Wallace deserves his ban for breaking NASCAR’s cardinal rule

You don’t hook a guy in the right rear at high speed. I don’t care if you’re Bubba Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, or Junior Johnson. You. Just. Not. Do it.

NASCAR suspended Wallace for one race for doing just that to Kyle Larson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and rightly so. It is the first suspension of a Cup Series driver for an on-track incident in almost seven years and only the second suspension of a driver in any of the three national series of stock car races in the same period.

It had to be done.

The suspension would have been fully warranted if the incident had happened on its own in a vacuum where the two dueling racers were far from anyone. But they weren’t. They were two non-playoff drivers who slammed doors in traffic and ended up defeating championship contender Christopher Bell.

The time out would have been understandable, even if Wallace had chosen to retaliate for being driven into the outside wall by Larson, but did so when they went down the front or back course, with a slam in the back Bumper or even left rear with a shot to turn Larson into the infield grass. But he didn’t. He went full Cole Trickle with a dive down the bank out of the fourth turn as he chased Larson all the way to the edge of the infield grass and jacked up the right rear of the No. 5 Chevy with the left front of his No. 45 Toyota.

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Anyone who has ever watched even a lap of NASCAR racing knows that this move will send the attacked car into a loop that will likely send it driver’s side first into the outer retaining wall.

“If he threw him infield it might be a little bit better, but hooking someone right back into the dogleg is not okay. I don’t know if everyone knows how bad that could have been,” an unnerved Joey Logano said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio a few hours before the suspension was announced. “That could have been the end of Kyle Larson’s career. That was at stake for me. Or his life. This is the worst place to hook into a back right corner.

“[Larson] might have hit that thing flush in the side and it’s game over. There’s no room for that. You can not. If it’s under caution and you slam doors… I don’t know if that’s okay, but at least you’re not risking anyone’s life. I don’t like using cars as weapons. Just go out and fight him. That’s fine if you really want it and want to deal with it that way.”

Parking would have been justified even if the Cup Series hadn’t been going through a security crisis. But it is. In recent weeks, concerns about the next-gen car have turned into a real public strife as racers in the car felt betrayed by the machine’s unforgiving framework. This rigid ride has resulted in injuries, particularly concussion-related issues. Just this weekend, a future NASCAR Hall of Famer, Kurt Busch, announced that he is retiring from full-time racing as he continues to struggle with the very same symptoms triggered by an accident in one of these cars earlier this season. That car was the #45 Toyota. Yes, the same drive Wallace piloted on Sunday.

The penalty would have been appropriate even if it had been the only such incident this season. But it wasn’t.

On July 6, at Road America Sage Karam, Xfinity Series driver Noah Gragson furiously backed right with a hook, throwing Karam into traffic. The accident collected 13 cars and Gragson’s boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr., refused to defend the move. Gragson was fined $30,000 and docked 30 points.

Less than a month ago, at sister track Texas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Larson’s teammate William Byron spun Denny Hamlin under caution, sending Hamlin’s Camry sluggishly through the infield grass. Hamlin attempted revenge under the same caution. Byron was fined $50,000 and lost 25 points, although the fine was doubled upon appeal, the points were returned, and as a result Byron’s postseason survived. NASCAR race officials handled it all pretty badly, saying they didn’t act during the race because they didn’t see it. It hadn’t seen a wreck on the front stretch? It was embarrasing.

So, all of that you just read — the high-speed wreck in traffic, that wreck’s clearly malicious intent, the safety crisis, the lack of previous suspensions, even the hot Texas mess — it all added up to the equation that led us to Wallace’s suspension. A big old gigantic pile of enough is enough.

It’s no secret that Wallace can handle stress that most racers don’t have. His social media timelines have become a minefield, laid hourly by couch critics who see him as a soft target and by conspiracy theorists who still want the world to believe he’s trying to destroy the sport, who he loves to undermine. Why do they do that? Unfortunately, that’s too easy to find out.

Perhaps that endless strain is why he snapped so hard on Sunday, from destroying Larson to his physical shoving minutes later. Perhaps that’s why Wallace’s fuse has always seemed so short, whether it’s slamming over a competitor on a media mic or exiting a virtual race with fellow NASCAR drivers during the pandemic. Psychologists and sociologists must determine this, or analyze Wallace himself.

On the other hand, anyone who saw Wallace race Bandoleros as a teenager—and I did—knows that he always had a fire in him. All racers who reach the top of this sport have it. They have to, and we love them for it. Every racer in this hall of fame has more than a few moments rooted in that passion, and we’ve all cheered for them. Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers fight. Dale Earnhardt rattles cages. Tony Stewart throws helmets. That’s why NASCAR had no problem with Wallace’s shove from Larson. Put out that fire and you’re diluting the heart of what makes motorsport great. Sure, the cars are cool, but it’s the people in those cars that we love the most.

But all of these racers had to learn to walk the line between fiery and dangerous. NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell spoke on Tuesday while chatting with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the suspension was announced.

“If we look at the sport and where we are today and where we want to draw that line going forward, that’s what we thought [Wallace] definitely crossed the line and that’s what we focused on in this decision,” he said.

You did the right thing. Wallace will no doubt learn from this and do better. More importantly, everyone in the garage will learn from it. A reminder that no matter how much the sport changes and no matter how many times the rulebook is revised and rewritten, there will always be one rule that should never be tampered with. Stock car drivers must never break the one commandment.

You don’t hook a guy in the right rear at high speed. You. Just. Not. Do it.

https://www.espn.com/racing/story/_/id/34829428/wallace-deserves-ban-breaking-nascar-cardinal-rule Wallace deserves his ban for breaking NASCAR’s cardinal rule

Emma Bowman

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