Things got a bit chippy between Noah Gragson and Sage Karam while battling on the track on lap 25 of Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Henry 180 at Road America.
Karam, who was up inside the top-10 in his No. 45 Alpha Prime Racing machine, made contact with Gragson while fighting for position a couple of times. As the two reached the Moraine Sweep — the straightaway between turns 4 and 5 — Gragson took a hard right swerve into Karam.
The contact sent both drivers spinning, and Karam was clocked hard by oncoming traffic. When the dust settled, all that remained was gobs of twisted composite body parts and a lot of upset drivers and teams.
While it looked intention on the USA television broadcast, it’s hard to truly know from outside the race car. After being checked in the infield care center, Karam let it be known that Gragson made the move intentionally.
“That was ridiculous. I’ve never been turned into on a straight line like that in car racing, ever, in my life,” Karam stated. “He just flat-out turned to the right out of pure frustration. It’s ridiculous. I think he tried to take officiating into his own hands. You can’t be that heated while you’re driving a race car. Unfortunately, he let the emotions get the best of him today.
“I’ve seen that with him. He walks around like he’s the big man on campus around here and everything, then he does stuff like that. Not a good role model, he is.”
Following the race, where Gragson would go on to finish in eighth, Gragson was asked about his move on Karam that sparked the 16-car melee on lap 25. Gragson admitted that he retaliated on Karam due to the heated racing the two were having leading up to the payback.
“I guess he forgot the three times he throwed it off in the corner, doored us and run us off the racetrack,” Gragson explained. “Eventually, you get sick and tired of it. I hate that people’s stuff got torn up, but three times is a bit ridiculous. Just today, not even in the past. I take responsibility, I hate it for his guys. But fighting to race for a championship here, and really over getting run over.”
Despite the intentional nature of the crash, which swept up 14 other cars, who were just innocent bystanders, Gragson was not assessed a penalty by NASCAR race control following the incident.
For Gragson, he sees the beef with Karam squashed as he feels they are now even.
“It’s over to me,” Gragson said. “He starts it, I’m the one who finished. We’re good.”
While Gragson feels things are all squared up, there were a ton of other drivers and teams that suffered collateral damage in the incident and those drivers and teams, unlike Karam, race each and every week in the series.
According to Karam, heading into Saturday, he had already heard people in the NASCAR Xfinity Series talking about Gragson’s rough driving style and that if Gragson hasn’t cleaned up by now, it’s on him to come to the realization that he’s not racing cleanly.
“I think a lot of people have already spoke to Noah, I don’t think Noah is going to change,” Karam explained. “The short time I’ve been in Xfinity racing here, I have not heard a lot of great things about Noah and he has not shown a lot of great racing with me on track. So, I’m not sure if we can change Noah. I think this is something that Noah needs to take a look in the mirror and he needs to look at himself and he needs to want to make a change himself.”
Tommy Joe Martins, the general manager of Alpha Prime Racing, who Karam was driving for and who also had their second team car — the No. 44 — involved in the accident, he took to Twitter in frustration.
Absolutely on purpose. @EarnhardtKelley @DaleJr I’m sure you’re embarrassed to even be associated with that. Hard racing and bumping a guy back I get but that kind of stuff can hurt someone. It’s too much.
— Tommy Joe Martins (@TommyJoeMartins) July 2, 2022
Kelley Earnhardt Miller, co-owner of Gragson’s JR Motorsports team, responded to Martins’ tweet.
I’m not embarrassed. I understand you are upset rightfully so. Our team will sort out what we need to with Noah and move on. The highs and lows are all part of what we do.
— Kelley Earnhardt (@EarnhardtKelley) July 2, 2022
Martins isn’t the only person that voiced displeasure with Gragson’s move on the track, as Jordan Anderson, owner of the No. 31 car, which is driven by Myatt Snider and took a hard shot in the crash, was confused on how NASCAR didn’t park Gragson for the intentional crash.
Just saw a full replay for the first time. Not sure how @NASCAR doesn’t park someone for an intentional crash like what happened that absolutely destroyed our car and several others.
Thankful everyone was ok. Just hate seeing torn up race cars for no reason.
— Jordan Anderson (@j66anderson) July 2, 2022
Where do we go from here? That remains to be seen. But Gragson feels he is even with Karam, but he may want to watch his back as there are about 14 others with an axe to grind after Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race.