NASCAR recently dropped the hammer on Bubba Wallace, driver of the #45 Toyota for Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin’s 23XI Racing, for an incident with Kyle Larson on lap 94 of the NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400.
During the race a couple weeks ago at Vegas, Larson made a pass on Kevin Harvick to go neck and neck with Wallace, who was coming past Harvick on the outside.
Larson rode up the track and put Bubba into the wall.
But Wallace, in a wild and high-speed display of retaliation, took out Larson after the contact, ending both of their days, and taking Christopher Bell, a playoff driver, out in the process.
And then after the wreck, Bubba took off his helmet, walked over to Larson who was exiting his own car, and started shoving him.
Larson declined to engage in what could’ve turned into a roadside fight.
Immediately following the race, Bubba was rather pointed in his criticism of Larson:
“When you get shoved into the fence, deliberately like he did, trying to force me to lift, steering is gone… Larson wanted to make a three-wide divebomb, never cleared me.
And I don’t lift, so I know I’m kinda new to running up front, but I don’t lift…. just a piss poor move on his execution.”
And when asked about the dangers of retaliating like that, at those high speeds, Bubba told the trackside reporter:
“Stop fishing, stop fishing…”
Seemed like a valid question to me, especially given the injuries we’ve seen in this new car this season. But ok…
And finally, when asked about taking out fellow Toyota teammate in Christopher Bell in the process, Bubba called it “sports.”
But after having some time to reflect on his actions (and, let’s be honest, hearing from his team owners and sponsors), Bubba issued an apology.
In a statement posted to social media, Wallace apologized for his actions after the wreck – but seemed to stop short of apologizing to Larson for wrecking him, aside from the fact that Christopher Bell was taken out in the incident.
“I want to apologize for my actions on Sunday following the on-track incident with Kyle Larson and the No. 5 car.
My behavior does not align with the core values that are shared by 23XI Racing and our partners, who have played a crucial role in my incredible journey to the top of this great sport.
I want to apologize to NASCAR and the fans, along with Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Toyota for putting them in a situation in the Playoffs that they do not deserve.
I compete with immense passion, and with passion at times comes frustration. Upon reflecting, I should have represented our partners and core team values better than I did by letting my frustrations follow me outside of the car. You live and learn, and I intend to learn from this.”
And then NASCAR got the final word.
NASCAR announced last week that Wallace would be suspended for the weekend’s race at Homestead Miami Speedway for his what they determined was an intentional act in wrecking Larson.
In a press release, the sport said that Wallace’s actions were violations of NASCAR’s Member Code of Conduct, which lists “intentionally wrecking or spinning another vehicle” as one of five member actions that could result in a penalty.
On SIRIUS XM, NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell said that Wallace’s suspension was a result of Wallace’s actions on the track. And he seemed to hint that the current circumstances surrounding the safety of the car, in which several drivers have been forced to miss races due to injury after hard crashes and many have been outspoken in claiming that the car is not safe enough, played a part in NASCAR’s decision to suspend Wallace.
“Our actions are really specific to what took place on the race track. And when we look at how that incident occurred, in our minds, really a dangerous act.
We thought that was intentional and put other competitors at risk. And as we look at the sport and where we are today and where we want to draw that line going forward, we thought that definitely crossed the line and that’s what we focused on in terms of making this call.”
O’Donnell also noted that, while NASCAR obviously isn’t happy about drivers fighting once they get out of the car, he understands that Bubba’s a passionate competitor and that tempers often run high:
“We don’t want to see drivers fighting. We understand that emotions get high. We don’t encourage that obviously. But our focus was really on the race track and we’ll have conversations about what took place outside the race car one-on-one and see where we go from there.”
While suspending a driver after intentionally wrecking a competitor wasn’t completely unprecedented, it’s certainly rare and there have been numerous examples of drivers NOT being suspended for intentional wrecks.
But according to O’Donnell, NASCAR wanted to set a new precedent going forward.
And this week at Martinsville, Bubba said that he’s fine being the example for NASCAR – as long as they’re consistent going forward:
“I totally accept the penalty and the repercussions that came from my actions.
I talked to O’Donnell and I talked to [NASCAR President Steve] Phelps and I said ‘Hey, I’m good with being the example if we can keep this consistent moving forward.’
Because it’s happened multiple times this year and it’s something that may still continue to happen for other drivers down the road.
I’ve definitely learned MY lesson, but we have to be consistent with this no matter if it’s here at Martinsville or if it’s at Daytona or Talladega. We gotta keep it consistent across all the boards and all the series.
So that was the conversation. It was a good conversation.”
And regardless of how you feel about Bubba or his actions, he’s 100% right here.
NASCAR has taken a lot of heat in the past year (deservedly so) for some inconsistent rulings and uneven handed enforcement of its rulebook. So if this is the precedent that the sport wants to set for intentionally right rearing another driver, the precedent needs to apply across the board.
I guess we’ll see how they handle future incidents moving forward – because make no mistake, it WILL happen again.