NASCAR Cup Series
Noah Gragson cites 'ignorance' for past mistake, excited to show growth in NASCAR return
NASCAR Cup Series

Noah Gragson cites 'ignorance' for past mistake, excited to show growth in NASCAR return

Updated Dec. 13, 2023 4:31 p.m. ET

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — When asked why he would like a racially insensitive tweet, Noah Gragson had a relatively simple answer.

"Ignorance," Gragson said.

Gragson, who was suspended by NASCAR in August for liking a meme that mocked the death of George Floyd, was reinstated in September after completing diversity training conducted by the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday that it had added Gragson to its 2024 Cup lineup, signaling Gragson’s return to NASCAR national series racing.


[Read more: Noah Gragson named driver of Stewart-Haas No. 10 car, replacing Aric Almirola]

As he talked in a conference room to a handful of reporters Wednesday, Gragson said the last four months included many days of reflection as he grows as a person.

"It was a lot of lonely time. Challenging moments," he said. "But I felt like those moments have pushed me to become better. With my psychologist, [it’s] we either win or we learn.

"And I don't think spending time in the dark by yourself is a winning moment. But it's an opportunity to learn about yourself and think and really use your mind."

So what did the 25-year-old Gragson learn? Through the RISE program, he was able to ask questions in an individual setting about things he didn’t know. He visited a couple of civil rights museums. He said by seeing the stories about lunch counter sit-ins and how they expanded across the country, he envied the bravery of people who fought for change.

"To say I was uneducated is an understatement," Gragson said. "It was impactful. ... Waking through [the museums] there thinking, ‘Man, as a white male, I have privilege and what would it be like to be in their shoes’ and put myself in there.’

"It's allowed me to step away from being so selfish about myself and learn and open up and become open-minded about others."

What might have seemed like a harmless like of a meme four months ago is not so harmless now to Gragson. 

"I had a lot of garbage on my feed," he said. "I was careless when I first got on social media and accept friend requests from different people. And all of a sudden, you're friends with people you don't even know on there, and you just got garbage on your feed, right?

"I’ve become a lot more aware of other people."

Gragson doesn’t have much of a relationship with Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only full-time Black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. They talked about how Gragson, who also was struggling on-track as a rookie in the Cup series before the suspension, can rebound.

"I told him, I'm like, ‘Man, this is your time right now to reflect, grow up and that things can change in a matter of seconds, obviously, and so utilize this moment, learn from it, and show up and be better,’" Wallace said.

"I took it as he was genuinely wanting to be a better person. And so I hope that's true. And we'll see what happens. Everybody makes mistakes, and, Noah, just from his voice and kind of the passion behind what he was saying — it sounded genuine. We'll find out."

Whether fans will find him genuine, Gragson said he can’t prove by what he says, only the way he acts.

"If I can continue to learn and grow every single day and become the best person possible, I will be content with myself," Gragson said.

He feels he is on that path.

"[I’m] developing good habits, just cleaning up after myself," Gragson said. "It’s a lot of self-awareness as well — thinking a lot more and using my ears more than my mouth."

One thing Gragson has started doing that he has never done before? He started reading books. He had never read a book that wasn’t assigned to him for school. He said he is dyslexic and could only read five pages in 30 minutes. He now can read about a page a minute.

So he talked with pride about having finished three books, a couple of self-help books and a book on Formula 1. It might not seem like much, but it is to Gragson.

Known for an outgoing, emotional personality that tested the borders of maturity, Gragson will try to balance having fun with focusing on racing. No more bowl haircuts. No more bringing a boombox with him in the garage or pit road.

The change in his personal life has impacted his performance as a driver in the non-NASCAR events he has competed in over the last couple of months.

"[I’m] a lot more present behind the wheel and clear-minded," Gragson said. "And that's just working on my personal life, and I think it's translated to the race track. So I feel like I have the focus. I'm satisfied with myself and my focus right now.

"Where before it probably looked like I was screwing around and not taking as serious, I still felt like I worked really hard throughout the week kind of behind the closed doors. But maybe when you guys saw me, it looked like I was screwing off. Balance is a great word and that’s what these last handful of months has really taught me how to find balance in my personal life and my work life."

He sounds ready to race in NASCAR again. Gragson said he does not have bitterness for the suspension, even with it taking several weeks after he had liked the social media post for it to become public and resulting in Legacy and NASCAR taking action.

"I put NASCAR and Legacy Motor Club in a position where they were forced to react," Gragson said. "It’s simple."

Once that happened, Gragson tried to focus on next steps.

"All I knew how to do was to overcome the situation and keep that mindset and work hard every single day and bring that focus and that intent to everything I'm doing in hopes of another opportunity," Gragson said.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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