It's not often that the NASCAR Xfinity Series takes precedence over the Cup Series, but back in late March 2021, Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric made headlines for their scrap on pit road after the EchoPark 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The incident was initiated during an attempted pit stop, during which Gragson overshot his stall and backed into Hemric's car. Hemric, who drove the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing at the time, was clearly heated over what he considered to be a deliberate move and didn't even wait for Gragson to finish his post-race interview before confronting him.
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) March 21, 2021
As the footage shows, Hemric got right in Gragson's face while he was mid-interview and shoved the JR Motorsports driver, which Gragson responded to by throwing a punch. Hemric looked like a guy who's been in a couple scraps in his day, as he dodged Gragson's punch and connected with one of his own. While Hemric was being held back by crew members, Gragson hit him with one punch and whiffed on another before he too was forcibly removed from the fray.
In a later interview, Hemric explained his bold move to take on Gragson after the Xfinity race.
"Pretty simple. He had no idea what was going on out on the race track," said Hemric, who now drives the No. 11 Chevy for Kaulig Racing. "We come down pit road and the guy pitted behind us when you accelerate when I was pulling into my box, and it made me have to steer around the guy going to the 9's (Gragson) box. I backed up and yes, it messed up both of our pit stops."
"I backed up and he decided to put it in reverse and cram into the right-front fender and knock a hole in our Poppy Bank Toyota Supra nose. We had to pit again and fix it. That was completely deliberate and it was absolutely ridiculous. Where I come from, you get your eye dotted when you do stuff like that."
Gragson, who placed fourth in the race, placed the blame on Hemric for overreacting and took a shot at his career accomplishments. Little did Gragson know that Daniel Hemric would go on to win the Xfinity Series championship later that year.
"I don't know why he's mad," Gragson said. "We were behind him coming onto pit road. Then he was in our pit box and I had to come around him and not really sure why he was there, but had to back up and get there. I'd be mad if I was in his shoes, too, just based off what he's done in his career, but it is what it is and we'll move on and keep on fighting. Man, what a day. Top five, we'll go celebrate that."
NASCAR officials later reveal footage of the incident to determine if Gragson's contact with Hemric's car earlier in the race was deliberate. Eventually, they determined that it was not.
"We reviewed the incident which occurred between the 9 and 18 cars on pit road during Saturday night's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and met with Noah Gragson after the event," Scott Miller, NASCAR's senior vice president of competition, said. "A chain reaction of events led to the 18 and 9 both overshooting their pit stalls. The 9 ended up both long and out of his pit box to the outside, and needed to back up as far as possible to have any chance at fully pulling into his box. After reviewing the video, it is our judgement that the contact was not deliberate."
Of course, Hemric clearly felt differently about NASCAR's decision, and when asked in his post-race interview to clarify if Gragson meant to hit him on purpose, he didn't mince words.
"Oh yeah, crammed it into reverse and backed up," Hemric said. "Punched a hole in the nose of our car. Punched a hole in our car and I got one punch in his eye. We're even."
Clearly, Daniel Hemric takes the term "eye for an eye" a little more literally than most.