Column: Love him or hate him, Gragson has NASCAR speaking

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Oh, Noah Gragson, what have you ever finished now?

Nothing, based on NASCAR, which went with a no-call by not penalizing Gragson for backing into Daniel Hemric’s automobile on pit highway at Atlanta Motor Speedway over the weekend. No one was fined, both, for the post-race scuffle after that led to Gragson throwing punches at one other driver for the second time in eight months.

This newest dustup must be seen via an neutral lens — unimaginable to do for those that already dislike Gragson a nd consider the 22-year-old driver doesn’t deserve his job.

Not even Gragson himself would deny he is been disruptive. That Saturday showdown with Hemric was his second headline-making mess in a season solely 5 weeks previous.

“My job is to get folks speaking about me. And it’s going good proper now,” a recalcitrant Gragson mentioned earlier this month when NASCAR was selecting sides i n a confrontation between the fully-funded driver and a crew with nearly no funding in any respect.

It isn’t mistaken to accuse him of vanity when he so defiantly defends his place. Gragson did it once more at Atlanta when Hemric bum-rushed him throughout a post-race interview to settle the sooner pit highway collision.

As a substitute of a diplomatic method after the 2 had been separated, Gragson as an alternative double-downed: “I might be mad if I used to be in his sneakers, too, simply primarily based off what he is finished in his profession,” he mentioned of Hemric, who’s winless in 181 races at NASCAR’s nationwide stage.

No one appeared to thoughts when three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart bulldozed his approach via the game each on and off the observe. Smoke was beloved for his sharp tongue, for by no means backing down, for flattening anybody who stood in his approach of a victory.

Gragson hasn’t earned that very same affection or put up Stewart-like outcomes. In two seasons within the Truck Sequence and two seasons driving for JR Motorsports within the Xfinity Sequence, Gragson has 4 mixed victories.

However the lack of outcomes are not the issue right here. The bullseye on Gragson appears to stem from his background — he comes from a rich Las Vegas household that undeniably helped fund his path to a top-level seat.

Solely here is the place the narrative must be corrected. Now in his third season with JRM, Gragson is not cruising on household cash. JRM has bought all 33 races on the 2021 schedule to 3 totally different firms: Bass Professional Outlets, TrueTimber and Black Rifle Espresso are funding Gragson’s season and the motive force does all the pieces his sponsors ask of him.

Joe Mattes, vp of licensing and advertising and marketing at JRM, finds Gragson to be one of the amenable drivers to sponsor requests he is ever labored with. Gragson places the work in “twelve months of the yr, not simply on 33 Saturdays,” mentioned Mattes, who famous that form of effort typically overshadows the controversies Gragson can not seem to keep away from.

“They like the fireplace within the stomach, they just like the competitiveness,” mentioned Mattes. “They like him. And so they like him as a result of there’s twelve months that he goes to work and its the sum of the above. It isn’t the man who backed up on pit highway, or who was proper or who was mistaken. These are incidents. If you construct your corporation mannequin round 33 Saturdays, you’ve got received a shedding enterprise mannequin.”

Mattes acknowledged the No. 9 automobile is a “co-funded mannequin” through which household cash is contributed, however mentioned a big share of seats in each the Xfinity and Truck Sequence are structured through which the motive force brings funding. However is Gragson a straight ride-buyer?

“That notion is 100% incorrect,” Mattes mentioned.

JRM final yr tried an intervention of types with Gragson, and crew co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. instructed him he was too aggressive and wanted to reign it in a bit. Gragson tried and in the end discovered it was a horrible match: “I lastly received into the playoffs and I’m like, ‘Screw that, I’m going to go on the market and race as onerous as I can and be snug with myself.’”

A wave of driver retirements has stripped NASCAR of its star energy and the game completely wants all of the dialog starters it may get. Gragson checks that field practically each time he races and throttling him — since you don’t love him, since you assume he is mouthy, as a result of he comes from cash — will solely rob NASCAR of a colourful persona when it wants one.

Chase Elliott, the reigning Cup Sequence champion and NASCAR’s three-time hottest driver, acknowledges the tightrope Gragson is on.

“If we weren’t in a enterprise that required company sponsors, I might say headlines are good regardless of the way you get them,” Elliott mentioned. “The flip aspect of that’s we do want company sponsors and we do must be buttoned-up for them. However, hey, perhaps the fitting sponsor likes that.”

There’s not a NASCAR driver within the discipline who fails to acknowledge his sponsors, and that is one space Gragson will get proper each time. Something he does on the observe earns him tv time, and he flawlessly directs viewers to the closest Bass Professional Outlets each single time.

“It’s a must to ship to the companions. You possibly can’t simply drive anymore,” Mattes mentioned. “Win on Sunday and promote on Monday? Compete at a really excessive stage on Friday or Saturday? Certain. However promote January One via December 31. These youngsters at the moment received to be extraordinarily aggressive however they higher be promoting twelve months a yr or they don’t seem to be making it. They won’t make it.

“And so they must have persona. They can not be vanilla ice cream. He is a handful, he is completely a handful, however he is definitely worth the vitality and energy.”


Extra AP auto racing: and—Sports activities

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