NBC Sports analyst and JR Motorsports team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. stopped by Sirius XM NASCAR Radio for an interview on The Morning Drive on Tuesday morning to discuss a retaliatory move by Noah Gragson on Sage Karam at Road America, which led to a 16-car melee this past Saturday.
When pressed on the situation, Earnhardt was open, honest and he certainly didn’t mince words.
“I was shocked, to be honest with you when I saw Noah make that decision. I was completely shocked and in disbelief,” Earnhardt said of his thoughts when seeing Gragson intentionally turn Karam on a straightaway. “Not only that he made that choice, but that it created such an accident and got so many other guys involved. So, that was kind of tough to watch. Really tough.”
While many on social media clamored that Gragson should have been sat down after the incident, NASCAR opted to take no action at the racetrack, other than to speak with Gragson in the hauler after the race was over. Earnhardt admits he was surprised penalties didn’t come from the incident.
“Kind of surprised that NASCAR didn’t penalize him,” Earnhardt explained. “I think that NASCAR doesn’t want to over officiate their races, but I think in some situations, there are some things that do cross over a line.”
Earnhardt went on to say if he was the race director at Road America, Gragson would have definitely been parked for a bit on pit road for his actions.
“I feel like if I were in the booth directing the race, I think I would have had to bring Noah to pit road and hold him there for a while,” Earnhardt admitted.
While NASCAR did not take action against Gragson on Saturday, NASCAR’s Vice President of Officiating and Technical Inspection stated on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday that all options were on the table as far as punishment for Gragson following the race — including no penalty.
As of Wednesday morning, Gragson has received no penalty.
Earnhardt explains that he has spoken to Gragson about the incident, and he has told him turning another driver on a straightaway when you’re upset is a move that he never wants to see from the driver of the No. 9 car ever again.
“I was disappointed and absolutely planned to discuss that with Noah and I have this week. Basically my message to Noah is that he needs to take that out of his toolbox,” Earnhardt stated. “You can be aggressive and you can push back against guys. He could have waited and sent Sage into the sand trap off Turn 6, he could have done so many different things in that situation other than what he chose. He needs to take that out of his choices. He cannot — we cannot be intentionally turning into guys on the straightaway. And I just hope he realizes that really is something to be careful about going forward.”
Earnhardt says he felt for all of the smaller teams that were innocent bystanders in the incident that lost a race car because of the move. He also felt awkward at his analyst job at NBC as Gragson’s move was the talk for a large portion of the weekend. He says that Gragson needs to think of the entire scope of what could happen in the wake of a move like the one he made at Road America, before pulling the trigger on it.
“I think when Noah made that choice, he might not understand the ripple effect of all of that. And just really how much collateral damage there is and how it affects so many people,” Earnhardt said.
At the end of the day, Gragson, 23, wants to make it to the NASCAR Cup Series as a full-time competitor and Earnhardt says the last thing Gragson needs while trying to achieve that goal are these kinds of situations on his record.
“Noah wants to race in the Cup level, he wants to get to the Cup level and we want to help him get there. Whether he’s driving a Cup car for us one day, or someone else, when he makes those type of decisions — and here is what I told him, I said, ‘You’re hurting that opportunity. You’re tarnishing, staining your reputation. And that’s the last thing you want to do when you’re trying to get job offers.'”
Earnhardt continued by saying, “I told him I could stand behind him through just about anything, but I cannot defend that. That’s a difficult position for me or anyone to be in. When you want to support somebody and you’re helping somebody try to achieve their goals and they do something you can’t defend.”
💭 "I was shocked." #NASCAR
@JRMotorsports co-owner @DaleJr shared his reaction to @NoahGragson's retaliation on @SageKaram at @roadamerica, calling it "tough to watch."
@NASCAR_Xfinity | @EarnhardtKelley pic.twitter.com/ZlC0pcqUya
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) July 6, 2022
This is a stern take from Earnhardt and I believe the weight of his words may be enough to cause Gragson to think twice before intentional retaliation on a straightaway. However, if it happens again, I think NASCAR and Earnhardt will have a lot more than just words for the young racer.