Wallace deserves his ban for breaking NASCAR’s cardinal rule


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

NASCAR has suspended Wallace for one race for doing just that to Kyle Larson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and rightfully so. It is the first suspension of a Cup Series driver for an on-track incident in nearly seven years and only the second suspension of a driver across any of stock car racing’s three national series over the same time span.

It had to be done.

The suspension would have been plenty justified had the incident happened way out on its own in a vacuum, where the two dueling racers were nowhere near anyone else. But they weren’t. They were two non-playoff drivers banging doors in traffic and wound up taking out championship contender Christopher Bell.

The timeout would have been understandable even if Wallace had chosen to retaliate for being raced into the outside wall by Larson but had done so as they traveled down the frontstretch or backstretch, with a pop into the rear bumper, or even a shot to the left rear to send Larson spinning into the infield grass. But that’s not what he did. He went full Cole Trickle with a nosedive down the banking off the fourth turn as he chased Larson all the way to the edge of that 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 one lap of NASCAR racing knows that move will send the attacked car into a loop that is likely to send it into the outside retaining wall, driver’s side first.

“If he spun him to the infield, maybe it’s a little better, but right-rear hooking someone in the dogleg is not OK. I don’t know if everyone realizes how bad that could have been,” a rattled Joey Logano said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio a few hours before the suspension announcement. “That could have been the end of Kyle Larson’s career. That to me was what was on the line. Or his life. That is the worst spot to get right-rear hooked into a corner.

“[Larson] might have flush-hit that thing in the side and game over. There’s no room for that. You can’t do that. If it’s under caution and you’re banging doors … I don’t know that that’s OK, but at least you’re not putting someone’s life at risk. I don’t like using cars for a weapon. Just get out and fight him. That’s fine if that’s what you really want to do and that’s how you want to handle it.”

The parking would have been warranted even if the Cup Series weren’t in the midst of a safety crisis. But it is. The past few weeks have seen concerns about the Next Gen car boil over into a genuine public argument, as the racers inside the car have felt betrayed by the machine’s unforgiving frame. That rigid ride has led to injuries, especially concussion-related issues. Just this weekend a future NASCAR Hall of Famer, Kurt Busch, announced he is stepping away from full-time racing as he continues to struggle with those very symptoms, triggered by a crash in one of those cars earlier this season. That car was the No. 45 Toyota. Yes, the same ride Wallace was piloting Sunday.

The penalty would have been appropriate even if it were the only incident of its kind this season. But it wasn’t.

On July 6 at Road America, Xfinity Series driver Noah Gragson angrily turned Sage Karam with a hook to the right rear that sent Karam spinning into traffic. The crash 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 Las Vegas sister track Texas Motor Speedway, Larson teammate William Byron turned Denny Hamlin under caution, sending Hamlin’s Camry lazily spinning through the infield grass. Hamlin attempted to retaliate under that same caution. Byron was fined $50,000 and lost 25 points, although after appeal the fine was doubled, the points were returned and as a result Byron’s postseason stayed alive. NASCAR race control handled it all pretty poorly, saying it didn’t act during the race because it hadn’t seen it. It hadn’t seen a wreck on the frontstretch? It was embarrassing.

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

It’s no secret that Wallace deals with stress levels most racers do not. His social media timelines have become a minefield, laid hourly by sofa critics who consider him a soft target and by conspiracy theorists who still want the world to believe that for some reason he is trying to undermine the sport he loves. Why do they do that? Unfortunately, that’s too easy to figure out.

Perhaps that never-ending strain is why he snapped so violently Sunday, from the wrecking of Larson to the physical shoving of him minutes later. Maybe that’s why Wallace’s fuse has always seemed to be so short, whether he has popped off on a media microphone about a competitor or walked off a virtual race with other NASCAR drivers during the pandemic. That’s for psychologists and sociologists to determine, or for Wallace himself to dissect.

Then again, anyone who saw Wallace racing Bandoleros as a teenager — and I did — knows he has always had a fire inside him. All racers who reach the pinnacle of this sport have it. They have to, and we love them for it. Every racer in that Hall of Fame owns more than a few moments rooted in that passion, and we’ve all cheered for them. Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers fighting. Dale Earnhardt rattling cages. Tony Stewart throwing helmets. That’s why NASCAR had no issue with Wallace’s shove of Larson. Extinguish that fire and you’re watering down the heart of what makes motorsports great. Sure, the cars are cool, but it’s the humans inside those cars we love most.

But all of those racers had to learn how to straddle the line between being fiery and being dangerous. The line NASCAR’s chief operating officer, Steve O’Donnell, spoke of Tuesday when he chatted with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the suspension was announced.

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

They made the right one. Wallace will no doubt learn from it and be better for it. More importantly, everyone in the garage will learn from it. A reminder that, as much as the sport changes and no matter how many times the rulebook might be revised and rewritten, there will always be one rule that should never, ever be messed with. The one commandment stock car drivers shall never violate.

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



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