The win was a culmination of the hard work put in the second half of the year that began to show everybody the capabilities of the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver. From qualifying in the top-five to contending for victories at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and ISM Raceway, the final three months of the season caused people to take a second glance when they thought about Gragson.
But that wasn’t always the story, as the first half of the year wasn’t as smooth. Although the Las Vegas native posted nine top-10’s in the first 14 races, there was also three finishes of 20th or worse. Some of those solid performances involved fighting back from adversity, including a couple of mid-race incidents.
Now looking back, Gragson says it was a product of trying too hard.
“I think I was trying maybe a little too hard at the beginning of the season, just knowing the opportunity I was in, driving with Kyle Busch Motorsports,” he said. “They’re obviously the top dog in the Truck Series. You always hear when are you going to get that first win, so I think that got to me a little bit, and I was trying super hard.”
With having proven he can get the job done, a relaxed approach has brought success for Gragson, and a renewed focus for 2018. Rather than maybe going over that edge merely trying to get one more position, consistency is the key entering the year, in wanting to complete every lap.
“If I can finish all the laps and finish in the top-five a majority of the time, it’s going to be a good year, and then we’ll be able to build on that, and the wins will come,” he said. “To finish first you’ve got to first finish. That’s the way I’m looking at it right now, and I’m just looking to leave nothing on the table. Preparation is everything in this sport, so it’s going to be key this year preparing, being physically fitter, eating healthier, all that kind of stuff comes into play.”
There will be a bit of a change, though, as he will have a new crew chief. After working with Marcus Richmond last year, Gragson will enter this year partnered with Rudy Fugle. Fugle’s success with Kyle Busch Motorsports has been significant, leading championship charges with Erik Jones and Christopher Bell.
Although admitting there are big shoes to fill, Gragson admits the switch is bittersweet.
“I’m very thankful to be able to work with (crew chief) Marcus Richmond and the team last year, and am very appreciative of the things they taught me,” he said. “But also moving on into the future, I’m looking ahead, and it’s a great opportunity to be able to work with Rudy. He’s kind of the head guy over at Kyle Busch Motorsports, so it’s a good thing to be working with him. But definitely can’t take it for granted what I’ve learned with the past crew chief Marcus Richmond and the team.”
Kyle Busch Motorsports has shown in the past their ability to develop young drivers, in harnessing their skills and turning them into winners.
Bell is probably the most prominent example as when he first entered the truck series, he had the speed – but sometimes pushed the envelope a little too far, ending up in the garage early rather than a top-five. However, over the course of last season, Fugle was able to rein him in, and ultimately put together a charge towards the end of the season that saw him make the Championship 4. Those lessons were showcased in year two, hoisting the title at year’s end.
Gragson has now shown the speed and ability. If Fugle can put together the same pieces once again, there could be another crown right around the corner.
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