Pit Box Press Roundtable: Wallace Vs Larson

NOTE: This article was sent to the writers before the penalties were announced. Some finished their writing before the announcement while others did after.

Leave some general thoughts on the Wallace vs. Larson debacle.

Walker: I’ll lead this whole thing off by making my bias known – I am a huge Bubba Wallace fan. He’s my absolute favorite driver. Maybe that will make my thoughts on this mute, but maybe it’s a perspective some folks will want to hear.

As soon as I saw it happen I got sick to my stomach. It was obviously intentional, and completely out of line. I get being mad that you were run up the track – he had a car with race winning speed, and Larson running him high took that away – but… you just absolutely, 100% can’t do that. Larson races people aggressively, that’s nothing new. Throw bones after the race. Don’t turn him into the wall at 170+mph. I only made it about another 10 laps before I turned the race off, I just wanted nothing to do with it after that.

Phil: Obviously it’s going to be a very dark cloud over Wallace’s career best season to this point in his career. He had even won stage one of the race and seemed to have a great car. Whether intentional or unintentional, what happened after getting crowded shouldn’t have happened. Bubba is known to wear his heart on his sleeve and in that moment emotion took over. This time, the emotion may come with consequences. 

Gi: Regardless of my personal love of Bubba Wallace, no matter who it is, intentionally using your car for retaliation is never ethical under any and all circumstances. Now Bubba had a right to be upset with how he was raced, Larson even said it himself, but the way he handled the situation was reckless. To add further fuel to the fire, when he proceeded to get physical with Larson after the incident, he only was doubling down. Though he had a right to feel the way he did, his actions were as I said before, reckless, and just disappointing coming from someone who is a huge fan of the guy. 

Francisco: As a huge fan of Bubba, and someone who has huge respect for Larson, the initial incident was BOTH of their faults, but the aftermath (retaliation plus the actual shoving session) was 100% uncalled for, and Bubba needed to be held accountable. In the initial incident, Larson made an inconsiderate move by squeezing Wallace into the wall. This year, Larson has made tons of inconsiderate moves, for which he has been criticized. If it ended there, it would have been just another “bone-head” move like people have called it all year. But intentionally gassing up with the means to cause them damage is unacceptable, whether or not the steering was broken. As a Bubba fan, I know he will always race with intense passion (as he should) but I’m disappointed that his passion got the better of him, and I feel the suspension was the right call, even if NASCAR has been majorly inconsistent with who they are penalizing.

Garrett: I like Bubba and I think him being successful is ultimately really great for the sport. But he has to be aware that, fairly or unfairly, there’s a lot of people who don’t watch the sport or understand what happens behind the wheel of these cars that will crucify him and the sport for it. NASCAR’s decision to suspend him for Homestead is the right call, despite the inconsistency they’ve displayed in similar situations this season. I think that had Bubba taken the mistake that Kyle Larson had made by squeezing him into the wall and filed it away and saved it for say, Martinsville, where the speeds are lower, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The physical part of the confrontation was absolutely egregious as well. Larson to me, looked visibly dazed by the hit he took on the driver side. Wallace had already made his point very clear that he was unhappy, and to go up and shove a guy you just right hooked into the wall at 170 mph was honestly a pretty weak move.

Jack: Well, before I started off down the path towards journalism, I was a Bubba Wallace fan. Before that I was a Kyle Larson fan, so I’d like to think I’m capable of seeing this from all of the sides that are currently at war on Twitter. 

Right-rearing someone on the straightaway at 170 miles an hour is egregious, and frankly, my (probably unpopular) opinion is that driver fights of any kind makes NASCAR look bad. Bubba screwed up badly, and I think everyone knows that, thankfully including the driver himself after some reflection.

Do you believe Wallace should serve some kind of punishment? If so, what?

Walker: A one race suspension with nothing else tacked on is honestly less than I was expecting. I was anticipating at least a $100,000 fine and a 50 or so point penalty. As a fan of his, I’m glad that didn’t happen – he’s currently sitting 19th in points, 15 points ahead of Aric Almirola, and 45 points ahead of Chris Buescher. While Almirola will almost certainly pass him at Homestead with Bubba sitting out, Buescher probably won’t unless he has a great race. That means he’ll likely still finish in the top-20 in points, which would be a new career high.

NASCAR had to make an example of him – a one race suspension I suppose does that, but it could have been worse, and in my view a points penalty and fine on top of what he got would have been appropriate.

Phil: As far as punishment, I wouldn’t go as far as a suspension. NASCAR has no precedent for suspending drivers recently for on track incidents, even as recently as this season. Docking the team 100 owner points and a heavy fine would be enough in my eyes. 

Gi: Should Bubba have been penalized for the incident that took place and the alteration after the fact? Yes, he definitely should have been reprimanded in some capacity, but a one race  suspension seems extreme. The reason I would call NASCAR’s officiating call an extreme one, is because it is a very largely inconsistent call from them, especially considering past incidents similar to this. 

