Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: NASCAR Bubba Wallace Suspension Sets New Precedent It Must Uphold

Did You Notice? … Bubba Wallace was suspended for his actions Sunday (Oct. 16) in a wreck-turned-fight at Las Vegas Motor Speedway involving Kyle Larson?

NASCAR made the announcement Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 18) that Wallace will be sidelined for the upcoming race at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend. Surprisingly, no points deductions or fines were issued for the incident. 23XI Racing announced shortly afterward John Hunter Nemechek will fill in for Wallace in the No. 45 Toyota.

NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell appeared on SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio to further explain the penalty. I thought the key lines for him came right at the start of his talk with host Dave Moody.

“Our actions are really specific to what took place on the racetrack,” O’Donnell said. “And when we look at how that incident occurred, you know, in our minds, really a dangerous act … in this case, we just felt it crossed the line, and we really had to react, because it’s an action that we don’t want to see going forward.”

In this case. It’s a moment in which a new precedent was set, for better or for worse, because Wallace’s actions backed NASCAR into a corner.

Here’s three important reasons why.

1. It failed the eye test.

Let’s take a look at the Wallace wreck again. What I want you to rewatch is how intentionally it appears Wallace turned hard left, hooking Larson right into the outside wall at speed once Larson’s No. 5 pushed Wallace’s No. 45 into the wall first. Whatever way you slice it, it’s a bad look for the sport.

The cameras were focused directly on Wallace’s move, both in the moment and subsequent replays. It’s followed up by Wallace exiting his car, walking over to Larson, yelling and then shoving him in an act of physical retaliation.

Let’s stop here to note NASCAR has suspended Cup drivers for on-track incidents toward another driver four other times since 2000: Kevin Harvick (2002, based on an incident in a Camping World Truck Series race), Jimmy Spencer (2003), Kyle Busch (2011, also based on a Truck Series crash) and Matt Kenseth (2015). There are two running themes in all these suspensions: the brazenness of the contact, regardless of whether the driver admitted it, combined with buildup of bad behavior over a period of time.

Harvick (2002): A wreck of Coy Gibbs (4:00 mark in this clip) came with NASCAR evidence Harvick claimed on the radio he was going after him. The retaliation came three weeks after Harvick was put on probation for fighting Greg Biffle after a NASCAR Busch Series wreck between them at Bristol Motor Speedway. Harvick said, “I’ll be waiting when he comes in here,” and then backed up his threat with violence. What happens when you violate your probation? NASCAR felt they had no choice but to suspend.

Spencer (2003): A feud between Spencer and Kurt Busch had been building for years; it peaked during an August 2002 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval where Spencer spun Busch hard into the outside wall in retaliation for contact earlier that year. The bad blood carried over into 2003, where during a race at Michigan International Speedway, Busch admitted to trying to cut Spencer’s tire. After being informed of Busch’s radio chatter, Spencer’s response was to confront him, punching Busch after the race while he was still strapped in.

That run-in was the most damaging, causing Spencer’s one-race suspension as Busch complained of a chipped tooth and a bloody nose from the fight. It was the fourth documented problem between the two, although Busch was served with only probation after the last two incidents had only Spencer producing intentional contact that actually worked (first on the track at Indy, then off it at Michigan).

Kyle Busch (2011): Busch’s wreck of Ron Hornaday Jr. came under caution during the Truck Series race. Hornaday was a championship contender, and Busch’s wreck was in response to their on-track contact that caused the yellow; it was blatantly intentional. Cameras followed them for nearly half-a-lap as Busch kept his front bumper glued to Hornaday, then made sure he was turned hard right into the outside wall at nearly full speed. The crash came at the same Texas Motor Speedway that produced injuries to Alex Bowman and Cody Ware just last month.

Matt Kenseth (2015): This one is the clearest example of premeditation. After Joey Logano made contact with Matt Kenseth that fall, spinning him out while battling for the lead at Kansas Speedway, Kenseth failed to advance in the playoffs while Logano did. Kenseth made clear he felt Logano was “lying” about his explanation of the wreck and never fully apologized before taking matters into his own hands at Martinsville Speedway. Limping around after an early crash, Kenseth waited for Logano, who was leading, then intentionally wrecked him hard into the outside wall entering turn 1.

