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Gallagher found driver who ‘refuses to lose’ in Gragson

Updated March 1, 2023 - 11:14 pm

Maury Gallagher got the jump on NASCAR’s “silly season” of driver changes in August by announcing that fellow Las Vegan Noah Gragson would replace Ty Dillon behind the wheel of the businessman’s No. 42 Chevrolet beginning with the 2023 season.

Gragson’s performance in the 2022 Xfinity Series championship race in November only confirmed what the Cup Series’ fledgling team owner believed from the start.

“Lots of people will tell you they love to win. But we wanted a driver that refuses to lose,” Gallagher said Tuesday during a news conference kicking off another NASCAR weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway topped by Sunday’s 26th running of the Pennzoil 400.

“If you watched enough racing last year, you noticed Noah didn’t get a lot of wins by everything working (his) way. You have to deal with bad hands. He almost won the championship after starting eighth in the last (stage of the championship race in Phoenix) because of a pit stop issue. It was amazing how he worked his way back, and that’s exciting stuff for us.”

Gragson’s furious charge to second place behind champion Ty Gibbs capped a spectacular fourth season in the developmental Xfinity Series that saw him win four consecutive races during one stretch and eight altogether. It was a breakout performance that made him one of the most coveted commodities during the annual shuffle of drivers.

“I’m not sure if we have a target on our back, but I’m not good at flying under the radar,” Gragson, 24, said of his brash style on the track and his big personality away from it. “Usually I’m pretty wild and pretty loud and try to race with a lot of passion and a lot of flair.

“What that means is we put in a lot of work during the week so we can have fun on the weekend.”

But the addition of Gragson as a teammate to veteran Erik Jones became a bit of a footnote at team headquarters when Jimmie Johnson purchased part ownership in the Cup Series program formerly known as Petty GMS.

In addition to assuming a decision-making role, the seven-time Cup Series champion will drive a third car in selected races for the team that has been rebranded Legacy Motor Club.

“We needed to up our game,” said Gallagher, who earned his first win as a Cup Series owner when Jones raced to a victory in last season’s playoff opener at Darlington, South Carolina, despite not being eligible for the championship. “Jimmie just adds another level.

“He brings seven championships and 20 years (of experience). But more importantly, Jimmie’s got a brand that is off the charts. Part of his purpose is to bring in sponsorship. It’s an important part of the business.”

Johnson, 47, recently showed he still knows how to get around a paved oval in a stock car. He drove from the rear of the field into a challenging position in the Daytona 500 before being eliminated in one of the multicar pileups for which NASCAR’s season-opening crown jewel has become known.

The same fate befell Gragson and Jones, who also were nonfactors in last week’s race at unseasonably cold Auto Club Speedway in California, though the former showed early speed before his aerodynamic splitter broke and eventually fell off.

“It’s been really, really good to be able to work with Jimmie and lean on him for advice,” Gragson said about Johnson’s immediate impact on the reorganized team. “It’s cool to be able to learn with somebody like that and share ideas and whatnot.”

The other seven-time champion under the Legacy Motor Club umbrella might beg to differ.

Richard Petty made headlines at Daytona by complaining about his reduced role within the rebranded organization. But Gallagher said the 85-year-old NASCAR legend remains an integral, valued and respected part of the team.

“Jimmie was an adding type of thing, it wasn’t a diminishing of Richard’s position,” Gallagher said. “Richard wants to be up front and he wants to be at the track watching it. When I did the deal with Richard, he said that was what he wanted, and that’s still the same.”

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