Multiple drivers this season alone, across all three of NASCAR’s three national touring series, have used their cars as a weapon for retaliation, including Noah Gragson, Carson Hocevar, Ty Gibbs, and William Byron most notably when he wrecked Hamlin under caution. Though these incidents could all be picked apart and analyzed differently, at the core of all of them, they used their cars to say what they felt, and NONE of them were suspended. So for NASCAR to suspend Bubba seems very inconsistent with the other penalties they have served out this season. Bubba should have had points taken away, and should have been fined just like other drivers had been for using their cars as weapons.

Francisco: At the time of this writing, he has been suspended from the NASCAR Cup Series event at Homestead-Miami. I believe this is the right call, but the inconsistency from NASCAR is what irks me. There have been so many incidents (intentional wrecks, retaliation) since the start of the season that deserved at least a penalty, but have not received the disciplinary action required. I hope from here on, NASCAR becomes more consistent with the way they handle intentional crashes.

Garrett: So, a lot of people may think I’m being a bit harsh here, I’d park him for one race and pull a page out of  the early 2000s NASCAR playbook. I’d park Bubba Wallace for the Homestead race and place him on probation for a full year, just as they did Kevin Harvick for a similar incident in 2002. It’s totally unfair, but an example has to be made that should’ve been made out of Noah Gragson, William Byron and others this season. 

Jack: He’s not the first to pull a move like this in 2022 and more-or-less get away with it, (Noah Gragson at Road America and Carson Hocevar at Indianapolis Raceway Park come to mind) but I think the fact that this leaves a Martinsville Speedway 2015 taste in NASCAR’s mouth is proof that something really has to be done about this kind of contact.

While technically speaking, Wallace’s one-race suspension is unfair, given that others haven’t received the same punishment, I agree with NASCAR’s decision as a method to set a new precedent when it comes to this kind of incident. Wallace is a big name and 2022 race winner, but he’s not in even the owners’ playoffs any more – suspending him allows NASCAR to send a message to all drivers without completely derailing the team’s season. 

I think NASCAR should also direct Las Vegas Motor Speedway to forego using the footage as promotional material, but we’re probably going to see it for the next ten years.

Compare this to other similar incidents. Do you believe this one is being unfairly criticized? If yes, why?

Walker: The obvious comparison is Gragson at Road America earlier this year when he blatantly wrecked Sage Karam and caused a huge wreck – but that wasn’t a playoff race, was in the Xfinity Series, and happened to a relatively unknown small team driver. Logano vs. Kenseth is similar as well, as it was a playoff race but that was cheered heavily because… well it was Logano on the short end of it. This was the most polarizing driver in the sport vs. one of the most widely liked, who also happens to be the defending series champion. Of course it is going to get blown way out of proportion, because folks look for any reason to criticize Bubba Wallace – and now they finally have a seemingly valid one.

I posted this to Twitter, but for “those people” anything less than a lifetime ban and Bubba getting launched out of a cannon into Lake Lloyd was never going to be enough. Just tack it onto the list of things we’re never going to hear the end of.

Phil: I do. The same people calling for Bubba to be suspended were noticeably silent or said Noah didn’t need to be suspended for junking half of the field at Road America. Earnhardt wrecked Darrell Waltrip in 1986 in a similar fashion. Champions like Jeff Gordon have used their cars as “weapons” before and even have been vocal on the radio about it. It’s also sad and unfortunate to see so many people that stood with Bubba in 2020 make a 180 after this and seem to think he’s a thug for it to happen. 

Gi: Oh, absolutely. Like I relayed in the above response, similar incidents on track have taken place this year and no one aside from Bubba Wallace was suspended for it. It shows a level of inconsistency out of NASCAR that makes them look – well to be frank – stupid. 

Francisco: Yes. He needed to be held accountable, and even after he has, people treat the situation as if it was way worse than it is. Some people (albeit a small but loud minority) who were cheering on Noah Gragson wrecking multiple cars at Road America, and who thought Byron’s point penalty was too harsh are treating Wallace like the worst person in history. Personally, I do not care if you love or hate a driver because he crashes into other people, but it’s unfortunate that some people’s biases (to say the least) are preventing them from judging a situation fairly and consistently.

Garrett: Bubba Wallace is absolutely being unfairly criticized but for no other reason than the fact he’s Bubba Wallace. I don’t think you’ll find anybody in Bubba’s fan base that will say what he did Sunday was right. It was far from it. The way people are reacting to this should have been the way they reacted to the Road America incident from earlier this season. But because this is Bubba Wallace, the talking heads on Twitter and Fox News and whatever other network you can think of will feast on the fact that the guy who stood up for himself and his race in 2020 in a way the sport had never seen before did something like turn a fellow driver at high speed. He did it in an unsafe trash box of a car, but I digress. 

