This week, NASCAR suspended Wallace for this weekend’s race at Miami-Homestead after discovering that he spun the current champion, Kyle Larson, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in revenge and then confronted him.
Wallace and Larson got into a physical confrontation following the incident, and Wallace also made contact with a NASCAR official. The stock car series classed Wallace’s behavior a violation.
The penalties, according to the executive in charge of competition and racing operations Steve O’Donnell, were for what occurred on the track, not the altercation that took place a short while later.
“When we look at how that incident occurred, in our minds, (it was) really a dangerous act that we thought was intentional and put other competitors at risk,” O’Donnell said.
Wallace is the first Cup Series driver to be suspended for an on-track altercation since Matt Kenseth was sidelined for two races in 2015 due to an incident at Martinsville, meaning Bubba’s suspension for this Sunday’s race in South Florida is still a rare move.
John Hunter Nemechek was a potential replacement for Bubba Wallace, but the 23XI club did not immediately make that announcement.
Wallace and Larson collided on Lap 94 of the race on Sunday, both having already been eliminated from contention for the championship. Kevin Harvick, who was in the heart of the pack, dissipated as Larson attempted a three-wide pass. Wallace did not move to make place for Larson as he slipped up the track toward him. Later, Larson pushed Wallace’s Toyota into a wall.
Wallace responded by pursuing Larson’s car down to the apron, where he appeared to purposefully hook him in the rear corner as payback after the driver had led 29 laps in a vehicle he believed was capable of winning. Since Wallace and Christopher Bell are both in the Toyota camp, Larson was sent spinning and into the path of Bell, another title contender.
Bell’s race was over after the collision, which also saw him fall to eighth place in the playoff rankings for eight drivers. The two main protagonists of this story then had a tense moment.
Wallace was yelling before he even approached Larson and started pushing the shorter driver. Wallace repeatedly hurled words at Larson despite his attempts to turn away from him and raise his arms to prevent the shoves. A NASCAR safety worker eventually separated the two.
In a social media post he dubbed “Reflection” on Monday night, Wallace expressed regret for his conduct. He explicitly apologized to NASCAR, its supporters, Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Toyota for placing them in a Playoffs situation they did not deserve.
Wallace had claimed that his steering broke when he hit the wall, but Wallace’s post made no mention of wrecking Larson or expressly apologizing to the other driver.
“I compete with immense passion, and with passion at times comes frustration,” Wallace 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.”
Wallace has improved significantly this season while being closely watched. Some of his fellow drivers have harshly criticized the incident and demanded that safety features be included to NASCAR’s new Next Gen car in light of recent injuries.
Wallace’s retaliation was not okay according to Joey Logano, the winner of Sunday’s race and the first car guaranteed a spot in the championship-deciding finale.
“If he spun (Larson) into the infield, maybe it’s a little better, but right-rear hooking someone in the dogleg is not OK,” Logano said. “I don’t think anyone realizes how bad that could have been.”
“That could have been the end of Kyle Larson’s career. That to me was what was on the line. Or, his life.”
Logano claimed that Larson was actually lucky to have ricocheted into Bell rather than the wall.
“He might have flush-hit that thing in the side and then game over,” Logano added. “There’s no room for that, you can’t do that.”
“I don’t like using cars for a weapon… If you’re that mad, just get out and fight him.”
Ben Beshore, Kyle Busch’s crew chief, and two other pit crew members have also been suspended for the next four races after a wheel broke off during the Las Vegas race.