Two of NASCAR’s most successful drivers have responded to the EchoPark 250 brawl between Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric, but they could not agree about which driver was to blame.
JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier won the March 20 Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his first checkered flag of the season. However, Allgaier became less of a story when Gragson and Hemric threw punches after the race. Hemrick interrupted Gragson’s post-race interview to express his displeasure after Gragson backed into his car during a pit stop, and the altercation quickly turned physical.
Days later, 2012 Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski and NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon appeared on NASCAR Race Hub to determine which driver was at fault while comparing the altercation to one of their own.
Gordon & Keselowski Have a Unique Perspective of the Situation
Gordon and Keselowski have first-hand experience dealing with a similar situation. Back in 2014, the two men sparked a massive pit road brawl at the AAA Texas 500. Keselowski tried to sneak between Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet and Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet to steal a crucial win during the final playoff elimination round, but he collided with Gordon’s ride and cut the rear tire. Johnson won the race while Keselowski took third. Gordon, however, finished in 29th, while his championship hopes took a significant hit.
Gordon stormed over to Keselowski after the race and tried to get in his face. He was unable to achieve his goal at first, but fellow driver Kevin Harvick pushed Keselowski from behind and instigated the fight. Both Gordon and Keselowski threw punches while their pit crews jumped into the fracas. Officials were ultimately able to separate the two men, but not before they exchanged several blows and drew blood.
“Well, I can relate to Hemric because I saw a championship opportunity go away — whether it was intentional or not — it felt intentional to me on the race track,” Gordon said on NASCAR Race Hub on March 23. “Man, I was just fuming, I was wanting to deal with [Keselowski] at that moment.”
He added that he “can’t say” that Gragson intended to back into Hemric’s stock car, but he didn’t think that the JR Motorsports driver really had to do so while trying to avoid a pit stall penalty.
Keselowski, the man who originally ruined Gordon’s championship hopes, saw the Gragson-Hemric fight from a very different perspective. He said that the No. 9 Chevrolet had to do a “complicated maneuver” to avoid a costly penalty late in the race and that Gragson was not to blame.
“If you saw the way that Noah had to go around Daniel Hemric — the big thing to remember is the right front tire has to be in the pit box,” Keselowski told NASCAR Race Hub. “If the tire is not in the pit box, it’s a one-lap penalty. Talk about a game-changer. You cannot get that penalty.”
The Aftermath of the Fight Involved No Punishment
NASCAR responded to the fight and the collision on pit road. The Athletic motorsports reporter Jordan Bianchi shared the statement on Twitter. Officials met with Gragson after the race and spoke to him about both incidents, according to the statement. NASCAR also examined footage of the pit stalls and ultimately determined that the contact between the No. 9 and the No. 18 cars was unintentional.
Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition, explained that there was a “chain reaction of events” that led to both drivers overshooting their pit stalls. Gragson’s No. 9 Chevrolet ended up “both long and out of his pit box to the outside,” forcing him to back up as far as possible to fully pull into his box. “After reviewing the video, it is our judgment that the contact was not deliberate,” Miller said.
Despite NASCAR ruling that the contact was unintentional, there have still been many comments about the fight. Specifically, the comments have continued to focus on Gragson, his outspoken personality, and past controversy. This fight with Hemric was not his first. He previously punched Harrison Burton after an Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway in 2020.
Denny Hamlin, the current Cup Series points leader, posted several tweets on Saturday about the incident. He said that Gragson backing into his fellow driver was “not ok” and also retweeted critical comments by Hemric. JR Motorsports co-owner Kelley Earnhardt said that she would not approve if the collision was purposeful, but she added that the car was in an illegal position before the maneuver.
The collision on pit road and the subsequent fight are only the latest incidents featuring Gragson. They likely will not be the last for the 22-year-old as he continues to race full-time in the Xfinity Series and draw comparisons to two-time Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, another driver known for a divisive personality and brutally honest post-race interviews. Gragson may not win every race, but he continues to keep viewers engaged in the sport.