NASCAR: Writing on the wall for suspended Noah Gragson?

Noah Gragson, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Noah Gragson, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Amid rumors of him being replaced after the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, Noah Gragson was suspended for “liking” an inappropriate post.

Legacy Motor Club rookie Noah Gragson missed his second race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season this past Sunday/Monday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway after being suspended for “liking” an insensitive Instagram post featuring a meme of the late George Floyd.

Gragson, who missed the race at Sonoma Raceway in June after suffering a head injury in a crash the week prior, was replaced by Josh Berry behind the wheel of the No. 42 Chevrolet in Sunday’s 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.0-mile (3.219-kilometer) Brooklyn, Michigan oval.

Gragson’s suspension came the same week it was reported that the Richard Petty, Maury Gallagher, and Jimmie Johnson-owned team had been scouting a potential replacement for the 25-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native for next year.

While it has been no secret that Legacy Motor Club have underperformed this season after making significant progress late last year, Gragson has still been nowhere near the pace of veteran teammate Erik Jones, whose four top nine finishes have him placed well ahead of Gragson and his single top 19 finish in the point standings.

As a result, there is speculation that John Hunter Nemechek could replace Gragson, even though Gragson was said to have signed a “multi-year” deal ahead of the 2023 season.

Toyota remain very high on Nemechek, who currently competes for the manufacturer with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity Series team, and with Legacy Motor Club set to switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year, Nemechek has emerged as the most likely driver of the No. 42 Toyota.

Amid this speculation, coupled with the suspension, is the writing on the wall for Noah Gragson?

Let’s make one thing clear, if it’s not already. This speculation did not start because of Gragson liking a The Little Mermaid-themed George Floyd meme. By any reasonable definition of the term, they are two completely independent events.

Having said that, we have also seen similar instances of drivers liking, engaging in, or creating what could be considered “insensitive” content online (or in one case, during an interview), and they have typically been required to complete sensitivity training (within a reasonable amount of time) and don’t actually miss any races.

While opinions were torn over Gragson’s punishment to begin with, given the controversy surrounding Floyd’s murder in May 2020, it would not have been considered abnormal had NASCAR and/or Legacy Motor Club denounced his online action and announced that he had been mandated to take sensitivity training.

The only actual instance of a driver missing races over something to do with online speech/actions in recent years is when Kyle Larson was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing for saying the n-word in an online iRacing event.

And even Chip Ganassi will tell you that to this day he has nothing against Larson; the firing decision came several days after the incident and it ultimately happened due to sponsors withdrawing their support from the No. 42 (ironically) team.

But Gragson, whom everybody knows needs a big result or several to potentially save his career, was suspended right off the bat, and there has been no formal confirmation that his suspension will or won’t include more than just this past weekend’s race.

Does anybody else get the sense that this team has already semi-moved on from the current driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet?

It could, but keep in mind, NASCAR later suspended Gragson indefinitely themselves.

To his credit, Gragson did own up to his mistake right away and admitted straight-up that he was in the wrong and needs to be better, and nobody can argue against that.

But again, it’s no different than a reaction we generally see from drivers who are required to take sensitivity training (which, for all intents and purposes, we can probably expect to see from Gragson at some point in the near future as well).

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All things considered, it’s even harder to imagine Gragson being back with Legacy Motor Club now than it was even as the rumors started to swirl amid his continued lack of performance.