NASCAR isn’t taking a bold stand against President Donald Trump’s false attacks.
The sanctioning body took seven hours to reply to Trump’s tweet demanding Bubba Wallace apologize for perpetrating a hoax that wasn’t a hoax at all at Talladega. And its statement wasn’t a forceful rebuke of the president’s allegations.
“We are proud to have Bubba Wallace in the NASCAR family and we commend his courage and leadership,” the statement said. “NASCAR continues to stand tall with Bubba, our competitors and everyone who makes our sport welcoming and inclusive for all racing fans.”
That’s it. That was the statement. There was nothing in it that reinforced how NASCAR handled the discovery of the noose in Wallace’s garage at Talladega or that Wallace was informed by NASCAR president Steve Phelps of the noose’s existence and never saw it the day it was discovered. Or simply that what transpired at Talladega was not at all a hoax like Trump and so many others extremely vocal on social media are attempting to believe.
Instead, NASCAR let the president that it so lavishly hosted for a campaign-style appearance ahead of the Daytona 500 in February get away with a baseless accusation that NASCAR and its only Black driver do not deserve.
In a way, NASCAR’s meek response to Trump shouldn’t be surprising. Former NASCAR president and CEO Brian France stumped for Trump at a campaign rally in 2016 along with a group of drivers that included Chase Elliott, currently the Cup Series’ most popular star. Trump has tweeted his adulation for NASCAR before. And a significant portion of NASCAR’s fans vote Republican and support the president, a fact that was obvious when Trump was greeted with adulation at Daytona.
Trump flags were everywhere in the Daytona infield that weekend as NASCAR’s largely white crowd was incredibly happy to see him lead the field on pace laps in the presidential limousine. While presidents have attended NASCAR races before, none had attended a race with so much pre-race fanfare like Trump did. France even flew to Daytona with him along with former driver and broadcaster Darrell Waltrip and Trump was greeted at the Daytona Beach airport by France’s family members.
That public support coupled with Monday’s timing did make Trump’s tweet surprising, however. The president had remained quiet about NASCAR’s Confederate flag ban and the Wallace investigation throughout the month of June. And with NASCAR and its competitors seemingly moving on from what happened at Talladega too, it reasoned that Trump was going to stay out of this fray and instead focus on the other issues he deemed most pressing.
He didn’t. And NASCAR stayed silent all morning as the topic exploded again and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany nonsensically defended Trump’s Twitter fingers.
The most vocal pushback came from driver Tyler Reddick, a rookie in NASCAR’s top-tier Cup Series. Reddick, who was one of the first NASCAR drivers to speak out against racism in May, said that NASCAR’s drivers did what was right when they walked Wallace’s car down pit road the day after the noose was discovered and the possibility of a hate crime lingered.
“We don’t need an apology,” Reddick wrote. “We did what was right and we will do just fine without your support.”
That tweet was deleted not long after Reddick sent that tweet and it was picked up by mainstream news outlets across the country. His weekly call to NASCAR’s Sirius XM show was rescheduled as well.
Heck, even seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson struck back with more efficiency than NASCAR itself. More than three hours before NASCAR’s two-sentence statement finally became public, Johnson posted a picture of Wallace’s No. 43. The picture was accompanied by a simple hashtag. And it said just as much as NASCAR’s words would eventually say.
NASCAR has taken a lot of steps the last six weeks in the name of racial equality. It had a moment of silence on June 7 at Atlanta amid protests around the country in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. It quietly rescinded a rule that banned protesting during the national anthem and president Steve Phelps vowed that the series needed to do more against racial injustice.
Three days later, NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from track properties — an idea that was first floated by France in 2015. That same day, Wallace drove a Black Lives Matter car at Martinsville.
Then, less than two weeks after that Martinsville race, NASCAR took the existence of a noose in Wallace’s garage stall so seriously that federal investigators got involved.
But NASCAR bungled the followup to its commendable Talladega actions when investigators announced there would be no charges for a hate crime and that the noose had been there since October. As soon as that statement by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama was issued, conspiracy theorists latched onto the idea that the whole thing had been made up by Wallace.
It was a laughable premise that flew in the face of every known fact. The statement announcing no charges used the word noose multiple times. Both NASCAR and Wallace reiterated that NASCAR told Wallace about the noose and not vice versa.
But the claims gained fuel throughout certain echo chambers of the internet as NASCAR waited two days to release a picture of the noose. The eventual release of that picture and NASCAR’s own findings of its investigation did little to quell what had boiled up on social media and on Fox News in the prior 48 hours.
Did that slow public response help lead to Trump’s tweet latching onto those theories? If NASCAR had been more forceful in its defense of Wallace and itself from the moment it was made public that no charges had been filed, could NASCAR have avoided the president’s tweet wrath? Those questions are impossible to answer.
But what we do know is that Trump gave NASCAR a second chance to vehemently defend itself and its only Black driver from mindless conspiracy theories. And, once again, NASCAR slowly and weakly stood up for itself.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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