For that, Kenseth earned the only two-race suspension within this group.

How does Wallace’s incident with Larson compare? What’s missing is clear; a previous buildup of bad behavior. In reality, the wreck was a split-second decision by Wallace to retaliate against a driver he hadn’t been involved in drama with, at least in public. But the contact, at those speeds, in the right-rear quarter panel was designed to intentionally hook Larson. That left Larson defenseless, at speeds over 150 miles an hour, with other cars coming right at him.

Here’s where recent news events appeared to hurt Wallace’s case and provide NASCAR with the additional ammo they needed to make up the difference.

2. The calls around driver safety justify an escalation of penalties.

NASCAR has now had two meetings with drivers surrounding the safety of the Next Gen car, with everyone from Most Popular Driver Chase Elliott to 20+ year veteran Kevin Harvick openly criticizing its construction. The first was compared to a “Seinfeld” episode on the airing of grievances, as so many drivers complained NASCAR didn’t even build in enough time in 75 minutes for them to fully react.

Three full-time drivers missed the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL event two weeks ago, the highest number of injuries we’ve seen in the sport in 20 years. And as the garage had a chance to fully digest what Wallace did Sunday, some, like Joey Logano, began speaking out.

“Right-rear hooking someone in the dogleg is not OK,” Logano said Tuesday. “I don’t know if everyone realizes how bad that could have been. That could have been the end of Kyle Larson’s career. That, to me, was what was on the line. Or, his life.”

Those are strong words from a NASCAR Cup Series champion, overshadowing Larson’s more conservative view of the incident. Yes, Larson said the move was “over the line,” but also made clear Wallace had a reason to be mad, admitting to being aggressive with his initial inside move that pushed Wallace into the outside wall.

Logano statement reminds us the drivers can’t have it both ways, right? As he said, you can’t be gung-ho about safety, then say it’s OK to have that type of intentional wreck at one of the faster tracks on the NASCAR circuit. Larson also hit the wall driver’s side first, along with absorbing rear end impact at a portion of the car literally getting redesigned for 2023 due to safety concerns.

Here’s where I go back to O’Donnell’s “really a dangerous act.” He added later: “So when we look at this incident, you’re not only endangering one but there’s a lot of cars out there at speed. It’s a high rate of speed. It’s on an intermediate track. All those things factor in.”

Not only was Larson in danger, but the drivers were racing near the front, meaning the No. 5 could have been hit by multiple cars before the caution came out. And, although O’Donnell adamantly denied it factored into the decision …

3. A driver may have been eliminated from the Championship 4 as a result of intentional contact.

Here’s where Christopher Bell served as collateral damage. His No. 20 Toyota was unable to continue after the wreck, leading to a DNF that puts him 23 points below the cut line. Who knows what would have happened if Bell completed the race, but the team was flashing top-five speed and earned a top-five finish in stage one.

See also
NASCAR Mailbox: Can Title Favorites Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell Recover From Rough Las Vegas?

Barring a win elsewhere, in all likelihood this incident will be what keeps Bell from the Championship 4. And it comes just days after another big controversy, NASCAR’s 50-point deduction for Cole Custer, along with an indefinite suspension of crew chief Mike Shiplett and a $100,000 fine for what officials say was intentional race manipulation on their part during the final lap.

As I wrote about last week, and then at CBS this week, NASCAR seems to be going through a cycle where they feel the need to reassert their power over the sport. The timing of this incident provided that opportunity, a reminder that hey, at the end of the day it’s our sandbox and certain rules need to be followed in order to play.

“As we look at the sport and where we are today,” O’Donnell said, “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.”

I feel those three reasons combined produced the suspension we see now, regardless of Wallace’s apology. 23XI Racing appears to understand the gravity of the situation, their own statement making clear, “Bubba’s actions are not in keeping with the values of our team and partners.”

Now. Here’s where the sport starts to lose me in terms of a compelling counterargument against the suspension. As our own Daniel McFadin so artfully lays out, in just the last nine months alone, we’ve seen a half-dozen incidents of retaliation across the sport’s top three series. There’s been various levels of immediate retaliation and a number of “Boys, have at it” moments, reminiscent of the sport’s aggressive past they often look to market instead of mitigate.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: NASCAR Suspends No One, Except Bubba Wallace

None of them resulted in a suspension. The two biggest that just don’t fit are Noah Gragson’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Road America crash, wiping out 13 other competitors with intentional contact, and William Byron’s intentional spin of Denny Hamlin at Texas. The irony is not lost on me it’s Hamlin’s own team at 23XI paying the price when NASCAR finally decided to step up and set a new precedent over on-track retaliation.

