Noah Gragson’s red-hot start to the NASCAR Xfinity Series season has officially joined a list that is comprised of a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and cultural icon, the 2012 Cup Series champion and a former JRM driver.

Gragson, 23, posted a runner-up finish last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his third straight top-three finish to open the season. The only other drivers to do so in series history are Dale Earnhardt Sr., Terry Labonte, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott Sadler, and Gragson is now the sixth driver to achieve that mark.

Just one driver since 1982 has managed to open a season with four such finishes, and that is Harvick, who finished runner-up in the 2005 season’s first four races. Should Gragson make it four straight this weekend at Phoenix Raceway, he would join Harvick on that list, with a chance to break the record at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“It’s been encouraging to get started off on the right foot, and I’m more encouraged by the week about the JR Motorsports program and our cars and the job Noah is doing on the track,” said Luke Lambert, Gragson’s crew chief. “I certainly feel like we’re putting a lot of the pieces together that we need to reach our goals this year.”

Lambert has experience at this, as he was Sadler’s crew chief when the Virginia native opened the 2012 NXS season with a pair of third-place results and a victory.

“It’s interesting, because we are doing a lot of the same things that we did that year, in 2012,” Lambert said. “We got off to a strong start that year and were able to lead the points almost the rest of the season. Some things about our program this year I think kind of encourage me even more. We have more depth, potentially, at some of other race tracks than we had even then, in 2012. Starting off consistent is a huge thing, and for us to contend later in the year for the Championship 4, it requires that kind of consistency to execute when you get there.”

Gragson, driving the familiar No. 9 Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber Camo/Black Rifle Coffee Chevrolet, was third at Daytona in the season opener and second at both Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas.

Earnhardt Sr., the only driver to achieve it on more than one occasion, began the 1990 season with two victories and a runner-up finish (average finish 1.3). The following year, he finished first, second and third (average finish 2.0) in the opening three events.

Keselowski, who won six races for JRM in its early days, posted finishes of second, third and first in 2014, averaging 2.0 per finish.

Sadler, with Lambert on the box, raced to finishes of third, first and third (average finish 2.3) in 2012. Gragson’s run this season averages 2.3 as well.

Labonte opened 1995 with third-place efforts in the first two races and finished second in the third event, averaging 2.6 per outing.

The stellar start to the season has Lambert thinking big-picture, despite 30 races yet to go in the 2022 season. His young driver has always been fast, but is now showing the savvy needed to earn a championship

“It’s certainly encouraging that we find ourselves in that class, and it’s a testament to the job the whole team is doing,” Lambert said. “Noah is racing with a whole lot of wisdom and intensity all at the same time. He’s making the right decisions and he’s also making aggressive moves, but he’s doing while keeping himself out of trouble and that shows the experience and progression he’s making this season.”

— JR Motorsports —

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