PLYMOUTH, Wis. — Tommy Joe Martins wasn’t even competing in Saturday’s Henry 180 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America, but he was fired up post-race, specifically with Noah Gragson.
Shortly after the start of the final stage, Gragson and Sage Karam swapped paint multiple times. The result was a 13-car pileup after the No. 9 car turned the No. 45 Chevrolet down the straightaway between Turns 3 and 5, triggering multiple hard hits. Brandon Brown gingerly climbed from his battered machine before leaning against the wall.
“I would be embarrassed to be associated with (Gragson),” Martins said after the event. “How many times is he going to publicly apologize? Now he’s trying to act like he’s a bad dude, tough guy. Like are you kidding me, that’s the softest thing I’ve ever seen. I’ll tell you what’s tough, trying to come out here and racing with a budget that’s less than a quarter of what they’re doing.”
Before the pileup, Gragson and Karam restarted sixth and seventh, respectively. Initially, Karam recalled getting a good run out of Turn 3 on the initial lap of green, making a clean move past Gragson. Entering Turn 1 of the next lap, Gragson moved to pass Karam, in what the No. 45 driver said was a “dive bomb.”
From there, the two leaned on one another and drove through Turn 3 side-by-side. And when Karam got the spot, Gragson used a right hook to turn the No. 45 car into traffic, which created a dust cloud. Chaos ensued.
“I think he got upset that a little team and the No. 45 and Alpha Prime Racing got around him,” Karam said. “I think his ego got hurt.”
After taking the checkered flag in eighth position, Gragson was unapologetic for his actions with Karam. Gragson did take blame for the other teams that got caught up in the mess.
“It’s one thing if you’re faster than someone,” Gragson said, “but to throw it off in there and run you off the race track in the corner, door you, run you off the track. Finally, after the third time, I’m over it. It’s not the ideal situation for him and his team, but two or three times, I’m done with it.”
Josh Berry of JR Motorsports was running directly behind Gragson and Karam and had to make an evasive move to miss the incident. Berry thought Karam was leaning on Gragson.
“These guys come in and run one race and just don’t race a lot of the regulars with respect, in my opinion,” Berry said. “You see half the time all of their cars are torn all to hell every race.
“That’s between them and Noah, not me.”
Road America was just Karam’s seventh career start in the series. In his previous six tries, he had a pair of 16th-place finishes at Bristol Motor Speedway and Circuit of The Americas.
“I’m here to win races,” Karam said. “I’m more comfortable on road courses than I am on ovals, so am I going to run better on road courses? Probably. Am I going to run more aggressively on road courses? Probably, because I’m going to be more into the game. When we’re running for a top five, that’s a win for Alpha Prime if we can get a top five.
“I knew I was faster than Noah, and he didn’t like that a little team was doing that to him. He can go out there and drive however he wants and it’s not a worry for him. It affects us a lot more than it affects him.”
Gragson didn’t believe Saturday’s incident will hurt him down the road, specifically with the weekly competitors that were a byproduct of the Nos. 9 and 45 getting together. Karam wasn’t planning to retaliate, but won’t be doing Gragson any favors anytime soon, either.
“I’m not going to intentionally drive into somebody or take somebody out,” Karam said. “That’s just not the type of driver I am. Twenty-something years of racing, that’s never happened to me until today. I would say that’s racing, but to me that wasn’t racing.”
Brown was in good spirits at the infield care center after piling into Tyler Reddick and losing his breath. His 34th-place finish did, however, end a streak of four consecutive top-20 finishes.
“Just an area where there’s no spotters and very high speed, trying to carry as much as you can,” Brown said. “Caught the dust cloud.”
Karam will return to Alpha Prime next weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he wrecked out and finished 32nd in March. In that same race, Gragson led 38 laps and finished 26th.