FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) October 31, 2021
“I wanna cry right now.” An emotional @NoahGragson explains his feelings after his #Championship4 clinching win at @MartinsvilleSwy! pic.twitter.com/PBNFdOySKz — NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) October 31, 2021
Contact Ron Kantowski at [email protected] or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.