NASCAR announced Tuesday that it suspended Bubba Wallace after his actions in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Wallace was suspended for one race after he crashed Kyle Larson at Lap 94 of the South Point 400 and proceeded to shove Larson, both violations of Sections 4.3.A and 4.4.C & E of the NASCAR Member Code of Conduct laid out in the NASCAR Rule Book. Rule 4.4.C lists “intentionally wrecking or spinning another vehicle, whether or not that vehicle is removed from Competition as a result” as one of five member actions that could result in a penalty.
The incident began at the exit of Turn 4 in the Cup Series’ Round of 8 opener at the 1.5-mile track, where Larson slid high and forced Wallace’s 23XI Racing No. 45 Toyota into the outside retaining wall. Wallace, the victor of Stage 1, turned left into Larson’s right-rear quarter panel, sending the No. 5 Chevrolet spinning toward the outside wall and clipping Christopher Bell’s No. 20 Toyota in the process. Bell is still competing for a spot in the Championship 4 while Larson continues to chase an owners’ championship for Hendrick Motorsports. None of the three competitors were able to continue.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief operating officer, joined SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “SiriusXM Speedway” on Tuesday afternoon to discuss why the sanctioning body responded to Wallace’s actions with a suspension.
“Our actions are really specific to what took place on the race track,” O’Donnell told host Dave Moody. “And when we look at how that incident occurred, in our minds, really a dangerous act. We thought that was intentional and put other competitors at risk. And 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.”
O’Donnell noted NASCAR officials examined the data and reviewed multiple angles of the incident before landing on the decision to suspend Wallace, an uncommon penalty levied against drivers.
“When we look at drivers historically, it’s been very rare if ever that we suspend drivers, so we don’t take that action lightly,” O’Donnell said. “So we view our penalties from what has to happen at the race track. It’s a driver-driven sport. Obviously, everybody’s very important to what takes place in the sport. …
“But the driver oftentimes is the focus. And what happens on track is a big focus. So in this case, that’s an action we’ve rarely moved forward with when it comes to a driver. There’s comparisons to what we’ve done in the past, but as we’ve always said, we need to ratchet things up where we see that there’s a line that’s been crossed.”
After the incident, Wallace said the steering on his car broke and that Larson just happened to be there. O’Donnell confirmed NASCAR examined both the vehicle and the data available and added: “We’re confident in the decision we made and why we made it.”
23XI Racing released a statement that indicated it would not appeal NASCAR’s decision and that John Hunter Nemechek would replace Wallace in the No. 45 Toyota for Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM) at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
23XI’s official statement on the NASCAR Las Vegas Penalty. pic.twitter.com/Pdopqtae1e
— 23XI Racing (@23XIRacing) October 18, 2022
Wallace issued a statement to his social media accounts Monday night, specifically addressing the post-wreck confrontation.
“I want to apologize for my actions on Sunday following the on-track incident with Kyle Larson and the No. 5 car,” Wallace wrote. “My behavior does not align with the core values that are shared by 23XI Racing and our partners, who have played a crucial role in my incredible journey to the top of this great sport.”
O’Donnell said conversations will be had regarding the post-crash shoves but reiterated the penalties were aimed at what took place at speed.
“Certainly not something we condone when you look at all the actions that took place as part of that,” he said. “But again, a heat-of-the-moment thing. Bubba’s a competitor. He’s out there – he had a great race car. He wants to win, right? And we love that about Bubba Wallace that he wants to go out and win like all of our drivers do. In this case, you put all three of those things together, but our focus was really what took place on the track.
“We don’t want to see drivers fighting. We understand that emotions get high. We don’t encourage that obviously. But our focus was really on the race track and we’ll have conversations about what took place outside the race car one-on-one and see where we go from there.”
In addition to Wallace’s suspension, NASCAR announced four other penalties after the Las Vegas weekend.
Ben Beshore, crew chief of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, will miss the next four races along with jackman Derrell Edwards and tire changer Michael Hicks after the left-front wheel detached from Kyle Busch’s car under caution at Las Vegas. The suspensions carry through the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition that opens the 2023 schedule.
In the Xfinity Series, the No. 51 Jeremy Clements Racing team was levied an L1-level penalty for violating Section 14.4.B.E, which pertains to the body. The penalty report notes “Flange Fit Composite Body must be used as supplied from the manufacturer without modification.” Crew chief Mark Setzer was fined $25,000 and suspended from this weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway while the team was docked 40 driver and owner points.
The family-owned Clements team issued a statement after the penalty was announced, saying: “JCR respects NASCAR’s decision on the penalty levied to us today relating to our rear bumper cover, which did not conform to the repair guidelines set forth by NASCAR. We apologize to our fans and partners for this unfortunate oversight and are focused on continuing to represent them with the same fervor as our previous 12 years of NASCAR competition.”
Chris Gayle, crew chief of the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the Xfinity Series, was also issued a $5,000 fine after the car was found with one loose lug nut following Saturday’s event.
Additionally, Andrew Abbott has been reinstated and is eligible to return to all NASCAR activity after completing NASCAR’s mandated anger management training. Abbott was indefinitely suspended after pre-qualifying inspection for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Sept. 30 at Talladega for violating Sections 4.3 A & 4.A.E of the NASCAR Rule Book.