Las Vegas’ Gragson, Herbst hope to climb up NASCAR ladder

On Sunday afternoon they were hamming it up at the Fox 5 studios in Henderson, pretending to be TV newscasters.

This weekend, they’ll be two of seven local drivers putting the hammer down in the inaugural NASCAR South Point 400 quadrupleheader at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Next year, Noah Gragson and Riley Herbst say they have no idea what they’ll be doing.

The young lions from Las Vegas — Gragson is 20; Herbst 19 — have done well to position themselves for fast ascensions up the NASCAR ladder. Both have won races, posted myriad Top 10 finishes and would seem to be on the fast track to promotions. But that will be up to somebody else to decide.

“Getting up to that next level, it’s tough,” said Gragson, who notched his second victory as a Truck Series driver for Kyle Busch Motorsports this season, has averaged a 4.3 finishing position in three Xfinity Series starts for Joe Gibbs Racing and will start Friday’s World of Westgate 200 fourth in Truck Series playoff points.

“A lot of financial support from several people and Toyota have been a big part of (my success), along with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Just trying to do the best I can on the track. Winning races is ultimately the ticket to move up to the next series.”

But even that is no guarantee in a sport predicated on outside factors such as sponsor dollars and manufacturer support.

“You saw what happened to Martin Truex (Jr. in the Cup Series),” said Gragson, who crashed out of the Truck Series playoff opener at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park while attempting to pass teammate Todd Gilliland for the lead in the last corner. “They won the championship last year and now they’re not running in 2019.”

Cutthroat industry

Herbst, who like Gragson cut his auto racing teeth at the LVMS Bullring, competes in the ARCA series as a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing but also has posted Top 10 finishes in Truck and Xfinity Series starts in 2018. He’ll drive for KBM in Friday’s Truck Series race as a teammate to Gragson.

“We’re in a pretty cutthroat industry,” said Herbst, whose father, Troy, and uncles Tim and Ed are champion off-road racers. “I think the biggest thing we’ve learned is you have to align yourself with people who are trying to help you take the right steps and get to the next level.

“Our families have been super supportive; we’ve had to move out to North Carolina to go chase our dreams. We’re all in, we’re betting on ourselves, and hopefully we can get two more Vegas kids to the next level.”

That would be the Cup Series, in which brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch will be racing back to their hometown for the playoff opener. Kyle won the regular-season championship and Kurt finished seventh; both will be hoping to parlay a strong showing here into their second Cup Series titles.

Spencer Gallagher, who earned his first Xfinity Series victory at Talladega Superspeedway in April, and LVMS Bullring competitor Stan Mullis are entered in Saturday’s DC Solar 300 Xfinity event. Brendan Gaughan will step out of semi-retirement to drive in Thursday night’s K&N Pro Series West race at the Dirt Track.

Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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