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October 29, 2022

Bubba Wallace returns with lessons learned: ‘You need to think before you do’

Bubba Wallace meets with reporters outside the 23XI Racing hauler
Zack Albert
NASCAR Studios

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Bubba Wallace said Saturday that he had a productive conversation with Kyle Larson after their on-track altercation two weeks ago, and that he has a better understanding of how to handle heated moments after NASCAR officials suspended him from last weekend’s Cup Series event.

Wallace was back at the track Saturday at Martinsville Speedway, returning to the NASCAR Cup Series garage after a one-week absence. He held court with reporters outside the 23XI Racing team haulers before practice and qualifying for Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM), the next-to-last race of the season.

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Wallace retaliated after an on-track incident with Larson two weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, first with an intentional bump that wrecked both their cars and the No. 20 entry of Toyota teammate Christopher Bell. He later shoved Larson multiple times after both drivers exited their cars.

Wallace apologized for the incident through his social media channels. Larson had said last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway that he didn’t feel an apology was necessary but considered the matter done.

“There’s a lot of good things going into this weekend. I’m not coming back with a vengeance or anything like that,” said Wallace, who was replaced by John Hunter Nemechek in the No. 45 Toyota last weekend. “I’m just going to continue to do what we’ve been doing. And for the record, I have talked to Larson, and we had a great conversation this week. I think the best thing for us is we both understood where our frustrations were and moving forward and how we both can handle those situations better.”

Larson won last weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami, and he claimed the pole position in Saturday’s qualifying session at Martinsville. After his pole lap, Larson said that he felt he had reached some common ground with Wallace as they look to turn the page.

“Yeah, it was great to have that talk,” Larson said. “I said the same thing. I came downstairs and told my wife that Bubba and I had a great conversation. I thought it went really well, and I think we’ve both moved on from it really fast. It was good to have a talk, good to just talk over the frustrations and mistakes on both of our parts. Move on and forget about it, and get back to racing. I feel like we’ve raced really well together in the past. Hopefully I don’t make any more mistakes and we can continue to race good.”

Wallace said that after the Vegas incident, conversations also took place during team meetings with 23XI management, who reminded him of the repercussions of placing the organization and its backers “in a bad light,” as he termed it. Wallace is in his second year with the Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan-owned team, and he was re-signed to a long-term contract extension in August.

“They were understanding of the heat-of-the-moment type things, but they were very adamant about how we need to handle those five seconds later,” Wallace said. “You need to think, like I said earlier, you need to think before you do. That was the biggest thing. They still support me, and we’re here. Just have to go out and continue to build this team up.”

Said Hamlin: “Listen, I trust Bubba’s words. We had long conversations with him internally, and I think that he would do things differently. This is not just words and PR talk. This is Bubba. You know, nobody asked him to tweet that he took a bite of humble pie. It’s something that Bubba has not had a whole lot of say, you know, those words in the past. I truly believe that he’s learned his lesson, he would do things differently. He’s young, and this is part of his growth.”

Wallace said that sitting out and disrupting his in-season weekly routine were among the toughest parts of his suspension. He added that he accepted the penalty and had discussions with NASCAR President Steve Phelps and Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell about the ruling.

“I definitely learned my lesson, but we have to be consistent with this no matter if it’s here at Martinsville or if it’s at Daytona or Talladega,” Wallace said. “We have to keep it consistent across the boards and across the series. That was the conversation; it was a good conversation.”