By now we’ve all seen the video and aftermath of the Bubba Wallace vs. Kyle Larson incident from Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Even if you didn’t want to see it, chances are it has appeared anywhere from YouTube commentary to national news.
From the second both drivers walked away from infield care center interviews, it was inevitable.
For Kyle, he thankfully walked away without serious injury. For Bubba, it ends in a one-race suspension.
After a day and a half of “would he or wouldn’t he” chatter, the suspension was handed down shortly after 5 pm on Tuesday. Speaking on SiriusXM NASCAR, NASCAR COO had the following to say about the incident: “As you look at this, our actions were really specific to what took place on the racetrack, and when we look at how that incident occurred, in our minds a really dangerous act that we thought was intentional and put other competitors at risk. As we look at the sport and where we are today 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.”
There’s an old saying of no matter what someone does to you beforehand, the retaliation is what normally gets caught. With a few nuances, that is exactly what happened in this situation. There were post-accident reports that the steering had failed on the 45, but those were quickly refuted by telemetry and NASCAR themselves Tuesday afternoon. For Wallace, it’s a small mark on an career-best season especially in the second half of this season where he scored a win at Kansas. There were no points or monetary fines attached to this incident, just a one-race suspension which could have been worse, all things considered for 23XI Racing.
However, there shouldn’t be any back patting for the sanctioning body with this ruling. If anything, it proves how inconsistent their judgment making is when it comes to on track incidents with intent. Just weeks ago at Texas, William Byron spun Denny Hamlin in an incident that NASCAR said they “missed”. Byron was docked points and a fine, but after a loophole in the rule book Hendrick Motorsports appealed and it was taken down to just a fine. Earlier in the summer during the Xfinity Series race at Road America, Noah Gragson spun Sage Karam in an act of retaliation. The wreck took out almost half of the field and caused a groin injury to Brandon Brown. Gragson was fined and docked points, while some fans called for a suspension. Gragson raced the following week.
NASCAR made an example out of Bubba Wallace. Before you head for the comment section to voice your displeasure, understand that it is not in the way you think. There have been plenty of drivers over the years who lived by the creed of “race you how you race me”, and sometimes those instances ended up with junked race cars, trips to the hauler, and in Dale Earnhardt’s case, a trip to Daytona to speak with Big Bill. NASCAR’s choice to suspend Bubba was based on a few factors: the type of track and the type of contact. As early as five minutes after the wreck, fans and some industry movers and shakers were calling for Bubba to be suspended for the rest of the season. NASCAR was in a no win situation. If they handled it the way they normally handled it this season, they would have never heard the end of it. By suspending him, they’re attempting to set a new precedent and showing drivers that going forward these acts won’t be tolerated.
That’s good and all, but NASCAR’s main issue over the last 25 years is that nothing is ever cut and dry. It’s all discretionary or dependent on who is involved. I doubt that it actually starts here. If this is the case, take all of these “boys have at it” moments out of commercials for a new season. If you want to move past these moments, don’t allow tracks to use these moments to sell tickets for the race the following season. If you want to set the example, be the example.
Sunday was a bad day for all involved. It is also a teachable moment for the sport. Hopefully they take what happened and make it the result going forward.
Featured photo from Pat Vallely.