Bubba Wallace had a car capable of winning over the final 30 laps of Monday’s rain-delayed race at Talladega Superspeedway. He just needed some more gas.
Wallace was forced to pit during a caution with three scheduled laps to go because of an impending fuel shortage and fought back over the final two green-flag laps to finish 14th a day after a noose was found in his garage stall at the track.
NASCAR and the FBI are still investigating to find out who put the noose in the garage. It was found by a member of Wallace’s Richard Petty Motorsports team on Sunday afternoon. After releasing a statement about the noose on Sunday night, NASCAR called the FBI on Monday morning.
“The sport is changing,” Wallace said after the race. “The deal that happened yesterday — sorry I’m not wearing my mask, but I wanted to show whoever it was that you’re not going to take away my smile and I’m going to keep on going.”
Wallace made those remarks while doing an interview with Fox in the middle of Talladega’s tri-oval. He had walked across the track to greet multiple Black fans in attendance on Monday — some of whom were wearing Black Lives Matter shirts. Wallace said in the interview that the fans were from Atlanta and some were attending their first race.
“This is probably the most badass moment right here,” Wallace said after greeting the fans. “It’s been tough. It’s been hell. I really shouldn’t say hell. It’s just been hectic. Carrying this weight and carrying this burden — I really wouldn’t say burden either.”
Wallace has been outspoken as NASCAR’s only Black full-time driver and as the series banned fans from bringing the Confederate flag to tracks on June 10 in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. The race weekend at Talladega was the first in the state of Alabama since the flag ban.
Wallace was born in Mobile, a fact that Gov. Kay Ivey noted in a Monday morning statement when she said she was “shocked and appalled” by the noose’s presence.
NASCAR’s garage areas have limited accessibility because of the coronavirus pandemic. Fans can’t go into the infield at all and only essential personnel are approved to go into the garage areas. And NASCAR has even staggered garage entry times for teams.
“We have a very small number of people who are in the footprint, only essential personnel who are there,” NASCAR president Steve Phelps said in a news conference before the race. “Obviously, we’ll review the entire list with the FBI about who had access at that particular time. We can also use something called compartmentalization, we can look at who is in that particular area, and we’ll be able to narrow that down.”
Drivers show solidarity with Wallace
Wallace’s fellow competitors walked with his car and helped push it down pit road ahead of the race. According to Jimmie Johnson, the idea came from 2014 Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick.
Crew members from various teams followed the drivers as Wallace was in his car as it was pushed ahead of the starting grid. When Wallace climbed from the car, he was greeted by his car owner, NASCAR legend Richard Petty, who issued a statement earlier in the day saying that he was “enraged” by what happened.
Petty, 82, came to Monday’s race in support of Wallace. It was the first time that Petty had been to a NASCAR race since the sanctioning body resumed racing on May 17 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Wallace then took a picture of himself with everyone behind him and the teams stayed there for the pre-race prayer and the national anthem.
Wallace’s friend Ryan Blaney won
Ryan Blaney won the race after a crash-filled final lap as he barely stayed ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Blaney and Wallace have been longtime friends and Wallace went to congratulate Blaney after the race. Blaney had said previously that he attended a peaceful protest to go listen and has stood by Wallace throughout the last few weeks.
“I look back where he and I started, now we're both at the Cup level, driving for great owners, get to compete against each other every single week like we used to when we were kids,” Blaney said after the race. That's really hard to do. The odds of that happening are very low that both of us were able to make it to the Sunday level.”
“It's just somebody I've gotten along with. He and I would be great friends even if we weren't racing together. We have a lot in common, get along really well. Someone you can talk to, a good friend you've known for a long time that will always have your back, whether it's me having his back or him having mine. Someone I've known for a long time and really fortunate to get to know over the years, race against.”
Wallace has said he got the urge to be more outspoken about social issues after seeing Floyd’s death and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. He’s urged other drivers to do the same and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson helped organize a video of drivers vowing to listen and help address social and racial inequality.
NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its tracks hours before the Cup Series raced at Martinsville. Wallace drove a Black Lives Matter car during that race and wore a shirt that said “I can’t breathe” in support of the movement before the race.
Wallace was 11th at Martinsville and has now finished in the top 15 in four of his last five races following his result at Talladega.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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