It doesn’t change the $100,000 fine, no suspension and no points deduction (after an appeal was overturned) which gives Byron a realistic shot to win this year’s championship. But it’s also a comparison you won’t get O’Donnell to focus on.

“I know fans and people like to compare,” he said, “Well, the what ifs or what happened in the past, and for us, this was a reaction based on what took place Sunday. … What we don’t want to see going forward in races that take place from the competitors … want to draw that line and be as clear as we can for our competitors on where we stand.”

OK. So if that’s the line NASCAR is drawing in the sand, that needs to turn into cement.

Pronto.

It appears intentional contact, on a high-speed track, followed by a physical altercation after the race without an immediate apology is enough to get you benched. It wasn’t before. But it is now.

And if it changes again? The consequences are clear: “Lack of consistency can bring on a lack of interest.”

Follow @NASCARBowles

Bubba Wallace Suspension Coverage

McFadin: NASCAR Suspends Only Bubba Wallace

Massie: Can Bell Come Back From Being Wallace’s Collateral Damage?

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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Michael Latino

Right on Tom. Nascar can’t get their stuff together. If Larson didn’t hit Bell he would have gone straight into the wall with the rear end of his car. And it could have been a disaster. I think this penalty is a joke. And it is just going to cause more drivers doing the same thing.

kb

The Cup series is having a hell of a problem with the new car. Drivers have been sidelined not cleared to return. It has forced retirement of a driver, aches and pains for others from impact. The violence of this particular act at such a high speed did not get enough punishment, imo. Not to mention other penalties this driver should have gotten. It is not overblown enough what transpired and comparing it to other incidents in Cup isn’t a valid compare, imo.

Who knows, NASCAR wussed out with their God Rick Hendrick and his driver Wee Willy and gave him his points back, maybe they will renege and put the hotheaded jerk back in the car on Sunday. You know…safety and all (sarc)

Bill B

NASCAR has always had a consistency problem. For obvious reasons suspensions are the last resort. Perhaps had Bubba only wrecked him they wouldn’t have suspended him. However add in the collateral damage of ruining Bell’s championship hopes, ignoring the safety crew and walking over to Larson, physically engaging him 5 times, and brushing off NASCAR officials trying to settle him down and that puts it over the edge. The man had obviously lost control of his own mind. I have seen lots of payback wrecks, lots of physical engagements, lots of ignoring officials and lots of collateral damage, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one guy check all those boxes within a 2 minute period.

janice

for what wallace did he gets a 1 race suspension. tire problem on pit road crew chief and 2 crew members get 4 race suspension.

really feel like anger management should had been mandated. even in his post-wreck interview he was arrogant. wallace has admitted in the past he struggles with mental health. sports psychologist visits might help.

i have a feeling next season, with the young mr. gibbs and mr. noah coming to cup, along with our already established hot-heads, temper and aggressive driving are going to be an issue.

the penalty that wallace received is a pacifier, as nascar knew if they did nothing the fans would had left the sport. it’s all about entitlement now. shame, it should be about sportsmanship.

johndawgchapman

I’m still trying to process & understand what I know about this incident.
What I can’t get clear in my mind, is how a car losing a wheel on track, accidentally.
Is viewed by NASCAR, as four times more serious, as deliberately wrecking another car at full speed. Not only endangering that driver, but every other driver in the vicinity, & in this case, pretty much trashing an innocent team’s entire season.
Plus trying to start fight, & lying about it.
While they are trying to redeem their credibility on the driver safety issue.
The punishment doesn’t remotely seem to fit the crime in this case. A one race suspension seems pretty meaningless.

Bill B

I agree with you. Either the penalty for losing a wheel is ridiculously harsh or the penalty for purposely wrecking someone is ridiculously lenient.

