Boys have at it? Well, it appears the boys have done had at it too much.
On Tuesday, NASCAR dropped the hammer on Bubba Wallace by suspending the 23XI Racing driver for this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway following Wallace’s actions this past weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR’s Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell stopped by SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Sirius Speedway to talk about the penalty levied at Wallace. According to O’Donnell, the sanctioning body issued the suspension solely for what took place on the race track, not the shoving match that occurred after Wallace and Larson exited their race cars.
In NASCAR’s eye, Wallace intentionally swerved at the right rear of Larson’s No. 5 car after Wallace was sent into the Turn 4 wall.
“As you look at this, our actions were really specific to what took place on the racetrack,” O’Donnell explained of the decision to suspend Wallace. “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.”
The contact from Wallace sent Larson crashing into the wall and collected NASCAR Cup Series Playoff contender Christopher Bell, who was an innocent bystander. All three drivers were unable to continue racing after the crash.
O’Donnell says NASCAR poured through all of the data and every available resource, such as replays, to determine that Wallace intentionally turned into Larson.
“We have a lot of data available to us and we looked at that data and reviewed the incident from a bunch of different angles and in our view and our determination through conversations, that’s where we netted out,” O’Donnell stated.
As for Wallace’s claim that his steering was damaged in the collision with the Turn 4 wall, which led to him not being able to control his car from hitting Larson, O’Donnell says the sanctioning body is confident that is a false statement after they inspected the car at LVMS.
“We did examine the car, and what I would do is just go back to the data that we have,” O’Donnell explained. “We’re confident in the decision that we made and why we made it.”
At the end of the day, Wallace by hanging a left into the right rear of Kyle Larson’s car at roughly 170 miles-per-hour in Sunday’s race, became the first NASCAR Cup Series driver to be suspended for an on-track incident in nearly seven years.
The last driver to face a suspension due to an on-track altercation was Matt Kenseth, who retaliated on Joey Logano, a championship contender, at Martinsville Speedway in November 2015.
Kenseth’s incident led to a two-race suspension.
The Next Gen car has evened the playing field in the NASCAR Cup Series this season, which has led to numerous drivers being much more competitive from week to week than in previous seasons. The increase in parity has led to a lot more emotion on the track when a driver has a good day come to an end early.
NASCAR believes Wallace’s decision to retaliate was a heat-of-the-moment move, and that if he had to do it again, he wouldn’t. Regardless, NASCAR felt the need to definitively draw the line in the sand as to what is and what isn’t acceptable in today’s NASCAR.
“We believed that it was a heat-of-the-moment action that took place. And I think you saw through Bubba’s statement, I believe it was yesterday, if you had to do that all over again, I think maybe it would be a different circumstance,” O’Donnell said. “I think we understand it’s a dangerous sport. Drivers are out there, there’s a lot of emotion. There’s a lot on the line. Everybody is racing their guts out. Which is awesome for the sport, it’s never been better in terms of that. But in this case, we just felt that it crossed the line and we really had to react because it’s an action that we don’t want to see going forward.”
After a trip to the infield care center on Sunday, Wallace was still incensed by what he felt was an intentional move by Larson to put him into the wall.
By Monday, Wallace had issued a statement apologizing for his actions. On Tuesday, Wallace was suspended. And now, NASCAR Competitors finally know where the official line is that they can’t cross in the current NASCAR.