NASCAR has always been a contact sport, well before the 1979 Daytona 500 when Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison duked it out. That was also NASCAR’s first fully televised race and it likely brought more fans to the sport, some of whom are still watching today.
If they are still watching, there are likely a bunch of shoulder shrugs after Sunday’s South Point 400 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, when 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 moved on the No. 45 Toyota Camry of 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace. Wallace claimed, after their impact, that he lost his steering and was not directly retaliating for the bump that not only took out the two drivers, but also impacted Toyota racer Christopher Bell, who is deep into the NASCAR championship fight.
The result, of course, was bedlam in the media, on social channels and anywhere people talk about NASCAR. The real result is that the No. 45 of Wallace won’t be racing this weekend on the 1.5-mile Miami-Homestead oval, having been given a one-race suspension by NASCAR. It’s well known that Wallace has a temper and he’s let it get the better of him on more than a few occasions.
It’s also well known that Larson hasn’t always chosen the best times to make a move on another driver and he’s had more than a few competitors pissed at him for crashing them out. He’s let his mouth get the better of him, too, resulting in banishment from the sport for half a season, when he was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. Hendrick Motorsports chose to rehabilitate Larson; they did a darn good job in 2021.
Everybody’s got an opinion on this. Probably the one that will matter most with fans isn’t coming from Wallace, Larson or even NASCAR. It comes from the sport’s most beloved racer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt made his opinion known that he wouldn’t have made the decision the sanctioning organization made. He would have docked points to Wallace’s team instead.
“If they were trying to send a message, I felt like the points would’ve really got there this time, because Bubba and his teammate [Kurt Busch] swapped cars, swapped numbers, to be able to take advantage of a situation where they are moving forward in the owner’s points.
“If you hit them with an owner’s point penalty, that would’ve absolutely got the message to team, driver and everybody involved,” Earnhardt mused. “Bubba would’ve felt the repercussions of that, felt the weight of that, and Bubba would’ve been able to continue to race this weekend.”
After the accident, Wallace and Larson got physical. Well, Wallace got physical with both Larson and a NASCAR official who was trying to get the driver into an ambulance, per NASCAR protocol.
Because of that latter confrontation, former driver Kyle Petty insisted that Wallace should have been banned for the balance of the season, this weekend in South Florida, next week at Martinsville and in the Phoenix season finale. He brought up one-week suspensions for a runaway tire and said that Wallace’s behavior necessitated a three-week suspension.
Incidents like the Wallace/Larson contretemps happen in NASCAR’s three national touring series – and at local tracks – every single week. That this one occurred between the reigning champion, who is not in contention for the title this year, and the sole Black racer in the field, brings even more conversation to the fore.
Did their respective positions in the Cup Series have anything to do with the crime and its punishment? Wallace made – what looked like – a sincere apology before his penalty was announced. Larson, the sole Japanese-American competing in Cup Series competition has kept his lips pretty much zipped.