After a burnout and victory streak celebration last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway in the spotlight Noah Gragson and his Xfinity Series team was the Waffle House they went to on their way home.
One was about 5 miles from the track and the other was about 7 miles. One person was tasked with choosing a location and making sure everyone knew about it.
Gragson, his team and carrier JR Motorsports did just that, continuing what became part of Gragson’s victory celebrations.
In most cases, racers who win a Cup or Xfinity Series race transfer from the track to a plane and fly home. For races closer to the sports facility in Charlotte, North Carolina, competitors will drive, giving them the opportunity to stop at a restaurant on their way home.
Experiences like these date back to the early days of a racer’s career – when they raced local short tracks, didn’t finish until late at night, and were looking for a place to eat, relax and relive that evening’s event. Go to any short track, especially the southeast, and it’s not uncommon to hear the winning team say they’re taking the trophy to Waffle House or any other 24-hour restaurant.
Gragson’s first Waffle House celebration came in 2015 when he won the K&N Pro Series West in Tucson, Arizona, leading his team to a 1-2-3 finish.
When Gragson won the Xfinity race in Phoenix in March, he headed to Waffle House after landing in North Carolina. Following his win at Darlington earlier this month – the first of three in a row – the team’s carrier also stopped at Waffle House, joining Gragson and the team.
“All the chefs and (everyone) take pictures and they just love it,” Gragson said. “This is a good time. We put some music on the jukebox and asked them to turn it up.”
“He’ll look back on it when he’s 60 or 70,” a teammate said. Justin Algayer said of Noah Gragson, “and these will be moments he will remember forever.”
Gragson brought the sword and trophy he had collected from the Bristol victory to Waffle House last weekend. He used the sword to cut his waffle and placed half of the waffle on the tip of the sword before taking a bite.
“It was really great to be able to have fun with the fans and eat waffles,” Gragson said.
The Waffle House was jam-packed with Gragson’s fans, including those wearing his T-shirt.
“It’s funny that they go to Waffle House,” said teammate Justin Allgayer, “but he’ll look back on it when he’s 60 or 70 and those will be moments he’ll remember forever.”
— Madison Wood (@eledteachermlw) September 17, 2022
Jeremy Clements, who is 37 and in his third Xfinity Playoffs, remembers those days fondly. His early racing days were filled with Waffle House stops.
“We were at Waffle House all the time,” Clements said. “The races were always late. We had to eat. In most cases it didn’t matter if we won or not. We had enough budget to eat at Waffle House.”
Like many, Clements said that when he won, he took the trophy to the Waffle House.
“Why not show it off and have some fun?” he said.
Defending Xfinity Series Champion Daniel HemrickWaffle House presents special memories.
“I would say that I spent 90% of my childhood weekends at the Waffle House on Fridays and Saturdays,” Hemrick said of his early racing career. “
Even now, he still goes to the waffle iron regularly. His daughter Ren, who was born in May 2020, insists on this.
“She loves Waffle House,” Hemrick said. “It’s sort of one of our little Sunday traditions every week or two. We go with the whole family on Sunday, just me, (wife) Kenzi and Ren.”
The Waffle House is not the only special place for Chemrick. After he won $250,000 in the Legends car race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2010, he and about 20 family and friends went to a Steak ‘n Shake about 4 miles from the track to celebrate.
Hemrik brought the trophy with him, but his celebration was muted. He helped prepare about a dozen other cars for the event and was exhausted at that point in the night.
“Everyone was ordering food, and I put my head down and took a nap,” he said.
— Steak and Shake (@SteaknShake) February 22, 2022
Steak ‘n Shake is a popular spot, especially with Daytona 500 winners. The restaurant is located 2 miles from Daytona International Speedway.
Car owner Joe Gibbs claimed his family and trophy after winning the 1993 Daytona 500. Gibbs revived the tradition in 2019 after the second of Denny Hamlinthree wins in this event. The Wood brothers went there after Trevor Bain2011 Daytona 500 victory.