Jack: Come on, this is Bubba Wallace we’re talking about. If he said he likes pancakes, a solid 25% of Twitter would accuse him of being a beta male bankrupting the great American waffle industry. You know exactly what their profile pictures would look like, too.

I would say there is near-universal agreement that Wallace’s actions on Sunday were the wrong choice. I don’t know a bigger 23XI Racing fan than our own Phil Spain, one can’t exactly accuse Wallace’s supporters of seeing things through rose-colored glasses.

Yes, Wallace seriously screwed up on Sunday, the biggest boneheaded move of his career so far and possibly the most egregious intentional crash of NASCAR’s whole 2022 season, but at the same time it’s true he’s held to an impossible standard, for a reason that everyone knows but few are willing to say explicitly.

Because of the way he talked about racing and racism in the latter half of 2020 and the color of his skin, Wallace’s biggest social-media critics (many of whom have only a passing familiarity with NASCAR) seemingly demand he win every race without putting so much as a wheel off-line, and without the help of a magic car number or Kurt Busch’s race team or whatever nonsense a certain Australian culture warrior Tweeted after Kansas. 

Well no, that’s not true. What they really want from him is to crash often, finish no better than 35th, and get into fights so they can continue to rile up their political base and reinforce their preexisting belief that Wallace doesn’t belong in stock car racing.

Regardless of your personal political perspective, it is an irrefutable fact that Bubba Wallace and his PR team are alone in the garage area in having to consider “what will the politically-active son of the former President of the United States have to say about this.”

Ok, maybe Brandon Brown too. 

It certainly doesn’t excuse his actions, nor should it shield him from criticism, but when it comes to Bubba Wallace, everything he does will be under a microscope.

Do you believe NASCAR needs to set a precedent for this type of “revenge” wrecking? If so, what do they need to do?

Walker: I think they just did. That said, I’m generally in favor of evaluating situations in more of a vacuum rather than relying on “precedent”. Don’t base punishments for one situation off of the punishments given out for a situation that’s only tangentially similar – evaluate issues as they come. Leaning on precedent a BIT is okay, but not heavily. I think that’s kind of what NASCAR did here – sure, we have a list of past examples of people getting penalized for intentionally wrecking someone, but this was the most violent, blatant example I can think of since Kyle Busch vs. Ron Hornaday in 2011. It had to be evaluated on its own, and I think it was.

Phil: If they’re going to do something, they need to stop changing the rule book after everything they’ve missed. If you’re going to suspend one person over something like this, make that the penalty and a monetary fine. No more of this case by case basis. 

Gi: Yes, they need to set some sort of precedent. If incidents like these are rapidly occurring, NASCAR needs to set something in stone. And if there is a precedent they want to place, they need to be consistent with putting that precedent in place in situations where it is most needed. 

Francisco: Absolutely. For years, the “Boys Have At It” precedent has allowed some very entertaining moments regardless of your stance on crashes in NASCAR. But in recent years, this has sometimes extended from getting back at someone who bumped you a stage ago, to downright careless and dangerous driving and retaliation. NASCAR drivers should be held to a standard of safe, but sometimes aggressive, driving with safe ways of retaliating that isn’t the danger it has deviated to recently.

Garrett: They need to figure out if this is the kind of thing they want or not. They’ve waffled back and forth between “boys have at it” and “come to the NASCAR hauler” for the better part of two decades. In my opinion, I don’t mind short track bump-and-runs or even turning a guy at a road course in a slow corner or even dooring a guy under caution at a super speedway. But you simply cannot turn a guy on an intermediate track at 170 mph. These cars have ended the career of Kurt Busch to this point, and has put Alex Bowman on the shelf for the foreseeable future. If NASCAR would just set some sort of precedent.. any kind of precedent, I’d be fine with it. Hopefully this is the precedent.

Jack: Yes. 100%, and I also think they need to set a precedent about fighting, particularly in a way that puts NASCAR officials at risk. I can count at least five instances in 2022 in which I think drivers should have been suspended (Gragson, Hocevar, William Byron at Texas Motor Speedway and Ty Gibbs twice).

It’s too late to do anything serious about any of those instances, and it may, arguably, be too late to do anything about Las Vegas. Wallace should have been parked had the No. 45 been able to continue, but since his car was also eliminated in the crash … a suspension fits.

If NASCAR were trying to be consistent (a good thing) they wouldn’t have suspended Wallace. But I think it’s far more important to send a message to all drivers that dangerous driving won’t be tolerated. This suspension is a clear directive to all drivers that this kind of crash should never happen again, and frankly I’m relieved NASCAR is finally doing something. It shouldn’t have come to this point

With NextGen safety being a huge topic in NASCAR right now, should that have an effect on how drivers race each other?

