August 21, 2018 / 9:54 PM / 3 months ago

NASCAR notebook: Gragson thinking like a champion ahead of playoffs

Noah Gragson hopes a lifestyle change will help propel him to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship.

Gragson was forced to sit out the July 28 event at Pocono Raceway because of illness. Even though he received a medical Playoff waiver from NASCAR, the experience of watching Erik Jones drive the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota that Gragson was supposed to drive was not one he was eager to repeat.

That and a refresher meeting with a sports psychologist Gragson has been seeing prompted the 20-year-old from Las Vegas to start molding his life in the image of a champion.

“I started having a set bedtime, going to bed early, waking up early,” Gragson said on Tuesday during a Playoff preview at Fox Studios. “Just trying to be more productive with my Monday through Friday schedule, trying to be more organized, trying to have a structured schedule, going to the shop, working out, trying to eat healthier, doing everything it takes to be a champion, going that extra mile.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to focus on, just doing that. It’s been a big change for me. I don’t know if that’s what you need to do for a championship, but I’m not going to let it be ‘Oh, I didn’t win the championship because of...’ I want to do everything within my power.”

Gragson has been working with a psychologist who specializes in helping athletes realize their potential.

“He’s been teaching me the mind-set to be a champion,” he said. “Working with him throughout this whole year, I started out really good, and then we had a refresher. And when I met him for the refresher, we kind of hit on some more stuff and going that extra mile.

“Just being able to work with him has been a really big eye-opener. I don’t think I’d be in the position I am right now if it weren’t for working with him at the beginning of this year and all through the year. He’s really changed my mind-set, for sure.”

For the eight NCWTS contenders — Johnny Sauter, Brett Moffitt, Justin Haley, Ben Rhodes, Grant Enfinger, Stewart Friesen and Matt Crafton in addition to Gragson — the first elimination round of the Playoffs is set to begin Aug. 26 on the road course at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. After subsequent first-round races at Las Vegas and Talladega, two of the eight drivers will be eliminated.

To make it through the round, Gragson will have more than a sports psychologist to help him. He’ll also have champion crew chief Rudy Fugle.

“He knows what it takes to get the job done at Homestead and how to prepare the young drivers,” Gragson said. “He’s really prepared me.”

BRETT MOFFITT IS A CASE STUDY OF DOING A LOT WITH A LITTLE

Four regular-season victories and the second seeding in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs is a monumental accomplishment for any team.

But for driver Brett Moffitt and his Hattori Racing Enterprises team, the feat is particularly noteworthy because of the relative lack of resources the organization has at its disposal.

Team owner Shigeaki Hattori has been raising sponsorship money on a race-by race basis. As the NCWTS Playoffs approach, two of the postseason events — at Talladega and Texas — remain in inventory. Despite the uncertainty of funding, Moffitt has put himself in an enviable position entering the first elimination round.

The 26-year-old driver is proud of his team’s success — justifiably so.

“Everyone on our race team has a lot of pride, and they wear their hearts on their sleeves for the team,” Moffitt said. “They’re really passionate. And to see all their hard work pay off, and my hard work pay off, it’s really special for our group.”

FIRST ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS IS A GREAT UNKNOWN

The first round of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs features more variables than a complex physics equation.

The first race in the round that will eliminate two drivers will take place Aug. 26 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. It’s the only road course event on the NCWTS schedule.

Justin Haley is perhaps the most adept road racer of the eight championship contenders, but at 19, he’s also the youngest, and he has no previous playoff experience in any of NASCAR’s three national series.

Noah Gragson got a leg up on the competition with an appearance in the May 20 Pinty’s Series race at the Bowmanville, Ontario, track, where he finished third as the only non-Canadian in the field. But Gragson is 20 years old and, like Haley, has no prior playoff experience.

The second Playoff race will be run at Las Vegas, where every one of the contenders feels he has a chance to win.

And then there’s Talladega, a home game for Grant Enfinger, but one where there is no home-court advantage, given the fickle, unpredictable nature of the track.

“I feel like, if we can make it through this first round — get through Canada, get through Talladega — I feel really good about the second round,” said Enfinger, who enters the Playoffs as the sixth seed and without a victory to his credit so far. “I feel really good about the trajectory our 98 (ThorSport Racing) team is on.

“We’re bringing better Ford F-150s to the track each week. We’re just not there yet.”

—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

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