Bubba Wallace received a one race suspension from NASCAR after an investigation determined he deliberately spun reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson at Las Vegas in a “dangerous act” of retaliation before confronting him afterward.
Wallace had a shoving match with Larson after Sunday's incident at Las Vegas and also pushed away a NASCAR official. The suspension handed down Tuesday falls under NASCAR's behavioral policy, and technically could cover most of Wallace's actions at Las Vegas.
But Steve O’Donnell, the executive in charge of competition and racing operations, said the penalties were for Wallace's dangerous and deliberate retaliation against Larson, not the fracas a few moments later.
“When we look at how that incident occurred, in our minds, (it was) really a dangerous act that we thought was intentional and put other competitors at risk,” O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Still, Wallace's suspension for this Sunday's race at Homestead-Miami Speedway is a rare step: Wallace is the first Cup Series driver to be suspended for an on-track incident since Matt Kenseth was parked for two races in 2015 for an incident at Martinsville.
23XI Racing, which is owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan, is not appealing the penalty, and John Hunter Nemechek will replace Wallace this weekend.
“23XI is aligned with NASCAR on the one-race suspension issued to Bubba and we understand the need for the series to take a clear stand on the incidents that took place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway," the team said in a statement. “Bubba’s actions are not in keeping with the values of our team and partners. We have spoken to Bubba and expressed our disapproval of how he handled the situation. Bubba has made impressive strides this season and this experience is an opportunity for him to further learn and grow as a competitor in NASCAR.”
Larson, who had been eliminated from the playoffs a week earlier, and Wallace, who did not qualify to race for the Cup title, clashed on Lap 94 at Las Vegas. Larson attempted a three-wide pass and Kevin Harvick in the middle dropped out of the bunch. Larson slid up the track toward Wallace, who did not lift off the gas to give Larson any room. Larson then shoved Wallace's Toyota into the wall.
Wallace had led 29 laps in a car he believed capable of winning and he reacted by following Larson’s car down to the apron, where he seemed to deliberately hook him in the rear corner as retaliation. That sent Larson spinning into the path of Christopher Bell, a title contender who is part of the Toyota camp with Wallace.
The crash ended Bell’s race and dropped him to last in the eight-driver playoff standings.
Wallace, meanwhile, climbed from his car and marched on the track toward Larson. Wallace was shouting before he even got to Larson and immediately began to shove the smaller driver.
Larson tried to turn away from him and several times lifted his arms to block Wallace’s shoves, but Wallace got in multiple shots before a NASCAR safety worker separated the two.
Wallace on Monday night apologized “for my actions” in a social media post he titled “Reflection.” He apologized specifically to NASCAR and its fans, but also Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota for “putting them in a situation in the Playoffs that they do not deserve.”
His post did not address wrecking Larson — Wallace had claimed his steering broke when he hit the wall — or apologize specifically to the champion.
“I compete with immense passion, and with passion at times comes frustration,” Wallace wrote. “Upon reflecting, I should have represented our partners and core team values better than I did by letting my frustrations follow me outside of the car. You live and learn, and I intend to learn from this.”
Wallace, the only Black driver at the top level of NASCAR, has shown clear progress this season under heavy scrutiny. The incident has been sharply criticized by some of his fellow drivers, who have called for safety improvements to NASCAR's new Next Gen car after recent injuries.
Joey Logano, winner of Sunday’s race and the first driver locked into the championship-deciding finale, said Wallace’s “retaliation is not OK.”
“If he spun (Larson) into the infield, maybe it’s a little better,” Logano said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “But right-rear hooking someone in the dogleg is not OK. I don’t think anyone realizes how bad that could have been. That could have been the end of Kyle Larson’s career. That to me was what was on the line. Or, his life.”
Logano said Larson was actually fortunate to have ricocheted into Bell and not directly into the wall.
“(Larson) might have flush-hit that thing in the side. And then game over. There’s no room for that. You can’t do that,” Logano said. "I don’t like using cars for a weapon. If you’re that mad, just get out and fight him.”
NASCAR also announced that the crew chief for Kyle Busch, Ben Beshore, along with two pit crew members have been suspended for the next four races after a wheel came off during the Las Vegas race.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports