A major wreck during Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity race at Road America led to a heated war of words between Noah Gragson and Sage Karam.
The tension began to mount after Gragson’s No.9 Chevrolet made contact with Karam’s No.45 Chevrolet as the drivers battled for position at the start of the final stage of Lap 25. As the two descended straight into Turn 4, Gragson appeared to turn intentionally right into Karam’s left gate, setting off a massive 13-car pileup amid a plume of dust and smoke.
The race was ultimately won by Ty Gibbs of Joe Gibbs Racing who outlasted defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson after an overtime restart. Gragson finished the day in eighth place while Karam placed 31st.
NASCAR did not penalize any of the drivers after the incident, although reporter Bob Pockrass confirmed officials then spoke with Gragson.
Immediately after the race, bitter rivals lambasted each other for their actions while explaining their version of events. Karam, who is racing part-time for Alpha Prime Racing this season, grilled Gragson for setting off the wreck, calling the JR Motorsports driver’s actions “totally unnecessary”.
“I don’t know what the nine were doing,” he said, by NBC Sports’ Dustin Long. “I got inside him the lap before entering turn 5 – made a move on him. He just dunked me in Turn 1. I came back under him in Turn 3 on the next lap.
“He was slower than a lot of people around us before that. I just wanted to get in front of him, around him. Then I got a little pat on the back, I got into the side of (Gragson’s car) at exit 3. Then just down the straight he turned right into me . It was totally unnecessary. It put a lot of drivers at risk.
“It was just very dangerous the way he drove there. I never turned into someone deliberately in a straight line and that’s exactly what he just did. I don’t understand it.
Gragson cited the incident as the result of his response to Karam’s own reckless driving, which he said happened three times during the race and in past events. He also made it clear that he accepted responsibility for what happened, but maintained that his retaliation was only a response to feeling wronged.
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“I just got run over. It’s one thing if you’re faster than somebody,” he said. “(Karam) would just throw it in there and run you off the race track in the corner and run you off the track. Finally after the third time, I recover. So obviously it’s not the ideal situation for him and his team, but for three times I’m done with it.
He continued, “I don’t know if he’s not used to driving stock cars, but it seems like the open-wheel stuff, you can’t really go side-by-side and hit somebody. one at the door number when they’re turning and destroying them and scaring them to the exit. Maybe he thinks because we have defenses you can do it. I don’t know the case. It is what it is, and you have seen the result.
When asked if the rivalry would continue beyond Wisconsin, Gragson said, “It’s over for me,” before adding, “It’s starting; I’m the one who finished,” according to NASCAR.com.
The accident and the ensuing animosity sparked a lot of reactions on social media. One of those answers came during an exchange between Tommy Joe Martins, Karam’s team owner, and Kelley Earnhardt, who is the vice president and co-owner of JR Motorsports with her brother Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“Absolutely on purpose,” Martins said. “@EarnhardtKelley @DaleJr I’m sure you’re embarrassed to be associated with this. I get hard runs and push a guy away, but that kind of stuff can hurt somebody. It’s too much.”
Says Kelley, “I’m not embarrassed. I understand that you are rightly upset. Our team will work out what we need with Noah and move on. Ups and downs are all part of what we do.
In addition to Gragson and Karam, pilots Brandon Brown, Daniel Hemric, Brett Moffitt, John Hunter Nemechek, Bayley Currey, Andy Lally, Landon Cassill, Josh Bilicki, Daniel Hemric, Tyler Reddick and Jeremy Clements were involved in the accident.
NASCAR later announced that all 13 drivers had been screened and released from the field care center.
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