Bubba Wallace put NASCAR in a tough spot last Sunday when he turned his Toyota into a 180-mph weapon against Kyle Larson. Upset that Larson passed him in the third turn, Wallace bounced off the wall and veered left into the side of Larson’s Chevrolet. Luckily for Larson – and unlucky for Christopher Bell – Wallace hit Bell first to soften the blow.
All three cars were wrecked. Larson and Bell were playoff drivers who now find themselves teetering on elimination heading into this Sunday’s race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway and a week later at the Martinsville Speedway.
One thing neither Larson nor Bell will have to worry about in South Florida is Wallace. NASCAR suspended him for one race.
And it should have been more. After all, a crewman who fails to tighten a lugnut is suspended for four races. Also, the crew chief earns a suspension and the team is generally fined $100,000 and loses points.
Four races for a loose lugnut. One race for trying to hurt someone.
Former and current drivers called Wallace’s reaction reckless. Fans were even more outraged. Wallace’s actions were as bad as it gets, but NASCAR’s response was just as bad since there were no fines or reduction of driver or car owner points. The sanctioning body clearly wanted to protect a driver it uses to project racial equity.
Let’s be clear: this isn’t an issue of black or white. It’s right or wrong.
It started with the made-for-television fiasco at the Talladega Superspeedway two years ago when NASCAR said it found a noose hanging from the pulldown rope on the garage door in Wallace’s stall. The FBI came in the next day and investigated and quickly determined Wallace was not a victim of a hate crime. They said the pulldown rope had been there for months – long before Wallace’s team arrived.
That race came during the COVID-19 lockdown, which means only a selected few crewmen and NASCAR officials were allowed in the garage. Drivers, fans and pit crews weren’t allowed in the garage.
Now NASCAR has to deal with another hot-button issue. And as former NASCAR driver and ARCA Series owner Andy Belmont said, “Wallace lobbed up a softball and NASCAR whiffed. Suspension balance of year. Sensitivity training. Apology press conference with Larson.”
Many NASCAR fans should agree with Belmont’s final comment: “Huge opportunity to make this positive and blew it.”
Wallace is the first driver to be suspended since Matt Kenseth was forced to sit out the final two races of the 2015 season after he deliberately crashed Joey Logano at Martinsville. Kenseth ran Logano into the first-turn wall in retaliation of a couple of previous encounters.
Kenseth also got six-month probation. Where’s the consistency?
Logano, who’s had his share of on-track dust-ups, didn’t hide his concern. A day after the race, he posted this on social media:
“Bubba got squeezed. I didn’t see contact. The retaliation is not OK in the way it happened. If he spun him into the infield, maybe it’s a little better. Maybe. But right-rear hooking somebody in the dogleg is not OK. I don’t think everyone knows how bad that could have been. That could have been the end of Kyle Larson’s career. That is the worst spot to get right-rear hooked into a corner. When you come in and hit the angle that he hit, in a way he’s lucky he hit the 20 (Bell) to soften it a little bit. He might have flush-hit the side, then game over.”
Wallace’s car owners, Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan, said they agree with NASCAR’s decision to suspend their driver. They also said they won’t appeal.
In a statement, they said: “23XI is aligned with NASCAR on the one-race suspension issued to Bubba and we understand the need for the series to take a clear stand on the incidents that took place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Bubba’s actions are not in keeping with the values of our team and partners. We have spoken to Bubba and expressed our disapproval of how he handled the situation. Bubba has made impressive strides this season and this experience is an opportunity for him to further learn and grow as a competitor in NASCAR. As a result of the penalty, John Hunter Nemechek will drive the No. 45 Toyota this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”
Pretty bad when the boss doesn’t back you up.
Former NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace – they’re not related – was outspoken about what he saw last Sunday.
“All Bubba has to do is realize is Kyle’s coming up,” Kenny Wallace said. “You gotta let out with gas and then go back to racing. Then he loses his mind.
“This is where everybody thinks he’s gonna be Dale Earnhardt Sr. Senior would have never wrecked his own stuff.”
After both drivers climbed their battered cars, Bubba Wallace continually pushed Larson in front of the main grandstands to instigate a fight. Larson, who was suspended for most of the 2020 season for uttering a racial slur during a livestream event, was in a tough spot. He couldn’t react, so he took the high road.”
Bubba Wallace is lucky he didn’t hurt himself, Larson or Bell. And he’s lucky NASCAR had his back.