I did hear them talk about this on Race Hub last night. The point was made that a suspended crew chief can still do 80% of his job, he just can’t be at the track for the race. A driver can do 0% of his job when suspended. I’m not sure that I agree with that totally but it is a fair point.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bill B
gbvette

Here’s why I think NASCAR has cracked down so severely on lost wheels.

While it is quite dangerous to intentionally wreck another race car, drivers are protected to a great degree by the roll cage, firesuit, helmet, 5 point harness, fire system, seat, HANS device, etc. When a tire comes loose, the people in danger are the pit crews, track officials and media on pit road, and even worse, the spectators on the infield and in the stands. Other than the somewhat limited protection officials and crew get from their helmets, all of these people are unprotected. Years ago a fan was killed at the Indy 500 by a tire came into the stands, and it’s happened at other tracks too. NASCAR hasn’t had a death caused by a tire, but it has seen a number of fans injured over the years by other debris (not to mention a remote camera at Charlotte). It’s pretty easy to imagine the carnage a 50 pound Cup car wheel and tire would cause if it was hit by a car going 150 mph, and launched into the stands.

I don’t have a problem with Wallace getting a one race suspension, but I would have been okay with two races too. Both one and two race suspensions have been issued by NASCAR in the past. I do think probation (say 6 races or 6 months, either carrying over to next season) should have been included. I’m not bothered by a lack of a fine or a points penalty though, since by being suspended he’s essentially been fined and given a point penalty by not being able to score any points at Homestead, or receive a share of the purse.

DoninAjax

I agree about a wheel coming off at racing speed. We just had another driver killed when a trailer wheel came off and hit a car going in the opposite direction. However, I think the penalty for a wheel that comes off during a pit stop should depend on the end result of the wheel coming off. I believe there have been instances of a wheel coming off at racing speed and the four race penalty is appropriate.

Peter Pioer

Woke poster boy. Light penalty as a result. He should have been suspended for the rest of the season. If someone did the same thing on the Highway they would be headed to serious jail time.

efejr

If an NHL fight happened in a mall they go to jail. Sports are different than real life 🙄.

Jim

I think Nascar a joke right now they are afraid to do the right thing to Bubba from now on F—k Nascar if anyone else did that fines and lost of points

efejr

Noah Gragson did the same thing (or worse), tore up 10-12 cars and didn’t receive a suspension.

Kevin in SoCal

Hey Tom, I know you need ads to support the website, but the new click-thru pop-up ad for Adobe when we click on an article is over the top annoying. I can deal with the ads around the side and bottom but that one has to go away.

Jeremy

I’ve seen a few ads pop up where they look like part of someone’s response. I almost flagged a post thinking they were spamming with a youtube video for their product – fortunately, before I hit the flag I saw their actual response underneath and realized it was an ad on the site!

DoninAjax

I use an ad blocker and the difference in the loading of sites and articles is incredible.

Get Real

Wallace got what he deserved, he’s been a trouble maker since he’s been in Cup.

Mike

As a lifelong NASCAR fan dating back to the days Bill Elliot won 11 Races in his Coors Ford Thunderbird with the Windsor heads, I’ve been disturbed by what has been happening both on the track and to the sport in general over the past decade or so under the France Dynasty.

But never so much as by what transpired last weekend at Las Vegas and Nascar’s impotent response to it by leveling only a 1 week suspension against Wallace. I watched the race at Homestead hoping to see some sort of redemption by NASCAR, hoping they’d impose additional penalties against Bubba Wallace and 23XI racing, but was sadly disappointed..

I agree with the majority of comments previously posted which pointed out so many hypocritical actions on the part of NASCAR. But the one thing I haven’t seen yet, is anyone really calling out the past crossed paths of these two drivers, and how unfair and hypocritical NASCAR’S  actions really were.

On a Sunday night back in April 2020, Kyle Larson used a racial slur during an iRacing stream while competing in a virtual race. The slur was used “in the heat of the race” while Larson thought he was in a private conversation.

Though Larson issued a sincere apology on that following Monday, he was “indefinitely” suspended by NASCAR, and ordered to take both anger management and sensitivity training before they would even consider reinstatement. His owner, Chip Ganassi Racing terminated their contract with Larson immediately, largely because of pressure from his two biggest sponsors: Credit One Bank and McDonalds..

Starting to see the parallels now? McDonald’s sponsored Kyle Larson then, and now sponsors Bubba Wallace.

