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Despite critics, Noah Gragson’s focus is clear: ‘Stay true to myself’

Nearly a week after crashing into the back of David Starr with fewer than three laps remaining while leading last Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Noah Gragson’s view remains unchanged.

Gragson appeared to be on his way to securing his third career Xfinity Series victory, but disaster struck as he tried to place Starr a lap down. The No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet was destroyed after Starr lost control and slid up the race track despite trying to move down to give room, leaving Gragson with no option but to slam into his back bumper.

Gragson made critical comments about Starr immediately after the incident. Once the race was completed, Starr made a visit to the No. 9 hauler. Gragson then made an effort to explain that Starr has always been a difficult car to pass and he’s not the only one who thinks the same.

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“I understand that they’re racing and they’re on track and they’re running their own race, but man, when the leader’s coming, we’d like just a little bit more respect,” Gragson said during his Thursday media availability. “It’s not just him, though.”

As the series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for Saturday’s Alsco Uniforms 300 (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Gragson said even after looking back on the situation, he still wouldn’t have done anything differently – referring to both the crash and his comments afterward.

“I think the most important thing for me is to stay true to myself,” Gragson said. “I think it’s to not really change because I went through a little process last year where I wasn’t really myself. People tried to slow me down and it didn’t really work for me. I spoke what was on my mind.”

One of those people who spoke with Gragson about slowing down and being less aggressive was team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. The pair had an in-depth conversation about how he should practice more patience on the race track, but not at the sacrifice of speed.

The concept didn’t really match up with Gragson’s driving style, which led him to throwing caution to the wind – which included Earnhardt’s opinion – and racing the only way he knows.

“We had a good conversation and I tried to do what he said, but I just slowed down,” Gragson said. “I didn’t have the speed. I finally got into the playoffs and I’m like, screw that, I’m going to go out there and race as hard as I can and be comfortable with myself and race the way I know how to, and we had really good results.”

Gragson noted since then, he has discussed the incident with other drivers, including Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick. They all said they didn’t know what Gragson could have done differently, which was “refreshing” to hear for him.

While those drivers know the position Gragson is currently in trying to race for the livelihood of his career each week, those on the outside aren’t privy to the same knowledge. That’s where Gragson tries to educate people on what it’s like to be in his shoes, but most of the time, to no avail.

“I’ve heard it all,” Gragson said. “Probably the worst stuff you could hear on Twitter based on personal experiences in my life over the past couple years. Stuff that happens on the race track doesn’t bother me a bit. For myself personally, it’s not that I’m mad or it gets under my skin what people say, it’s me trying to educate them of what it’s like to be behind the wheel of the race car — me trying to educate and inform them of my side of the story.

“I think that might be where the communication gets a little disruptive or it gets misunderstood is the fact that I’m just trying to explain some of the ignorance or some of the uneducated comments on there. It just seems like it’s almost impossible to educate the uneducated.”

While many have taken to social media to either express support or disdain toward Gragson, he welcomes all the chatter surrounding him – both positive and negative.

“Everyone has their own opinion and I’m fine with that,” Gragson said. “I have my own opinion, too. If people are talking about me, I’m doing my job. I’m doing a good job. Darrell Waltrip once said that if they’re talking about you, good or bad, they’re still talking about you.

“There are people who like me, there’s people who hate me, you’re gonna have that. Does it bother me? Not a bit.”