Unless you’ve been buried under a rock this week, you’ve heard about the NASCAR Cup Series incident that took place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday (Oct. 16) between Kyle Larson and Bubba Wallace.
On Tuesday, officials announced they have suspended Wallace one race due to his actions in the South Point 400. No additional fines or points deductions were imposed for what appeared to be intentional contact with Larson’s No. 5 followed by a physical altercation.
You can take one more look at what sparked the crash below.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 16, 2022
Wallace will not file an appeal, serving the suspension during Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In his absence, John Hunter Nemechek will drive the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing.
Now that the dust has settled, was Wallace’s penalty too harsh or was it not tough enough? Michael Nebbia and Anthony Damcott debate the most infamous penalty of the 2022 season to date.
It Needed to Be Stiffer For Both Drivers Involved
What Bubba Wallace did to Kyle Larson at Las Vegas was egregious. It crossed the line, a level of aggression that left NASCAR officials no choice but to levy major consequences.
But the penalty enforced against Wallace by the sanctioning body wasn’t harsh enough. A one-race suspension? That’s it? That’s a slap on the wrist. You have to unilaterally send a message to not just drivers but teams that reactionary, retaliatory behavior like Wallace’s move should not, can not and will not be tolerated going forward, either on the track or off it.
First off, a fine should have been imposed along with the suspension itself. Almost every major off-track altercation we’ve seen through the past decade has resulted in monetary penalties.
As far as the crash? The way Wallace went after Larson reminded me of one of the more serious on-track incidents in recent years.
That took place in 2011, when Kyle Busch wrecked Ron Hornaday in the middle of a Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. In that event, Busch wrecked Hornaday under yellow for a full half-lap before spinning him out at nearly full speed. NASCAR’s reaction was harsh, parking Busch for the night before suspending him for the Cup race later that weekend.
Busch was also fined $50,000 for his actions. At bare minimum, Wallace should have been penalized just as much.
NASCAR could’ve also made an example of not just Wallace, but 23XI Racing. They should have hit the organization with a 50-point penalty for his transgressions along with a fine as large as $250,000 for both to prove a point.
As NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell said, “[We] want to draw that line [on what’s improper behavior] and be as clear as we can for our competitors on where we stand.”
There’s no better way to do that than with record financial penalties for Wallace. It would also affect 23XI’s standing in their battle for fifth in owner points, a hit which would impose additional financial penalties at the end of the year.
NASCAR could’ve hit Larson with some sort of consequence as well. The Hendrick Motorsports driver admitted after the race he made an aggressive move that forced Wallace into the wall and his rival “had a reason to be mad.”
I’d have docked Larson 50 points for the instigation, his team 50 owner points and fined him $25,000.
NASCAR had the chance to set a new and dangerous precedent and they failed by simply parking Wallace. Not only that, but they also failed to follow their own historical precedent by not calling both teams to the NASCAR hauler after the race. Officials mishandled the situation in the moment and the penalty as it stands sure doesn’t help their cause.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR… do better. – Michael Nebbia
Not Too Harsh, Not Too Little… Just Right
NASCAR had a delicate situation to deal with here. A driver just blatantly wrecked another one and took out a playoff driver in the process (and technically, the driver he took out is still competing for an owner’s championship).
NASCAR got this call right. Regardless of public opinion, their decision to suspend Bubba Wallace for a singular race is the right one.
As Kyle Larson told NBC Sports, with the rise in safety concerns, and more and more drivers speaking out about said safety concerns, his on-track punishment from Wallace did not fit the crime. A fitting retaliation would have been for Wallace to either pull the same move on Larson in turns 1 and 2, or simply just push him too hard into turn 1.
Not to mention, the minute an incident between two drivers takes out another innocent bystander, as this accident did with Christopher Bell, NASCAR has to step in and do something.
A lot of people are crying out William Byron didn’t get the same penalty, but I disagree. Byron’s expression of displeasure toward Denny Hamlin at Texas Motor Speedway involved simply spinning the No. 11 (a wreck Byron has claimed was unintentional) as the caution flag came out. Both drivers were able to still finish the race.
Wallace, on the other hand, deliberately crashed Larson at full speed on one of the fastest tracks on the NASCAR circuit, collecting an innocent bystander in Bell, who also happens to be a playoff contender. All three cars were destroyed and unable to continue.
It’s clear what makes the penalties for both drivers different are the safety implications involved.
In Byron’s case, he was fined $50,000 and docked 25 driver and owner points, but then that was overturned to only a $100,000 fine. Wallace’s one-race suspension comes without a fine or any points deduction. If NASCAR hadn’t suspended Wallace, he probably would have received the same points deduction and fine that Byron (originally) had. Conversely, if Byron had turned Hamlin into the wall and junked the No. 11, he would have been suspended and not given a fine or points deduction.
On top of that, Wallace’s one-race suspension should be just that – one race. Larson and Wallace have not had any noticeable bad blood at any point in their career, so the accident that occurred on Sunday was not a boiling over of emotions from previous races. Most multi-race suspensions come from these built-up tensions gone wild (like Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano’s feud in 2015 that resulted in Kenseth being suspended for two races).
Fans could argue Wallace should have been suspended more events (maybe even the rest of the season) or that he should have gotten a fine or points deduction on top of his suspension; after all, he is one of the most polarizing figures in NASCAR. But upon further reflection, people are going to realize that, in the long run, a simple one-race suspension was the right call for NASCAR to make. – Anthony Damcott
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