Noah Gragson. (James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Earnhardt Jr.: ‘I Could Not Defend That’

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Not even JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. is rushing to defend his driver, Noah Gragson, four days after Saturday’s controversial NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America.

Gragson’s decision to wreck fellow competitor Sage Karam triggered a 13-car accident and criticism from Karam, as well as other drivers, team owners and the media.

On Wednesday morning, Earnhardt appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and discussed Gragson’s actions.

January 12, 2022:  at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (HHP/Chris Owens)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks to the media at Daytona. (HHP/Chris Owens photo)

“I was shocked, to be honest with you, when I saw Noah make that decision. I was just completely shocked and in a bit of a disbelief not only that he made that choice but that he, you know, that it created such an accident and got so many other guys involved,” Earnhardt told SiriusXM NASCAR radio. “So that was kind of, I don’t know, that was tough to watch, really tough, and kind of surprising that NASCAR didn’t penalize him. I think that NASCAR doesn’t want to over officiate the races, but I think in some situations there’s some things that do cross over a line. 

“And I felt like that was definitely one of those situations where had I been in the booth directing the race, I think I would’ve had to bring Noah to pit road and hold him there for a while.”

Earnhardt added that he’s committed to helping Gragson continue his career, but “could not defend” such on-track behavior.

“He needs to take that out of his choices. He cannot be intentionally turning into guys on straightaways, and, you know, I just hope that he realizes that that really is something that he needs to be careful about going forward,” the NASCAR Hall of Famer continued. “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 this 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.’ I told him that I could stand behind him through just about anything, but I could not defend that.”

On Tuesday, NASCAR vice president of officiating Elton Sawyer also appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and addressed Gragson’s maneuvers at Road America.

“He made a bad decision on lap 25 of a 40-some lap race there,” Sawyer said. “As a championship contender, a bad decision. We did speak to Noah post-race in the Xfinity hauler. He understands our position of what we expect from him going forward.”

On Wednesday afternoon after this story was published, NASCAR officials announced a $35,000 fine against Gragson for rough driving. He was also docked 30 driver’s points and JR Motorsports was penalized 30 owner’s points.