NASCAR on Wednesday penalized Noah Gragson for a deliberate and dangerous crash he caused during the Xfinity Series race at Road America.
Gragson, who turns 24 later this month, was fined 30 points and $35,000 by NASCAR for intentionally ramming Sage Karam on the Wisconsin road course on Saturday. NASCAR cited a rule prohibiting “intentionally destroying another vehicle” and “actions by a NASCAR member that NASCAR deems harmful to stock car or NASCAR racing.”
Gragson’s swerve into Karam sparked a frightening multi-car crash so blatant that Gragson was publicly slammed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. before the penalty was announced. The NASCAR Hall of Famer and co-owner of the JR Motorsports team that Gragson has represented since 2019 was surprised NASCAR didn’t immediately penalize his driver.
“To be honest with you, I was shocked when I saw Noah make that decision,” Earnhardt said Wednesday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I was just completely shocked and a bit in disbelief not only that he made that choice, but that he, you know, that it created such an accident and involved so many other guys. It was hard to watch , really difficult.
“I think NASCAR doesn’t want to umpire races too much, but I think in certain situations there are things that cross a line. And I felt like it was definitely one of those situations where I had been in the pits directing the race, I think I should have taken Noah to pit road and held him there for a while.”
NASCAR said it did not immediately issue the penalty after the 13-car crash because Saturday’s race at the road course was so aggressive it wanted to speak to Gragson and examine his Chevrolet to make sure that it had not suffered any mechanical failure.
“Obviously, nothing was wrong with the car and it was clear that it was intentional,” NASCAR said in a statement. “Park the [No.] 9 during the event was an option, but we felt that more information was needed before making a decision on disciplinary action.”
The point deduction did not drop Gragson in the standings; he has two wins this season.
Kelley Earnhardt Miller, who was initially defiant of calls for Gragson’s punishment, said on Twitter that the team she co-owns with her brother “understands” the NASCAR punishment.
“Noah is an avid race car driver, and his actions happened in the heat of the moment,” she wrote. “Learning how and when to control your emotions is part of the learning experience.”
Gragson lost his temper after he and Karam bumped into each other several times shortly after the start of stage three. Gragson deliberately turned right to snag Karam on the straight between turns 3 and 5, which triggered further crashes.
Karam immediately criticized the danger Gragson’s action caused other drivers, but Gragson was not sorry for running over Karam.
“It’s one thing if you’re faster than somebody,” Gragson said, “but throwing it in there and knocking you out of the racetrack in the corner, knocking you off the track. Finally, after the third time, It’s not the ideal situation for him and his team, but two or three times, I’m done.”
Earnhardt said Wednesday that destroying Karam should never have been an option.
“He has to take that out of his choices. He can’t intentionally turn into a guy right away. I just hope he realizes that’s really something he has to be careful about in the future,” Earnhardt said. “Noah wants to race at Cup level, he wants to get to Cup level, and we want to help him get there, whether he’s driving a Cup car for us one day or for someone else.
“When he makes those kinds of decisions, and that’s what I told him, I said, ‘You’re wasting this opportunity. You’re tarnishing, you’re tarnishing your reputation. And that’s the last thing you want to do. when you’re trying to get job offers. I told him I could stand behind him just about anything, but I couldn’t defend him.”
Karam crashed in 2015 while driving an IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway, and a broken piece of debris from his car bounced off and hit Justin Wilson’s helmet, delivering a fatal blow.
Karam is now trying out a mix of NASCAR and IndyCar and was unimpressed with Gragson in his time in NASCAR’s second-tier series.
“I knew I was faster than Noah, and he didn’t like a small team doing that to him,” Karam said. “He can go out there and drive as he wants and it’s not a concern for him. It affects us a lot more than it affects him.”
Karam is entered in Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he will face Gragson again, but he said he won’t fight back.
“I’m not going to intentionally run into anyone or take anyone out,” Karam said. “That’s just not the type of driver I am. Twenty years of racing, that never happened to me until [Road America]. I would say it’s racing, but for me it wasn’t racing.”
Nor was he sure Gragson would change. The Las Vegas native has been involved in a myriad of on-track assaults throughout his short career.
“In the short time I raced Xfinity, I didn’t hear a lot of good things about Noah and he didn’t show a lot of good races with me on the track,” Karam said. “I’m not sure Noah can change. It’s something Noah has to look in the mirror, he has to look at himself and want to change.”