Noah Gragson asks to leave Legacy Motor Club in a move with big implications throughout the garage

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 08: Noah Gragson, driver of the #9 Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/BRCC Chevrolet, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Drive for the Cure 250 presented by BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 08, 2022 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Noah Gragson won’t be returning to Legacy Motor Club even after his suspension is lifted, the driver confirmed Thursday.

Rookie driver Gragson asked to be released from his multi-year contract to drive the No. 42 Chevrolet for the team following his suspension before the race at Michigan for ‘liking’ a derogatory meme in reference to George Floyd, whose death spurred the Black Lives Matter protests, on Instagram.

He was first suspended by the team before NASCAR added on an indefinite suspension from the sport as well, requiring sensitivity training before Gragson will be allowed to return.

“I have asked Legacy Motor Club to release me from my contract so I that I can take time to work through the NASCAR reinstatement process,” Gragson said in a statement.

“I love racing, and I am looking forward to a second chance to compete for wins at the highest level of NASCAR – and most importantly, make my family, my team, and the fans proud of me once again.”

Legacy Motor Club released Noah’s statement on Twitter, with an additional response from Cal Wells III, the team’s CEO.

“Noah has a ton of talent and a great personality,” Wells wrote. “This is a difficult situation, but we are proud that Noah has taken ownership of his actions and we are confident he will work through this process with NASCAR and come back stronger.”

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE – JULY 15: Noah Gragson, driver of the #42 Sunseeker Resort Chevrolet, drives during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Crayon 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 15, 2023 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Gragson’s seat has already been filled since his suspension was announced. Super-sub Josh Berry, who also replaced Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman earlier this year, including scoring a runner-up finish in the No. 9 car at Richmond, replaced him at Michigan. Berry ended up 34th after an early spin while teammate Erik Jones earned a top-ten finish.

The team also announced Tuesday that German sports-car ace Mike Rockenfeller, who knows Legacy team owner Jimmie Johnson from their time competing in NASCAR’s Garage 56 entry together at Le Mans, will sub in for the Indianapolis and Watkins Glen road courses.

The move means that the No. 42 Cup Series racecar is available next year. Josh Berry certainly won’t be in it, since he’s already been confirmed as the replacement for Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing car.

Some drivers are out of a seat though and might find a place at Legacy. Truck Series champion Zane Smith, for instance, ran several Cup starts for Front Row Motorsports this year, but the team was unable to find a place for him. Another promising driver who couldn’t find a spot at Front Row is John Hunter Nemechek. Unlike Smith, he’s a longtime Toyota driver, which might work in his favor since Legacy has confirmed that they’ll be moving to Toyotas next season.

One spot potentially open for Gragson, though, is the No. 31 Kaulig Racing car. Gragson, a longtime Chevy driver, was already in perilous position with Legacy before his suspension with the team’s Toyota announcement. Chevrolet team Kaulig has already booted Justin Haley from his car. Haley will be driving for Rick Ware Racing next season, potentially leaving an open seat for Gragson.

Gragson is certainly a driver who engages his sponsors, including high-profile stunts with Wendy’s, as CupScene editor Greg Engle noted at Forbes, and might be able to bring backing to Kaulig.

Both Gragson and Legacy will be hoping for better results in whatever situation both are in next season. Before his suspension, Gragson was 33rd in the points standings, the worst of any full-time driver, with an average finish of 28.2 and only one top-twenty finish to his credit.

Owen Johnson