Monday, June 24, 2024

Noah Gragson indefinitely suspended by NASCAR

Noah Gragson has been suspended indefinitely by NASCAR and his Legacy Motor Club team effective immediately after he was found to have liked a racially charged Instagram post. Josh Berry will replace him in the #42 for Sunday’s Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway.

The post is an Instagram Reel of George Floyd‘s face superimposed on a crab accompanied by the text “Under Da Knee”, a play on The Little Mermaid song “Under the Sea” and Floyd’s 2020 murder in which since-convicted police officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on his neck for over nine minutes, killing him by asphyxiation. His death triggered massive protests throughout the United States with ramifications also extending to NASCAR, where Gragson’s friend and fellow Cup driver Bubba Wallace since became an outspoken activist for racial equality. NASCAR also publicly declared its stance against racism in the wake of the protests, famously banning the Confederate battle flag from tracks and urging the industry to show solidarity.

Although the meme was posted on 27 May, Gragson’s interaction was publicised Friday by a since-privated X (formerly Twitter) account. Upon being informed of the tweet, Frontstretch‘s Daniel McFadin reached out to Legacy MC, Chevrolet, and NASCAR, also noting that Gragson’s Instagram profile picture in the X user’s incriminating screenshot is different from his current one. Legacy eventually confirmed his suspension on Saturday morning due to “his actions that do not represent the values of our team.”

Gragson eventually issued an apology that stated, “I am disappointed in myself for my lack of attention and actions on social media. I understand the severity of this situation. I love and appreciate everyone. I try to treat everyone equally no matter who they are. I messed up plain and simple.”

With his suspension sidelining him indefinitely, Gragson will have to undergo sensitivity training before he could be reinstated. Kyle Larson, coincidentally a former driver of a #42 Cup car, underwent the same procedure shortly before Floyd’s death after being suspended for saying a racial slur, completing his training in May and being reinstated five months later.

“NASCAR fully supports Legacy Motor Club’s decision to suspend Noah Gragson,” reads a statement from the sanctioning body. “Following his actions on social media, NASCAR has determined that Gragson has violated the Member Conduct section of the 2023 NASCAR Rule Book and has placed him under indefinite suspension.”

The suspension adds to—and may have ended—a calamitous rookie season for Gragson. After the first twenty-two races, he was the worst-ranked full-time driver in the standings in thirty-third with just two finishes above twentieth, the highest a twelfth at Atlanta. He also missed the Sonoma race in June after a violent crash at Gateway the previous week resulted in a concussion.

A 1 August report from The Athletic also suggested Gragson will be replaced by John Hunter Nemechek for the 2024 Cup season as Legacy Motor Club switches from Chevrolet to Toyota. While Gragson has raced for Toyota in the past, Nemechek is considered the manufacturer’s top prospect as he sits second in Xfinity Series points.

With Gragson out, Berry will assume the title of substitute duty for the third time in 2023. He replaced an injured Chase Elliott in the #9 Hendrick Motorsports car for five races early in the season, during which he scored a runner-up finish at Richmond, followed by a three-race stint in the #48 of Elliott’s team-mate Alex Bowman when he got hurt as well. Berry also made two Cup starts in 2021 in relief duty for Spire Motorsports’ Corey LaJoie and Justin Haley due to COVID-19 protocols, followed by a five-race Xfinity stint with JR Motorsports in place of Michael Annett as he was nursing an injury.

Berry has since been elevated to a full-time Xfinity slate with JRM and is fifth in points. He will graduate to the Cup Series with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2024.