NASCAR: Did Bubba Wallace’s punishment expose a lie?

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

The fact that Bubba Wallace was suspended illustrates that NASCAR wasn’t buying his claims of a steering issue leading to his wreck with Kyle Larson.

NASCAR issued 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace a one-race suspension for crashing Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson during Sunday’s Cup Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a move which also collected Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell.

Larson attempted to make a three-wide move to the inside of Wallace and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick in turn four of the four-turn, 1.5-mile (2.414-kilometer) Las Vegas, Nevada oval. While he cleared Harvick, he couldn’t quite clear Wallace, and that led to Wallace being squeezed toward the top of the race track.

While there was no initial contact between Larson’s #5 Chevrolet and Wallace’s #45 Toyota, the latter did make slight contact with the wall. As Larson pulled way down to the inside to try to compete the move, Wallace seemingly chased him down and hooked him in the right rear, sending him for a spin which resulted in the three-car melee.

Bubba Wallace did not admit that it was an act of retaliation, stating that the “steering was gone” and that Kyle Larson “just so happened to be there”.

Of course, the fact that Wallace broke a safety rule by climbing from his wrecked race car and walking across a live track to confront Larson — and shove him five times — was pretty much a giveaway that it was indeed an act of retaliation.

In the apology he issued afterward, he did not admit that he did it on purpose. He simply apologized for his actions after the incident, not the incident itself. He even told NBC Sports reporter Marty Snider to “stop fishing” when asked about the concept and the appropriateness of retaliation of that nature.

Yet NASCAR still decided to suspend Wallace from a Cup Series event, a decision that hadn’t been seen in any capacity at this level since 2015.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief operating officer, stated that NASCAR did indeed view the move as intentional. NASCAR had stated that they would be conducting a full review of the incident, and that is the conclusion they reached.

Let’s not forget that NASCAR has the data and the resources available to reach that conclusion.

They determined that it wasn’t just a “steering issue” which somehow pulled Wallace’s #45 Toyota to the exact spot on the rear of Larson’s #5 Chevrolet to cause the incident which took place, and they acted accordingly.

NASCAR cited violations of Sections 4.3.A and 4.4.C & E of the NASCAR Member Code of Conduct laid out in the NASCAR Rule Book as why they opted to take action in this manner.

Well worth noting is the fact that Rule 4.4.C lists “intentionally wrecking or spinning another vehicle, whether or not that vehicle is removed from Competition as a result” as one of five actions which could result in a penalty.

It’s that simple; if they hadn’t determined it was actually intentional, no penalty would have been levied.

In the recent past, NASCAR has been reluctant to penalize drivers for what appeared to be obvious unsportsmanlike moves, simply because the drivers themselves didn’t admit their intent.

However, those situations have been far less dangerous. Wallace himself intentionally spun at Texas Motor Speedway in November 2019 to avoid losing further ground due to a flat tire, bringing out a caution.

He was only penalized when he admitted he did it on purpose and basically said drivers would keep doing it until NASCAR laid down the law. So they did.

Since then, drivers have purposely avoided addressing the subject of intent, with Kyle Busch’s one-word post-race interview following the March 2021 Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway serving as the most notable example.

So the fact that NASCAR’s decision was based on Wallace intentionally wrecking Larson effectively goes to show that they aren’t just going to drop the hammer on drivers who admit what they’ve done.

They have sent the message that they are going to drop the hammer on drivers who pull egregious moves such as the one Wallace did — even if they claim the “steering was gone”, or something of that nature.

“We’re confident in the decision we made and why we made it,” O’Donnell stated, despite Wallace never suggesting anything other than his initial claim.

Next. The round of 8 team whose driver is already eliminated. dark

While it would be unfair to suggest that anybody other than Bubba Wallace truly knows what happened and calling him a liar is obviously something NASCAR stopped short of, it’s pretty clear what they thought of his claim and the evidence to support it — or lack thereof.