July 18, 2024

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Noah Gragson Joins Front Row Motorsports After Stewart-Haas Racing Shuts Down

Noah Gragson Joins Front Row Motorsports After Stewart-Haas Racing Shuts Down

Noah Gragson admits that after learning in late May that Stewart-Haas Racing would close at the end of the current NASCAR season, it was a heavy burden on him regarding what he would do next year. He believed he had found a home at Stewart-Haas Racing and proven that he deserved a spot in the Cup Series.

The anxiety and stress that Gragson experienced is gone. On Wednesday, Front Row Motorsports announced that it has signed Gragson to a multi-year contract to join its Cup team beginning in the 2025 season.

“I probably let it consume me more than I needed to in the last month and a half or two,” Gragson said. The athlete“It’s gotten to the point where I feel like I’m constantly thinking about what’s going to happen next year and it’s hard for me to concentrate, because a lot of my time, effort and energy is spent talking about what’s going to happen next year, and that’s detracting from my performance on the track.

“I feel like I’m fully focused on racing again, which is good, now that we’ve signed this deal and I can go back and focus on whatever it takes to win on Sundays.”

As Gragson weighed potential opportunities, what caught his eye about Front Row was how the Bob Jenkins-owned team had made significant performance gains in recent years.

Front Row won the 2021 Daytona 500 with Michael McDowell to earn a playoff spot. McDowell followed it up with a more consistent season the following year, then won a second time during the 2023 season to once again qualify for the playoffs. In 2024—Front Row’s first as a Ford-backed, top-tier team in a technical alliance with two-time Cup champion Team Penske—McDowell has the speed to win a handful of races (though he has yet to win), while third-year teammate Todd Gilliland is having the best season of his career.

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“(Gregson) must have seen this as a good, viable option to be in a really competitive (car) for years to come,” said Front Row General Manager Jerry Freese. “We’re grateful for that.” The athlete.

“Obviously his performance on the track speaks for itself with the success he has had in the Truck Series and then in the Xfinity Series. We think he is a complete package to come to Front Row Motorsports and build a good program around him for years to come.”

Based on performance alone, the front row was a good option for Gragson. But what also stood out was the stability factor.

As the 25-year-old went through the free agency process in an attempt to find a team that would be his fourth in four years, he sought a place where he knew he was committed to staying in NASCAR while also being able to provide the structure he felt he needed to succeed on the track. He didn’t want to go through the turmoil he went through when SHR co-owner Tony Stewart told him the team was closing.

“The most important thing was to find a place where I could run for many years and get my feet and make it my home,” Gragson said.

Through his words and actions, Jenkins’ commitment to NASCAR team ownership is clear.

A day after SHR announced it would sell all four of its leased cars, the equivalent of NASCAR perks that guarantee their owners certain financial rewards, Front Row announced it had bought a third leased car for between $20 million and $25 million, according to people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly. You don’t commit that much money without planning to stay.

“Bob is committed to the sport, and to see him really invest in their charter shows his willingness to invest in the growth of the team and continue to build it,” Gragson said. “I see their growth every year and I want to be a part of that cycle with them in that building process.”

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The fact that Gragson has signed confirms that Front Row will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. Pursuing a talent like Gragson is a departure from the way the team typically operates, often signing veteran drivers with ample opportunity for team-friendly deals or promoting from within as it did when it elevated Gilliland three years ago from the Truck Series program to Cup.

“I don’t know if we’re in a position to do that, either financially or with the support we’ve had at Front Row,” Freese said. “Knowing that we’re on a top-tier Ford platform, having a long-standing relationship with Ford and the alliance with Penske gives us a great opportunity to get someone like Noah early in his career with a lot of upside and some impressive credentials up to this point.”

But the signing of Gragson, like the Front Row team which is now one of the most heavily backed teams by Ford, indicates how much Front Row wants to continue to build on its recent successes.

Front Row plans to expand its lineup to three full-time teams in 2025. With McDowell leaving for Spire Motorsport, Front Row’s driver lineup will consist of Gilliland, who himself signed a multi-year contract extension last month, Gragson and a third driver who the team has yet to settle on but hopes to do so by August 1.

“It’s definitely more fun to go to the racetrack when you have the opportunity to have a good day than just being there,” Freeze said. “It’s been a refresher for me personally, and for the whole organization. I think it adds credibility all the time.”

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With Gragson now on board, the next task for Front Row is to finalize sponsorships and who will serve as his crew chief, neither of which was announced Wednesday.

If it were up to Gragson, he would prefer his current boss, Drew Blickensderfer, to succeed him at SHR. The veteran Blickensderfer has built a strong relationship with Gragson, providing leadership and a calming presence. Blickensderfer, who was McDowell’s chief of staff at Front Row for three years, is on the list of candidates, Frese said.

Who will be Gragson’s chief of staff is a detail that will be ironed out in the coming weeks and months. The big decision was to hire Gragson, a decision that gave him a much-needed sense of relief.

“I probably let him consume me more than I needed to let him consume me, I mean he should have consumed me but not as much as he did,” Gragson said. “I don’t want to say I was worried, it’s just, ‘Hey, what are the different options out there?’

“In almost everything I do, I feel like I’m like, ‘Is this going to help me or hurt me?’ Whether it’s the guys on the track that I have certain relationships with, different organizations that are considering me (possibly signing me) and what if I race with this guy and compete with him, is that going to affect something? So having it all definitely allowed me to take a lot of that weight off my shoulders and focus on what I can control, and that’s inside the race car.”

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(Photo: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)