Following a two-car accident with 20 laps to go in Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway, both Noah Gragson and Harrison Burton saw their paths to the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship become more adverse.
The accident was the culmination of an intense 10-lap battle for second-place – which became third-place — between Burton, Gragson, and Rookie of The Year contender Sam Mayer, who also happens to be Gragson’s teammate at JR Motorsports. Mayer and Burton made contact at the exit of turn four, which sent Burton up the track into the path of Gragson. Neither Burton nor Gragson could continue and would record finishes of 34th and 35th, leaving both drivers in an uncomfortable position heading into the cutoff race at Martinsville Speedway.
After a season that started with a dreadful stretch of races, Gragson was intelligibly upset, as a mistake by his teammate – and a rookie teammate at that — could be what ends up costing him a shot at the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. After making the mandatory trip to the care center, Gragson was interviewed by NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman, where he shared his thoughts on the incident.
“I thought Harrison [Burton] was doing a great job, and I saw… myself, it’s just, we’re racing for a championship, Harrison didn’t do anything wrong, but…”
A despondent @NoahGragson tries to explain how his day ended at @kansasspeedway.#NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/BilNeBa76D
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) October 23, 2021
While being interviewed, NBC Sports had their cameras focused on Gragson’s teammate Sam Mayer, who was continuing to battle hard with Justin Haley and Brett Moffitt for a position inside the top-10. In the heat of the battle, Mayer’s QPS Employment Group entry made significant contact with the outside wall, to which Gragson paused mid-sentence to say: “There he goes again.”
Gragson continued, saying: “Just a bummer, proud of this No. 9 Bass Pro Shops team. A lot of fun, we were kind of out of tires, with the contact with Hemric on the restart, and we hung on really well for the tires we were on. Great pit stops. Thank you to Johnny Morris, Rusty Sellers, everyone at Bass Pro Shops, and True Timber. It’s a bummer, but we’re really good at Martinsville, finished third there last year, second in the Spring, so, I’ll get the situation from today handled and we’ll go to battle next week as a team.”
On the opposite side of the incident was Sam Mayer, who took full responsibility for the accident that took out 25-percent of the remaining playoff drivers in the closing laps of the race.
“Absolutely, I’ll take full credit for it,” Mayer told Parker Kligerman after the race. “I thought the 20 was going to side-draft the 9 a little harder, and a little longer, so I moved up to try to push the 20 because I wanted to clear the 9, so I could race with the 20 and then get with the 20 and race with him one-on-one.”
"I'll take full credit for that." – @Sam_Mayer_
The @JRMotorsports driver takes ownership for the crash that took out playoff contenders Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson. #NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/EwDIdMCMWF
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 23, 2021
“It’s a racing deal, in my opinion,” Mayer continued. “Obviously everyone is going to have their opinions, and they’re entitled to them because I did make a mistake. Our QPS Chevrolet Camaro was really fast today, we worked on it all day, and I’m really proud of the guys for what they’ve done, and I’m really proud of JR Motorsports for bringing four really good cars.”
Through 16 starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season, things haven’t exactly gone to plan for Mayer, with five crash-related DNF’s throughout the season and only scoring top-10 results in 25-percent of races thus far. However, despite the controversy surrounding the 18-year-old’s afternoon, he was still able to record a career-best eighth-place finish, holding onto the top-10 position after restarting on old tires.
After giving his thoughts on the incident, and talking about his day, Mayer once again apologized to those involved in the incident, saying: “Sorry to the 9 guys, and the 20 guys for what happened, it was my fault, my mistake, I’ll learn from it for the future.”
As for Gragson’s comments on the matter, the words; “I’ll get the situation from today handled.” could mean a number of things, but it’s safe to say that there will at least be a meeting at JR Motorsports this coming week, as the series heads into the final two races of the season, in which Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, and the No. 1 team are still in contention to hoist the championship trophy at Phoenix.