Noah Gragson is going NASCAR Cup Series racing for the first time when the season kicks off in February. On Thursday, Beard Motorsports announced that Gragson will drive the #62 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE in the 2021 Daytona 500. The news was initially reported by Chris Knight of Catchfence in late December, but no formal confirmation took place until three weeks later.
Gragson fell short of making the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Round in 2020, finishing his sophomore season for JR Motorsports with a fifth-place points finish, twenty-five top tens (third most), and seventeen top fives (second most). He also won his first two races in the series with the season opener at Daytona and at Bristol in June. A third win nearly came in October at Texas that would have qualified him for the Championship Round, but he was passed by Harrison Burton on the final lap.
“I’m excited and humbled to have this opportunity with Beard Motorsports,” Gragson stated. “As a young racer from Las Vegas, I had always dreamt of racing in the Daytona 500. I’m very appreciative of the faith the Beard Family and Brendan have in me, and equally appreciative to JR Motorsports for allowing me to pull double duty and compete for them in the Xfinity Series and also Beard Motorsports while we’re down in Daytona.”
Although some speculation about him taking over a Cup ride in 2021 circulated during the year, particularly the #48 of JRM parent team Hendrick Motorsports, he will return to JRM for a third season in 2021. He has fifty top tens in sixty-nine career Xfinity starts.
As he joins Beard for his Cup début, the 2018 Camping World Truck Series championship runner-up replaces the retiring Brendan Gaughan in the #62. From 2017 to 2020, Gaughan served as a superspeedway racer for Beard, scoring three top tens and a best finish of seventh in the 2020 Daytona 500. Gaughan’s final NASCAR start, the YellaWood 500 at Talladega, saw him finish thirty-fifth after being involved in a wreck in Stage #2.
“Noah is in a really great position,” Gaughan commented. “He’ll be in his third year of Xfinity with a strong team in JR Motorsports and he’ll get to sample and understand what the Cup Series is about. Every time you strap into a racecar it’s an opportunity to learn, but it’s also supposed to be fun. He’ll be able to do both with Beard Motorsports.”
After failing to make their lone Cup attempts in 2014 with Clay Rogers and a two-year dormancy, Beard has exclusively run the superspeedways outside of a start on the Daytona road course with Gaughan in August. Team owner Mark Beard previous fielded cars for himself and a variety of drivers in the Xfinity Series during the 1980s and early 1990s, while Rogers sporadically raced for the team in the now-ARCA Menards Series from 2009 to 2012.
“Racing is our passion project,” Beard said. “Even with Brendan’s retirement, we wanted to keep racing. We’ve accomplished a lot with the resources we have and we’re proud to give Noah the chance to chase his dream just like we chase ours.
“On top of that, racing has proven to be a very valuable asset for our companies, like Beard Oil Distributing. We’re very passionate about what we do, and the Daytona 500 is an excellent platform to show our customers the level of commitment we put into all of our work.”
As Beard does not possess a charter, Gragson will have to qualify for the 500 on speed if the entry list exceeds the maximum forty-driver limit. Besides the thirty-six chartered cars, open teams expecting to enter the race include JTG Daugherty Racing‘s Ryan Preece (whose charter is leased to Spire Motorsports), Go Fas Racing for Ryan Ellis, the MBM Motorsports duo of Timmy Hill and Chad Finchum, David Ragan of Front Row Motorsports, and Kaulig Racing for Kaz Grala (the team hopes to run all superspeedway and road course races in 2021). NY Racing Team and Gaunt Brothers Racing are also showing up but have not revealed their pilots.