Noah Gragson leads SHR contingent at Daytona in perhaps a sign of better days ahead

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 19: Noah Gragson, driver of the #10 Black Rifle Coffee/Ranger Boats Ford, pits during the NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2024 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Noah Gragson made a strong statement in his return to the NASCAR Cup series in Monday’s season opening Daytona 500.

The driver who was suspended and ultimately released from Legacy Motor Club last season made his third start for his new team, and his first in a full race. His second outing with Stewart-Haas Racing came in the previous Thursday night’s Duel race where he started eighth but crashed out on lap 49 of 60.

Forced to a backup car for the 500, Gragson started in 38th of the 40 entries. He would avoid trouble and led his first laps at Daytona, five. And unlike his Duel race he avoided much the carnage of a late race melee that involved a total of 22 cars.

“We came down there at the end,” Gragson said. “We led some laps early but we came down there at the end to fix some damage right before the final restart. We didn’t have a whole lot of area to go but I guess it is better than being wrecked.”

Avoiding that pileup resulted in Gragson being the highest finishing Ford coming home ninth.

“Overall, we will take a top-10,” he said. “We kind of got pinned on the bottom and didn’t have a lot of room to go and then the race ended. I feel so good being behind the wheel. This whole Stewart Haas team did a great job, especially getting the backup car going.”

The result was good news for Gragson and the SHR team, who went winless in 2023. It was Gragson’s best finish in the Daytona 500, much improved from his 24th place last year.

It was punctuated by the 10th place finish of Chase Briscoe, Gragson’s SHR teammate.

The finish gave Briscoe his second top-10 in seven career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Daytona.

“That was a weird race,” Briscoe said. “It seems like every time we run these superspeedways it turns into more and more of a fuel-mileage race. I thought we would be OK there at the end and we had to start 12th or 13th on the restart, and it was hard to do anything. We were all kind of bottled up.”

The two top 10s could also mark the start of better races ahead for the team.

“Coming out of here with a 10th-place finish and missing the wrecks and not being in a huge points whole is nice,” Briscoe said. “We have to play the same game next week at Atlanta and, hopefully, we can do it again, but a couple of spots better.”


Greg Engle