Bubba Wallace suspended one race for intentionally wrecking Kyle Larson
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
NASCAR suspended Bubba Wallace for the Cup race Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway for intentionally wrecking Kyle Larson last weekend, making Wallace just the fourth driver in the past 11 years to be suspended for an on-track incident.
There was little doubt that NASCAR was going to discipline Wallace after the incident with Larson, which occurred as they battled in the top five Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The only question was whether NASCAR would suspend Wallace.
NASCAR has a history of not wanting to suspend drivers. They know some fans save money to attend one race all year, and they want those fans to be able to see their favorite drivers.
The Wallace incident, though, had five distinct areas that could be considered violations of the NASCAR rules:
— The intentional wrecking of another driver at an especially high-speed area of the track.
— The wrecking of a driver in Kyle Larson whose team is still eligible in the owners championship. The accident also collected Christopher Bell, who is still in contention for the driver championship.
— The walking on a hot track from his car to Larson, instead of walking to the ambulance.
— The act of physically shoving Larson several times.
— The pushing away the hand of a safety worker, who appeared to be trying to direct Wallace toward the ambulance.
In the penalty report, NASCAR cited a rule that states suspension is warranted under five factors: physical confrontations with NASCAR officials, physical violence with another competitor, attempting to manipulate a race or championship, intentionally wrecking another vehicle and any actions that pose a dangerous risk to the safety of competitors.
NASCAR said the suspension was the result of the on-track incident with Larson, not the playoff implications or any of the actions afterward.
"When we look at how that incident occurred in our minds, really a dangerous act that we thought that was intentional and put other competitors at risk," NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell said on SiriusXM Radio. "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."
Wallace issued an apology for his actions on Monday, possibly choosing his words carefully to not admit to intentionally wrecking Larson.
"I compete with immense passion, and with passion at times comes frustration," he said in his statement. "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."
The team announced Monday that it agreed with NASCAR’s punishment and named John Hunter Nemechek the driver for Homestead.
"23XI is aligned with NASCAR on the one-race suspension issued to Bubba, and we understand the need for the series to take a clear stand on the incidents that took place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway," the team said in its statement. "Bubba’s actions are not in keeping with the values of our team and partners.
"We have spoken to Bubba and expressed our disapproval of how he handled the situation. Bubba has made impressive strides this season, and this experience is an opportunity for him to further learn and grow as a competitor in NASCAR."
Here are how the other driver suspensions for on-track action compared to Wallace's incident:
How Wallace incident compares: Sauter was intentionally crashing another car, but this had several differences. Sauter made his move under yellow (when drivers are supposed to be slowing down and not expected to be crashed), and he hit Hill in the driver-side door (but not at as high of a speed, and he didn't put him in the wall).
— In 2015, Matt Kenseth was suspended two races for wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville. Kenseth was several laps down after being wrecked, and he let Logano pass him and then drove him into the wall. Logano was still in contention for the Cup title, while Kenseth was not.
How Wallace incident compares: Intentionally crashing another car under green-flag conditions, ending that driver’s race and the accident involving playoff competitors all are comparable. The differences: Wallace was not several laps down, and Larson was not the leader; they were battling for fifth.
— In 2011, Kyle Busch was suspended for the Xfinity and Cup races at Texas after turning Ron Hornaday under caution in the truck race in the first event of the weekend. Busch hit Hornaday’s car twice, sending him into the wall. Hornaday was in contention for the truck title at the time.
How Wallace incident compares: This was intentionally crashing another car into the wall with a championship contender involved and similar safety concerns. The difference: Busch was a Cup driver competing in the truck series (at the time, the trucks did not have playoffs, and Cup drivers could race in the series that late into the season), so it was a Cup driver impacting the truck championship. This incident also occurred under yellow.
Here are some high-profile retaliation incidents that did not result in a suspension and how Wallace’s compares:
— Earlier this postseason, William Byron spun Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. NASCAR docked Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000; under appeal, the points penalty was rescinded, but the fine increased to $100,000.
How Wallace incident compares: The impact on the playoffs is comparable, as this incident ruined Hamlin’s opportunity to win at Texas. The differences are plenty, as Byron’s didn’t appear as blatantly intentional and was done under yellow, with no significant damage to Hamlin’s car.
How Wallace incident compares: This was also intentionally crashing another car, and other drivers got caught up in the incident. While at high speeds, the Gragson incident wasn’t on an oval, where a car would hit hard into the wall. It also didn’t have any significant playoff implications.
— In 2012, Jeff Gordon, a lap down, wrecked Clint Bowyer at Phoenix in the next-to-last race of the season. A huge brawl occurred between the two teams. Gordon was docked 25 points and fined $100,000.
How Wallace incident compares: This was intentionally crashing another car under green, and it involved a driver mathematically in contention to win the title. The Gordon incident ended Bowyer’s day, as well as Matt Kenseth’s. The difference was this didn’t come at as high a rate of speed and was on a shorter, one-mile track.
— In 2010, Carl Edwards wrecked Brad Keselowski at Atlanta, sending Keselowski’s car airborne. Edwards was parked for the remainder of the race and put on probation.
How Wallace incident compares: If you want a scary incident to compare Wallace’s to, this likely would be the one, as Keselowski’s car flipped. It was highly debated at the time if some previous damage to Keselowski’s car helped it get airborne, but this was still a moment that rattled nerves. Edwards wrecked Keselowski again later in the year on the way to winning an Xfinity race at Gateway and was docked 60 points and fined $25,000.
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.