Cup rookie Austin Sindrik celebrated his Daytona 500 win this year with family and his team.
“It’s really special to have both mom and dad there with my whole team,” Sindrik said. “We had guys from the pit crew. We had everything, and it’s one of those moments in life that you kind of have to appreciate while it’s happening… because it doesn’t happen every day.”
Sindrik also brought the trophy to the restaurant.
“It’s definitely cool to close the place with the biggest trophy,” he said.
2. NASCAR on next generation parts manufacturing process, shifting and Martinsville.
Former Cup champion Kevin Harvick was critical of the Next Gen car in the playoffs, complaining about “shitty parts”.
Harvick was upset after a fire interrupted his race in the first round of the playoffs at Darlington earlier this month. Two days after he pulled out of the Bristol title challenge, due in part to a problem with his left front tire, Harvick posted a link to the t-shirt he was selling, which played off his comment.
John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation, explained to NBC Sports the process NASCAR went through – with teams and manufacturers – in identifying suppliers to supply parts for the Next Gen car.
This is the first time that suppliers are supplying key parts rather than teams making them themselves.
As NASCAR developed the car, the sanctioning body, teams and manufacturers set specifications for parts before submitting RFQs to suppliers, Probst said. This happened in 2019.
NASCAR sent out RFPs to just five suppliers and up to 30 suppliers for some parts. For interested companies, NASCAR organized a call to answer questions not covered in the 30-50 pages of documents sent by the sanctioning body.
Suppliers had two weeks to prepare for face-to-face meetings involving NASCAR representatives, teams and manufacturers, Probst said.
Approximately five days after the meetings ended, team and manufacturer representatives presented to NASCAR their rankings of the top three candidates for a particular part. Probst said teams and producers often left feedback on everyone who represented.
“We had people sitting in meetings that pretty much ran the gamut from big to small teams,” Probst said, “because we wanted to get a pretty good cross-section of feedback from our industry from the team.”
According to Probst, the representatives of the team were usually senior engineers or technical directors. In cases where the team claimed to supply any specific parts, their representative did not attend meetings with other suppliers in order to avoid conflict.
After NASCAR reviews, teams and manufacturers made their choice.
“What’s more, we’ve had a pretty good interaction with us in the industry,” Probst said. “As for the choice of details, I would not say that they were all chosen unanimously. I can also say that we did not usually choose the cheapest part.
“We chose the part that we thought served the function we needed to complete. It wasn’t about just going with a cheap supplier. It came from a supplier, with the right price and the right product that met our needs at the time.”
Probst said he was proud that the car played a major role in the series, which had 19 different winners this year, a season-high. With perennial winners Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. as well as Brad Keselowski still aiming for their first points win of the season, that number could top 20 before the season wraps up on November 6 in Phoenix.
Probst said he believes one misunderstanding with the car has to do with collaboration between NASCAR, teams and manufacturers.
“I think sometimes when you read driver quotes and team testimonials, crew chiefs tweet something, it creates the feeling of NASCAR against them against the world,” Probst told NBC Sports.
“Indeed, it is not. I would like people to be able to see how well we actually work with the engineers on these teams to sort out the issues.
“I feel like we’re working hand in hand with them, but a lot of times when it’s made public, for whatever reason or if it’s in the heat of the moment, it’s like ‘NASCAR is doing it, we’re doing it’ or ‘It’s the dumbest thing in the world,” but I think that’s actually so far from the truth. We have a really good working relationship with all the teams and I just think they’re getting lost.”
The Next Gen car provided the best race on the intermediate tracks, while the short track races were a disappointment. The spring race at Martinsville was criticized by drivers. As next month’s race in Martinsville will give drivers one last chance to compete in the championship, what happens there will be critical.
Probst said there will be a gear shift in Martinsville, “but as far as big changes, we won’t be making big changes when we get back there. This year we had one data point in Martinsville, the coldest race of the year. We don’t put rubber. It’s very difficult to make massive changes to a car based on…