I don’t condone the slur Larson used, but it’s easy to see NASCAR acted so quickly against Kyle because, among others, the slur offended their new “Poster Boy”, Bubba Wallace, the same driver that also went on to spur the now FBI debunked garage door Rope/noose controversy.

Bubba Wallace is also the driver that used his 3500 lb.car as a dangerous weapon in retaliation against Kyle last week, that eliminated Kyle, himself, and the chances of another play-off contender. He then got out of his car onto a ‘Hot” track before safety officials could reach him, walked down the Hot track and physically assaulted Kyle, and then physically pushed back a safety worker trying to get him to safety.

Did I mention that before Bubba became the diversity poster boy, Kyle, the only Japanese American driver in NASCAR history was also considered one of the biggest success stories of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Initiative.

Kyle was indefinitely suspended by NASCAR, required to take anger/diversity courses, was dropped by his owner CGR, and lost all of his sponsors for a racial slur he said while he thought he was on a private channel.

Bubba got a 1 week suspension, for using his car as a weapon on the track, then violating numerous safety policies with his continued retaliation. His owners have been deafeningly silent on any punitive actions they will take with him, and none of their sponsors, including MCDONALDS, have said a word.

Pathetic and impotent by NASCAR. Shame on 23XI Racing and Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, AND SHAME ON MCDONALDS…..which I will never spend a dime at until they acknowledge this in some appropriate manner.

As a lifelong NASCAR fan dating back to the days Bill Elliot won 11 Races in his Coors Ford Thunderbird with the Windsor heads, I’ve been disturbed by what has been happening both on the track and to the sport in general over the past decade or so under the France Dynasty.

But never so much as by what transpired last weekend at Las Vegas and Nascar’s impotent response to it by leveling only a 1 week suspension against Wallace. I watched the race at Homestead hoping to see some sort of redemption by NASCAR, hoping they’d impose additional penalties against Bubba Wallace and 23XI racing, but was sadly disappointed..

I agree with the majority of comments previously posted which pointed out so many hypocritical actions on the part of NASCAR. But the one thing I haven’t seen yet, is anyone really calling out the past crossed paths of these two drivers, and how unfair and hypocritical NASCAR’S  actions really were.

On a Sunday night back in April 2020, Kyle Larson used a racial slur during an iRacing stream while competing in a virtual race. The slur was used “in the heat of the race” while Larson thought he was in a private conversation.

Though Larson issued a sincere apology on that following Monday, he was “indefinitely” suspended by NASCAR, and ordered to take both anger management and sensitivity training before they would even consider reinstatement. His owner, Chip Ganassi Racing terminated their contract with Larson immediately, largely because of pressure from his two biggest sponsors: Credit One Bank and McDonalds..

Starting to see the parallels now? McDonald’s sponsored Kyle Larson then, and now sponsors Bubba Wallace.

I don’t condone the slur Larson used, but it’s easy to see NASCAR acted so quickly against Kyle because, among others, the slur offended their new “Poster Boy”, Bubba Wallace, the same driver that also went on to spur the now FBI debunked garage door Rope/noose controversy.

Bubba Wallace is also the driver that used his 3500 lb.car as a dangerous weapon in retaliation against Kyle last week, that eliminated Kyle, himself, and the chances of another play-off contender. He then got out of his car onto a ‘Hot” track before safety officials could reach him, walked down the Hot track and physically assaulted Kyle, and then physically pushed back a safety worker trying to get him to safety.

Did I mention that before Bubba became the diversity poster boy, Kyle, the only Japanese American driver in NASCAR history was also considered one of the biggest success stories of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Initiative.

Kyle was indefinitely suspended by NASCAR, required to take anger/diversity courses, was dropped by his owner CGR, and lost all of his sponsors for a racial slur he said while he thought he was on a private channel.

Bubba got a 1 week suspension, for using his car as a weapon on the track, then violating numerous safety policies with his continued retaliation. His owners have been deafeningly silent on any punitive actions they will take with him, and none of their sponsors, including MCDONALDS, have said a word.

Pathetic and impotent by NASCAR. Shame on 23XI Racing and Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, AND SHAME ON MCDONALDS…..which I will never spend a dime at until they acknowledge this in some appropriate manner.

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