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NASCAR sanctions Gragson for intentional crash at Road America

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NASCAR penalized Noah Gragson on Wednesday for a deliberate and dangerous accident he caused in the Xfinity Series race at Road America.

Gragson, who turns 24 this month, received 30 points and a $35,000 NASCAR fine for intentionally crashing into Sage Karam on Saturday at the Wisconsin speedway. NASCAR cited a rule against “intentionally destroying another vehicle” and “actions by a NASCAR member that NASCAR deems detrimental to stock car racing or NASCAR.”

Gragson’s swerve into Karam triggered a terrifying multi-car accident that was so egregious Dale Earnhardt Jr. publicly criticized Gragson 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 that NASCAR did not immediately sanction his driver.

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“To be honest, I was shocked when I saw Noah make that decision,” Earnhardt said Wednesday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “He was completely shocked and a little bit in disbelief, not only that he made that decision, but that he, you know, created such an accident and involved a lot of other guys. That was hard to watch, really hard.

“I think NASCAR doesn’t want to over-referees races, but I think in some situations there are some things that get out of line. And I felt like it was definitely one of those situations where if I had been in the cockpit running the race, I think I would have had to take Noah out to pit road and hold him there for a while.

NASCAR said it didn’t immediately issue the penalty after the 13-car crash because Saturday’s race at the road course had been so aggressive that it wanted to talk to Gragson and examine his Chevrolet to make sure it hadn’t suffered a mechanical failure.

“Obviously nothing was wrong with the car and it was clear it was intentional,” NASCAR said in a statement. “Parking the (number) 9 during the event was an option, but we felt more information was needed before making a decision on any disciplinary action.”

The point deduction did not leave Gragson in the standings; he has two wins this season.

Kelley Earnhardt Miller, who was initially defiant against calls to punish Gragson, said on Twitter that the team she co-owns with her brother “understands” NASCAR’s penalty.

“Noah is a passionate racing driver and his actions occurred in the heat of the moment,” he wrote. “Learning how and when to control emotions is part of the learning experience.”

Gragson lost his temper after he and Karam hit each other several times shortly after the start of the third stage. Gragson deliberately steered right to catch Karam on the straight between Turns 3 and 5, leading to further crashes.

Karam was quick to criticize the danger Gragson’s action caused other drivers, and Gragson made no apologies for hitting Karam.

“It’s one thing if you’re faster than somebody,” Gragson said, “but to throw him in there and take you off the track in the corner, hit you, take you off the track. Finally, after the third time, I got over it. It’s not the ideal situation for him and his team, but two or three times, I end up with it”.

Earnhardt said Wednesday that ripping Karam apart should never have been an option.

“He needs to take that out of his options. He can’t be intentionally turning into guys on the fastballs. I just hope that he realizes that that’s something he has to be careful about going forward,” Earnhardt said. “Noah wants to compete at 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 kinds of decisions, and this is what I told him, I told him, ‘You’re missing that opportunity. You’re tarnishing, tarnishing your reputation. And that’s the last thing you want to do when trying to get job offers. I told him I could be behind him on almost anything, but I couldn’t defend that.”

Karam crashed in 2015 while leading an IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway and a piece of broken debris from his car ricocheted off and hit Justin Wilson’s helmet, dealing him a fatal blow.

Karam is now trying out a combination of NASCAR and IndyCar and has been unimpressed with Gragson in his time in NASCAR’s second-tier series.

“He knew he was faster than Noah, and he didn’t like having a small team do that to him,” Karam said. “He can go out and drive however he wants and it’s not a concern for him. It affects us much more to us than to him”.

Karam is entered in Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he will face Gragson again, but said he will not retaliate.

“I’m not going to intentionally push someone or take someone out,” Karam said. “That’s not the kind of driver I am. Twenty-odd years of racing, that had never happened to me until (Road America). I’d say that’s a race, but for me that wasn’t a race.”

He also wasn’t sure if Gragson would change. The Las Vegas native has been involved in countless on-track assaults throughout his short career.

“In the short time I’ve been racing on Xfinity, I haven’t heard a lot of good things about Noah and he hasn’t shown a lot of good racing with me on the track,” Karam said. “I’m not sure Noah can change. This is something that Noah needs to look at in the mirror, he needs to look at himself and want to make a change.”

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