NASCAR is being called to step in following Sunday’s dust up between Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson at Las Vegas. With 95 laps to go, Kyle Larson and Bubba Wallace got into each other and then the wall. After the cars were done spinning, Wallace approached Larson and started pushing him before they were separated. Now many fans are calling for Wallace to be suspended, while others are pointing to possible punishment for Larson. So, what should NASCAR do?
LARSON CAUSED THE INITIAL CRASH
What’s not up for debate is that Kyle Larson’s aggressive driving caused the crash. Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson are on the same page when it comes to that. Larson has admitted fault and has admitted that Bubba had every reason to be upset with him. The part that is up for debate is what happens after Bubba hits the wall.
DID BUBBA HIT LARSON ON PURPOSE?
After Bubba hit the wall, his car heads straight for Larson’s rear quarter panel sending Larson up into Championship contender Christopher Bell. Bubba insists he had no steering after hitting the wall. Larson and Bell both believe Bubba intentionally crashed into Larson in retaliation. If you read my race recap, you know I believe Bubba wrecked Larson on purpose. NASCAR will be able to investigate if Bubba is telling the truth or not when it comes to the aftermath of hitting the wall, but as of right now, it doesn’t pass the eye test.
DID BUBBA PUSH A NASCAR OFFICIAL?
While I tend to stay out of politics in my sports writing, this is something that is fueling the flames of this fire. The Daily Wire, a blog run by right wing activist Ben Shapiro, claims Bubba pushed a NASCAR official after his incident with Larson. I’ve looked for the video and the most I can find is a slight touch between Bubba and the official. That’s also the video used in the Daily Wire’s article.
While it’s leading to some calling for a hefty suspension for Larson, it looks more like an overreaction to me. But, as with everything involving Bubba Wallace, it has to be addressed because he inspires strong responses from the NASCAR fan base just for breathing.
BUBBA AND LARSON: LIGHTNING RODS FOR CONTROVERSY
Another facet to this incident is the fact that both Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson are lightning rods for controversy. Larson was famously fired from his ride at Chip Ganassi Racing during the shutdowns of 2020 for using a racial slur during an iRacing event. Once allowed back on the race tracks, Larson returned to dirt racing for the remainder of 2020 before signing with Rick Hendrick Racing for the 2021 season. Larson was also on the receiving end of a racial joke from Bubba Wallace’s car owner Denny Hamlin. Hamlin tweeted a gag from the show “Family Guy” that portrays a stereotype for Asian women. As Larson is of Asian descent, many viewed that as a racist attack on Larson. Personally, I think that was Hamlin trying to make fun of Larson’s aggressive driving and not thinking about the implications of the tweet.
Then, there’s the multitudes of controversy that have surrounded Bubba Wallace. He famously petitioned for NASCAR and its tracks to ban the Confederate flag. That led to immediate backlash. Then there was the incident at Talladega with the garage pull rope, in which people on both sides still twist the facts to fit their argument either in support or opposition to Bubba. I’m not going to try to sway anyone’s opinion on that. But the fact remains, Bubba is a lightning rod for controversy, and that can work against him in this case.
That being said, that’s why NASCAR puts so much of a focus on both of these drivers. Both of these drivers bring eye balls to the sport whether the viewer wants to see them win or crash. Controversy creates cash, and NASCAR needs anyone that can bring in more cash for it right now.
NASCAR’S OWN INCONSISTENCIES
Working against any decision NASCAR makes in this case is its own inconsistency in punishment. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth are three drivers who have been parked for races because of retaliatory actions on the track. In fact, both Harvick and Busch were suspended from a different series than the event where the retaliatory action took place. In contrast, William Byron was recently only fined for a retaliatory action that led to Denny Hamlin spinning earlier this season. He was initially docked championship points too, but that part of the punishment was overturned. NASCAR isn’t consistent, so no matter their decision, both sides can point to precedent of NASCAR doing the opposite.
So, should NASCAR punish either Larson or Wallace for Sunday’s incident? My answer is yes. Larson’s aggressive driving has resulted in numerous crashes over the years. It’s why he’s so good, but it causes major issues. He knows he was at fault here, and a fine is warranted for him. As for Bubba, if NASCAR’s investigation determines he reacted in a retaliatory manner, I think he should be fined and lose 15 drivers points. If NASCAR’s investigation finds he really had no control over his steering, then he should be cleared. But, from my eye test, it was retaliatory. As for a suspension, I don’t think that’s warranted yet, but both should be on a tight leash for all of the 2023 season.
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