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Noah Gragson joining Front Row Motorsports after Stewart-Haas Racing closure


Noah Gragson joining Front Row Motorsports after Stewart-Haas Racing closure

Noah Gragson admits that in the immediate aftermath of learning in late May that Stewart-Haas Racing would be closing at the end of the current NASCAR season it weighed on him what he’d be doing next year. He thought he had both found a home at SHR and proven himself deserving of a spot in the Cup Series.

The worry and angst Gragson experienced is no more. On Wednesday, Front Row Motorsports announced it had signed Gragson to a multiyear contract to join its Cup team beginning with the 2025 season.

“I probably let it consume me more than I needed to in the last month-and-a-half, two months,” Gragson told The Athletic. “It kind of got to the point where I’m like, ‘Man, I’m thinking about this stuff constantly on what’s going to happen next year and it’s hard for me to focus’ because a lot of my time, effort and energy is more spent talking about what’s going to happen next year and it’s taken away from my on-track performance.

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

As Gragson weighed potential opportunities, what jumped out to him about Front Row was how the Bob Jenkins-owned team had made big performance gains in recent years.

Front Row won the 2021 Daytona 500 with Michael McDowell to earn a playoff spot. McDowell followed with an even more consistent season the next year, then won a second time during the 2023 season to again make the playoffs. And in 2024 — Front Row’s first as Tier 1 Ford-supported team and in a technical alliance with two-time defending Cup champions Team Penske — McDowell has had the speed to win a handful of races (though yet hasn’t won), while third-year teammate Todd Gilliland is experiencing a career-best season.

“(Gragson) must have seen this as a good, viable option to be in (a car) that’s really competitive for years to come. We’re grateful for that,” Front Row general manager Jerry Freeze told The Athletic.

“Obviously, his on-track performance speaks for itself with success he’s had in the Truck Series then in the Xfinity Series. We just think he’s a total package to come to Front Row Motorsports and to really build a nice program around him for years to come.”

Based on performance alone, Front Row represented a good fit for Gragson. But what also stood out was the stability factor.

As the 25-year-old went through the free-agency process trying to find a team that would be his fourth in four years, he sought a place that he knew was committed to remaining in NASCAR while also able to provide the structure he feels he needs to thrive on the track. He didn’t want to go through the upheaval he did when SHR co-owner Tony Stewart told him the team was shutting down.

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

In both his words and actions, Jenkins’ commitment to NASCAR team ownership is apparent.

A day after SHR announced it would be selling all four of its charters, NASCAR’s equivalent of a franchise that guarantees the holders certain monetary rewards, Front Row announced that it had purchased a third charter for somewhere between $20 million to $25 million, according to people briefed on the situation but not authorized to speak publicly. One doesn’t commit such a hefty sum without planning to stick around.

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

The fact Gragson signed at all further demonstrates Front Row will continue to be around for the foreseeable future. Pursuing a talent like Gragson is a departure from how the team typically operates, often signing veteran drivers with high upside to team-friendly deals or promoting from within like it did when it elevated Gilliland three years ago from its Truck Series program to Cup.

“I don’t know that we’ve really been in the position to do so, whether it’s financially or with the support that we’ve got at Front Row,” Freeze said. “Knowing that we’re on Ford’s Tier 1 platform, that we’ve got a long-term relationship with Ford and having the alliance with Penske gives us a great opportunity for us to go get somebody like Noah early in his career with certainly a lot of upside and with some impressive credentials to this point.”

But the Gragson signing, similar to Front Row now being one of Ford’s top supported teams, indicates how much Front Row wants to continue to build off its recent successes.

Front Row is expanding to field three full-time teams in 2025. With McDowell leaving for Spire Motorsport, Front Row’s driver lineup will consist of Gilliand, who himself signed a multiyear contract extension last month, Gragson and a third driver who the team has not yet settled on but hopes to do so by August 1.

“It’s definitely a lot more fun going to the racetrack when you’ve got a chance to have a good day than when you’re just there participating,” Freeze said. “It’s certainly been reinvigorating to me personally, and for the whole organization a real shot in the arm. And I think it just adds credibility all the way through.”

With Gragson now in the fold, Front Row’s next task is finalizing sponsorship and who will serve as his crew chief, neither of which were announced Wednesday.

If Gragson had his choice he’d prefer that his current chief chief, Drew Blickensderfer, would follow him over from SHR. The veteran Blickensderfer established a strong rapport with Gragson, offering leadership and a calming presence to a young driver. Freeze said Blickensderfer, who was McDowell’s crew chief at Front Row for three years, is on the list of candidates.

Who’ll be Gragson’s crew chief is a detail that will be sorted out in the weeks and months to come. The big domino was getting Gragson under contract, a decision that brought him a much-needed sense of relief.

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

“Almost everything I do, I feel like, ‘Is this going to help me or hurt me?’ Whether it be racing guys on the racetrack that I have certain ties to different organizations thinking about (possibly signing me) and what if I race this guy and get into him is that going to affect something? So getting everything signed has definitely allowed me to get a bunch of that weight off my shoulders and focus on what I can control, and that’s inside the race car.”

Required reading

(Photo: Meg Oliphant / Getty Images)

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