CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Photo Credit: NASCAR/Getty Images — NASCAR announced Tuesday that they have suspended Bubba Wallace for intentionally crashing Kyle Larson in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, per an article on NASCAR.com.
Wallace was suspended for one race after he crashed Larson at Lap 94 of the South Point 400 and proceeded to shove Larson, both violations of Sections 4.3.A and 4.4.C & E of the NASCAR Member Code of Conduct laid out in the NASCAR Rule Book. Rule 4.4.C lists “intentionally wrecking or spinning another vehicle, whether or not that vehicle is removed from Competition as a result” as one of five member actions that could result in a penalty.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief operating officer, joined SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “SiriusXM Speedway” on Tuesday afternoon to discuss why the sanctioning body responded to Wallace’s actions with a suspension.
“Our actions are really specific to what took place on the race track,” O’Donnell told host Dave Moody. “And when we look at how that incident occurred, in our minds, really a dangerous act. We thought that was intentional and put other competitors at risk. And 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.”
O’Donnell noted NASCAR officials examined the data and reviewed multiple angles of the incident before landing on the decision to suspend Wallace, an uncommon penalty levied against drivers.
“When we look at drivers historically, it’s been very rare if ever that we suspend drivers, so we don’t take that action lightly,” O’Donnell said. “So we view our penalties from what has to happen at the race track. It’s a driver-driven sport. Obviously, everybody’s very important to what takes place in the sport.
“But the driver oftentimes is the focus. And what happens on track is a big focus. So in this case, that’s an action we’ve rarely moved forward with when it comes to a driver. There’s comparisons to what we’ve done in the past, but as we’ve always said, we need to ratchet things up where we see that there’s a line that’s been crossed.”
After the incident, Wallace said the steering on his car broke and that Larson just happened to be there. O’Donnell confirmed NASCAR examined both the vehicle and the data available and added: “We’re confident in the decision we made and why we made it.”
No word yet as to whether 23XI will appeal the penalty or who will replace Wallace in this weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The debate now begins as to whether the penalty was appropriate.
My best response to that question is that I guess it depends on what the message is that you’re trying to send with the penalty. I put certain sections of O’Donnell’s explanation in italics, because I found them to be interesting choices of words here.
First off, crashing Larson and, by pure happenstance, Bell, wasn’t the only potentially punishable offense Wallace committed last Sunday. After the crash happened, Wallace shoved Larson several times. He also disobeyed the orders of a race official directing him to the ambulance.
Apparently, those behaviors are OK with NASCAR, which I guess makes sense for a sport that built its national appeal on a fight and drivers intentionally wrecking other drivers in the name of winning a race.
Here’s my problem, though.
NASCAR gave Kevin Harvick no penalty for intentionally crashing Chase Elliott under green at The Roval last year.
Because it was on the infield road course not on the speedway?
Because it wasn’t a dangerous act that didn’t cross a line or put other competitors at risk?
NASCAR also chose not to suspend Ty Gibbs for putting humans in jeopardy on pit road during a pit stop when he turned his car angrily into Ty Dillon’s car at Texas a few weeks ago after Dillon swung too wide leaving his pit and made contact with Gibbs car.
Because it wasn’t a high speed intentional dangerous act that didn’t cross a line or put others at risk?
I think what Ty did was even more dangerous, because you have crew members on pit road who aren’t protected by being inside a race car, but that shouldn’t make on-track nonsense like what Bubba did any more tolerable.
The inconsistency with which NASCAR handles driver conduct issues opens them up for criticism from a fan base that largely derives their opinions about things like this according to whether it’s their favorite driver who does them or someone they don’t like.
If NASCAR was trying to discourage this stuff from happening in the future, maybe giving Bubba and all future one week off might accomplish that, but if you’re going to allow your media production department to use footage of it to sell tickets to next year’s race then you are probably going to come across as pretentious and even hypocritical.
I have talked to potential sponsors over the years who have expressed concerns about potential lawsuits if their brand is on a car and that car’s driver is in a crash that hurts another driver.
I don’t think a one-race suspension just for the crash without NASCAR clearly and sternly addressing the mindset that leads to that decision to commit that intentional dangerous act that puts other competitors at risk does anything to make these folks feel less nervous. I don’t think O’Donnell was nearly as clear or as stern as he needed to be.
Stock car racing, for far too long, has glorified using your race car as a weapon and fighting with your fellow racers as being entertainment. We’ve taught an entire generation of drivers to no longer respect the car you are racing or anyone else’s cars and that apparently racing is safe enough that injury is no longer possible from crashes.
I see this stuff going on at local tracks every week, all season long. Fans of the WWE mentality love it. Parts suppliers and those who make bodies love it, too, I guess.
If NASCAR were sincerely trying to change behavior, how about a rule change reading, “If you intentionally steer your car into that of another competitor in an angry or retaliatory manner you will be suspended for one race.”
Make your rules as clear as day and not as clear as mud. Then, enforce them consistently across the board.
It shouldn’t matter who the drivers involved are.
It shouldn’t matter what track it is or whether it happens on pit road.
It shouldn’t matter if it’s under green or yellow.
People can get hurt and even die in race cars. People can get hurt and even die on pit road.
If you’re going to tolerate drivers fighting with each other and promote it as entertainment, you should probably at least make sure they’re out of their race cars when it happens.