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Oct 18, 2022
NASCAR has suspended Bubba Wallace for this weekend’s Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway for crashing Kyle Larson on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The penalty report, released on Tuesday afternoon, does not include a corresponding fine or points penalty.
The incident at the heart of the matter began on Lap 95 when Larson pushed up the track in Turn 4 and caused contact between the 23XI Racing No. 45 and the outside retaining wall. Wallace bounced off the wall and drove down the track and hit Larson in his right rear -- the contact sending the Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 into the path of Christopher Bell.
The resulting contact ended the day for all three drivers -- especially notable because Bell is amongst the eight drivers still active in the Cup Series Playoffs.
Wallace climbed out of his car before safety officials arrived and began a march towards Larson. Upon arriving, Wallace shoved Larson several times, with Larson repeatedly trying to avoid a physical conflict. Wallace then walked towards pit road as a NASCAR official attempted to urge him towards the on-site safety vehicle.
NASCAR chief operating officer Steve O’Donnell said the penalty, which fell under rule book sections 4.3.; 4.4.C. and E, was entirely related to what happened on the track.
“Section 4.3.A —NASCAR Membership is a privilege. With that privilege comes certain benefits, responsibilities, and obligations. Correct and proper conduct, both on and off the racetrack, is part of a Member’s responsibilities. A Member’s actions can reflect upon the sport as a whole and on other NASCAR Members. Ideally, NASCAR Members are role models for the many fans who follow this sport, regardless of the type of license a Member may hold, or the specific Series in which a Member may participate. Therefore, NASCAR views a Member’s conduct, both on and off the racetrack, which might constitute a behavioral Rules violation under this Rule Book with great importance.
Section 4.4.C — Member actions that could result in a loss of 25-50 driver and Team Owner Points and/or and $50,000-$100,000 fine. and/or one Violations may also result in Race suspension(s), indefinite suspension, or termination:
Section 4.4 E (portion) — Member actions that could result in a fine and/or indefinite suspension, or termination:
"Our actions are specific to what took place on the race track," O'Donnell said during an interview with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "When we look at how that incident occurred, in our minds it was really a dangerous act. We thought that was intentional and put other competitors at risk. As we look at the sport and where we are today and where we want to be moving forward, we thought that definitely crossed the line and that’s what we focused on in making that call."
O'Donnell said it was a decision he relished making from the standpoint of suspending a driver -- something the sanctioning body hasn’t done since Matt Kenseth intentionally crashed Joey Logano in the playoff race at Martinsville in 2015.
"It’s always tough to do anytime you have to make an officiating call," O’Donnell said, "but that’s what we do. We’re hopefully trusted to make those calls and we wanted to take the right amount of time to do that and vet as much information as we can, gather as much as we can, and make the right call at that time."
Wallace said after the incident that his steering was damaged, but O'Donnell said the data from the crash contributed to their decision to suspend him.
"We have a lot of data available to us and we looked at that data from a bunch of different angles," O’Donnell said. "In our view, and in our determination and through conversations, that’s where we ended up."
What did the data show?
"We believe it was a heat of the moment action that took place …" O’Donnell said. "It’s a dangerous sport, there are a lot of emotions and there’s a lot on the line. Everyone is racing their guts out and that’s awesome for the sport. It’s never been better from that standpoint, but in this case, we felt it crossed a line and felt like it crossed a line and is something we don’t want to see moving forward."
O’Donnell said he knows there will be a lot of comparisons to previous incidents, but that this decision was made with the intent they don’t want to see it again.
Further, the fact that the incident involved a playoff driver also didn’t play a role in the final decision, according to O’Donnell.
"It does only in the sense that it involved other drivers as well," O’Donnell said. "When we look at the incident, you’re not only endangering one, there are a lot of other drivers out there at a high rate of speed, it’s on an intermediate track, all those things factor in.
"This could have been race two at an intermediate, and it’s the same call."
Specifically, Wallace was penalized for what he did behind the wheel and not everything that happened after he climbed out of the car. With that said, O'Donnell said the conversation with Wallace over those violations would suffice in addition to the suspension.
"It's certainly not an action we condone when you look at everything that happened as part of that," O'Donnell said. "Again, heat of the moment thing. Bubba is a competitor. He's out there, with a great race car and he wants to win, something we love about Bubba Wallace.
"In this case, you put all three of those (violations) together, but our focus was what happened on the track. We don't want to see drivers fighting. We understand that emotions get high. We don't encourage that but our focus was on what happened on the race track but we'll have conversations about what happened outside of the race car one-on-one and see where we go from there."
Wallace issued an apology on Monday night in a tweet titled ‘Reflection.’
"I compete with intense passion, and with passion at times comes frustration," he wrote. "Upon reflecting, I should have represented our partners and core team values better than I did by letting my frustrations follow me outside of the car. You live and learn, and I intend to learn from this. I want to apologize to NASCAR and the fans, along with Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota for putting them in a situation in the Playoffs that they do not deserve."
John Hunter Nemechek has been named the driver of the No. 45 this weekend. The team will not appeal the penalty.
O'Donnell also addressed questions that this was a one-race suspension when crew members get suspended four races for loose wheels -- a seemingly unfair juxtaposition.
"Historically, it's been very rare that we suspend drivers and we don't take that lightly," O'Donnell said. "We view our penalties from what has to happen at the race track. Obviously, everyone is important but it's a driver driven sport ... but the driver is the focus and what happens on track is a big focus, so in this case, it's an action we rarely take against a driver.
"As we've always said, we need to ratchet things up when there's a line that's been crossed. This year, when we've had points penalties get overturned -- and that's okay because that's why we have that system in place -- but in our minds we had to take that next step so that drivers know, when we have our next drivers only meeting on Saturday, that they understand where we're at and where we're going to be moving forward."