Noah Gragson has avoided punishment from NASCAR for his abrupt reversal into Daniel Hemric’s pit stall during Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Atlanta.
Gragson nearly hit crew members for Hemric’s car when he was backing up to straighten his car out in his own pit stall. After the race, Hemric went after Gragson and the two drivers briefly tussled before the skirmish was broken up by others on pit road.
NASCAR vice president Scott Miller reiterated Monday morning on SiriusXM that neither driver would be penalized and said that Gragson “didn’t deliberately” back his car into Hemric’s. Gragson’s car made contact with Hemric’s car while crew members were in the middle of a pit stop.
“Noah found himself outside the pit box and the only way he could really get back in was to back up as far as he could and I think he misjudged it there and hit [Hemric’s car] and all kinds of mayhem ensued from there,” Miller said.
Here’s a brief video of what happened.
Was Gragson’s reversal unintentional?
While NASCAR and Miller have determined that Gragson’s reversal into Hemric’s car was unintentional, it’s still worth examining the extremely dangerous incident. Gragson could have significantly injured a member of Hemric’s crew.
The kerfuffle on pit road started after Hemric’s car was in Gragson’s stall. Hemric initially overshot his pit box and found himself in Gragson’s pit stall before backing up into his own pit box. Gragson then found himself in the same situation given the steep angle he attempted to enter his pit stall.
Gragson posted the full video of what happened to social media on Saturday night in an attempt to clear himself of any wrongdoing.
And he didn’t really accomplish his goal. Here’s why.
In his tweet, Gragson notes that the “right side tires” cannot be out of the pit box during a pit stop. That is incorrect. A car can legally pit with the right-rear tire outside of the pit box.
Both the video at the top of the post and the video Gragson posted also show that Gragson had an empty pit stall ahead of him. While both he and Miller are maintaining that backing up into Hemric’s pit box and nearly hitting Hemric’s crew members was a necessary maneuver to get the car legally in the pit box, it’s clear from the video that Gragson could have pulled further forward into the empty stall ahead before reversing his car. That clarity makes the reversal more egregious.
Hemric also said on Twitter Saturday night that Gragson flipped him off after he reversed his car into him.
The middle finger you gave me out the window was a pretty clear indication to me that you knew exactly what your intent was. Thanks for posting the facts @NoahGragson 👏🏻👏🏻 https://t.co/xIXq5oC9ZH
— Daniel Hemric (@DanielHemric) March 21, 2021
Though it’s impossible to find the flip of a middle finger, you can see Gragson sticking his left hand out the driver’s side window after he backed up the car.
A penalty was necessary
While the fight between the two drivers is the juicier angle in their spat on Saturday, the far more dangerous aspect of the conflict is what happened on pit road. The situation during the race had far greater potential consequences than a post-race fistfight.
And that’s why it’s fair to believe that Gragson should have received some sort of public punishment from NASCAR even if the sanctioning body ultimately determined that what he did was unintentional. Pit road is a risky place — a crew member was lightly hit by a spinning car on pit road in Sunday’s Cup Series race — and NASCAR routinely penalizes teams for unintentional mistakes on pit road.
NASCAR’s reckless driving statute is broad enough to have been easily applied to Gragson’s reversal. Even a minor consequence would have sent a strong signal that NASCAR cares about pit road safety. Instead, drivers and teams now know that risky maneuvers like this can be gotten away with if NASCAR doesn’t find any ill-intent.
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