Walker: This is a question that I, nor anyone who hasn’t driven a car 180 mph inches away from another car going just as fast, can answer in a reasonable way. Sure, you don’t want to hurt anyone, but these guys are competitors, and what happened on Sunday was a split second, rash decision made by someone who presumably just saw red and lost it. If I had to answer the question, I would say no – but my opinion on this really doesn’t matter.

Phil: Not to me. The second these guys get scared to beat and bang on tracks, you’ll start seeing fans complain about no action in any race. The car issues will be fixed. Let them police themselves. 

Gi: We can all say what we want, but at the end of the day none of us have raced in this sport. When drivers put those helmets on, their minds only focus on one thing and one thing only – winning. So yes, maybe it would be better for these drivers to think a little harder when they are racing, the last thing they are thinking about more than half the time is “Oh, I should let this guy just go by me cleanly.” No driver is thinking that. They are all thinking about winning and winning alone, and they will do anything to make it happen. So as much as we as fans would like them to be more cautious, I’m not sure that will ever really happen. 

Francisco: I think the Next Gen safety issues are making us more aware of how aggressive people have started driving because of the years of relatively safe crashes in the past 15 years. I hope the issue does get fixed soon, but I also hope this serves as a wake up call to all the overly aggressive drivers that even if they were in an incredibly safe car, things can still go wrong.

Garrett:  Absolutely. NASCAR has announced that changes are in the cards but not until 2023. For that very reason, they need to take care of each other. They always should be. All it takes is for one little thing to go wrong and we lose somebody that we deeply care about.

Jack: I think the way that drivers race each other should be the same no matter what car they’re in; I think that Cup Series drivers are racing too aggressively now, and I think that the Next Gen safety crisis is extenuating circumstances. 

Joey Logano shouldn’t be throwing stones from his glass house, but the man does have a point. There’s risk involved driving even the safest of race cars, and that’s by no means the Next Gen. Both Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman have suffered season-ending concussions in 2022, Busch’s likely a career-ender. Drivers, not just Wallace but all drivers, shouldn’t be playing around with this. If you have to pull this nonsense, wait for the new rear clips to come next season. 

With neither driver in the playoffs, do you believe the revenge was even necessary?

Walker: Whether they were or weren’t in the playoffs doesn’t matter. This was someone with only two career wins who felt like he had a legit shot at a third getting put into the wall, and reacting in the worst way possible. Do I believe *some kind* of skirmish was justified? Sure. Push him up the track into one, find him after the race, remove him from the group chat – literally anything other than right rearing him into the dogleg. 

Phil: To me it had nothing to do with whether either was in or out of the playoffs. Just more of prior precedent. Bubba was more than likely upset because he had a race winning car. Same car he won Kansas with and probably the same car from Michigan. Kyle has done it before, even to his own teammates. It was too early in the race to do what Larson did in my eyes. Was the whole situation wrong? Absolutely. They ended up involving a playoff driver. But to me, I think both learned a lesson. 

Gi: I wouldn’t say it was completely unnecessary. Bubba felt as though he was raced unfairly and wanted to voice his displeasure, which as I said before, Larson himself even said Bubba had every right to be mad. The problem in this situation was just that Bubba went about it in the entirely wrong way. All this could have been avoided essentially, regardless if the playoffs played a part or not though. 

Francisco: Not particularly, but had it stayed clean after Larson’s initial misjudgment of Bubba’s proximity to the wall, it could have been rather entertaining. The two had pretty fast cars, and it could have been interesting to see how Wallace would have raced Larson in a late race scenario where the both were up front. Sometimes a little drama can be good for the viewer, but there’s a fine line where it can quickly get out of hand, as it did on track.

Garrett: It was unnecessary but not because neither of them are in the playoffs anymore. It was unnecessary because of the repercussions. Kyle Larson seemed to be fine leaving Las Vegas after this incident. But who knows if that’ll continue? Alex Bowman wasn’t ruled out until a few days later after he completed the race at Texas. Bubba’s hit to the front of his car wasn’t exactly a soft one either. Just seems like a small thing to justify you and someone else’s health over if you ask me.

Jack: It’s been great to see non-playoff drivers running up front in (and winning) playoff races in 2022. For a long while, the non-playoff guys have been a bit of an afterthought for the final ten races of the season, but it’s the same amount of money and glory available to Wallace and Larson as it is to anybody else. 

I don’t think they should have taken it easier because neither is in the playoffs. They owe it to their teams, sponsors, and themselves to try to perform as best they can in every single race, playoffs or no. 

But obviously, racing like that with over 150 laps to go, right-rearing someone down the straightaway and collecting someone else in the process … it’s never a good idea to do that.

Featured photo from Pat Vallely.

Published by Pit Box Press Staff

This article was a collaboration between multiple writers at Pit Box Press.

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