NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Did You Notice?: Bubba Wallace Putting NASCAR in a Tough Spot

Did You Notice? … Bubba Wallace has a history of confrontations in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series? We’ll start with the now, what everyone’s still talking about three days after the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Sunday’s incident (Sept. 29) with Alex Bowman was easily his most serious to date.

The two drivers made contact multiple times during the Bank of America ROVAL 400. On lap 1, Bowman lost control on the backstretch and happened to hit Wallace’s No. 43 while spinning out.

Later on in the race, Bowman recovered and started slicing his way through the field. But when he got back to Wallace, he found himself blocked. Bubba kept coming down in front of the No. 88, refusing to let him by while making indecent hand gestures in the process.

So Bowman, frustrated, decided to spin him out.

“I got flipped off for every single straightaway on the entire racetrack for three laps,” Bowman said. “I got flipped off by [Wallace] for three or four laps in a row at Richmond, so I’m just over it. Gotta stand up for myself at some point.”

Bowman kept fighting back, finishing second but was suffering from dehydration after the race. He was busy getting medical attention when Wallace went and threw water in his face, calling out plenty of cuss words along the way.

“Smooth move of playing the sick card,” Wallace said afterward. “So I wouldn’t bust him in the mouth.”

Just this incident alone felt over the line. NASCAR’s Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said he’ll “talk to Wallace” about his behavior later this week. But if anything serious was going to happen here, penalties would have already been handed down.

To their credit, NASCAR has been pretty consistent in sticking to its “have at it, boys” philosophy, letting drivers display raw emotion without getting involved. But for Wallace, Sunday marked the fourth time since the start of 2018 we’ve seen a confrontation from him at the Cup level. Three of them have occurred in just the last three months.

Watkins Glen, August 2019. In the Cup race, Wallace and Kyle Busch made contact that caused Wallace to spin out on lap 39. Just 23 laps later, he returned the favor and blatantly spun Busch in retaliation. The incident came with an expletive-filled tirade directed at Busch both during and after the event. Keep in mind Busch was Bubba’s boss when he raced the Gander Outdoors Truck Series back in 2013-2014.

“I’m going to get my respect on the track, and I don’t care who it is,” Wallace said to reporters. “I won’t put up with no sh*t. So I flat out wrecked his ass back.”

Pocono. July 2019. Wallace gets in hot water with Daniel Suarez after giving him the finger on the racetrack during the Gander RV 400. (Sensing a pattern here?) It leads to an animated discussion on pit road in which Wallace insists he was joking. He wound up 22nd in the race while Suarez was 24th.

“Where I came from, you can kick someone’s butt for doing that,” Suarez said to NBC Sports. “He said he was playing, but I’m not dumb. I know he wasn’t.

“We are good friends, but sometimes he drives a little bit over his head on the racetrack. There have been a couple of times he’s been a little bit too aggressive to myself in different situations.”

Daytona 500, February 2018. After a career-best second-place finish, Wallace wrecks Denny Hamlin at the line and expressed frustration over the contact. Both cars wound up destroyed despite their solid runs.

“I want to see the replay before I say anything stupid,” Wallace said. “He might need to take some Adderall for that one.”

For Hamlin, those comments were stupid enough. Wallace was removed from Hamlin’s basketball and golf leagues outside the racetrack for several months; their friendship went through a rough patch.

All of this behavior, of course, came from a driver whose incidents equal the number of top-10 finishes (four) he’s earned in two-plus years on the Cup circuit. That’s not a great track record to risk getting aggressive, especially when you drive for one of the sport’s legendary names in Richard Petty.

But NASCAR is also stuck between a rock and a hard place with Wallace. It’s a series not far removed from the racism of its early days; Wallace is the first full-time African-American driver to reach the Cup level in decades. The sport understands how his presence can grow the fan base, marketing him in ways like a Facebook Watch Behind The Wall documentary last year. His close friendship with Ryan Blaney has left him front and center as a wingman for the more successful Team Penske driver. Wallace is also a perfect fit for new millennial type partnerships with Barstool Sports.

His struggles are also relatable to fans – and he’s open about them. In May, Wallace surprised reporters at Kansas Speedway and claimed he’d been privately battling depression for years.

“I’m on the verge of breaking down,” he said. “I am what I am.”

So could Sunday’s actions actually be a cry for help for Wallace in his own way? It’s a potential opportunity here for NASCAR to step in, setting him up with the right resources if needed. The last thing you want is someone battling mental demons trying to turn left alongside another competitor at nearly 200 miles an hour.

At the same time, Wallace’s volatility calls into question how long his leash should be. As it is, the last two years have been a Herculean effort to acquire proper sponsorship for the No. 43. Is this behavior what you want representing your brand? On-track, a recent spurt of strong finishes have offered hope for improvement in 2020 but the reality is Wallace still sits 26th in the Cup standings. He’s six points behind Daniel Hemric, fired after just one year and similar on-track results with Richard Childress Racing.

But Hemric was never a problem off the track. Neither was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., handed a pink slip just last week despite running four positions above Wallace in the standings. Some might say Richard Petty Motorsports is exercising a little extra patience here.

Hopefully, Steve O’Donnell can make that message clear that Wallace’s chances are running out; it would be a shame to lose one of NASCAR’s most popular, outspoken voices.

But if Bubba doesn’t listen? This pattern of behavior won’t stop. And I think we all know how it ends.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….

  • I’m torn NASCAR’s decision not to reinstate the Thorsport Racing trucks back into the Gander Outdoor Truck Series playoffs. Ilmor admitted it was a mistake on their end which caused the spec engines used by now-eliminated Johnny Sauter and Grant Enfinger to blow up. (Matt Crafton’s did, too, but he survived into the next round.) A NASCAR-provided motor, in essence, was the whole reason these trucks didn’t make it. So shouldn’t the sanctioning body take ownership over its own rules that caused the problem? At the same time… allowing these guys back in would set a dangerous precedent. Mechanical luck has been a part of racing for decades and only a select number of these motors completely fell apart. Maybe Thorsport’s setup was a little harder on them than their other competitors? And if Sauter and Enfinger won either of the other playoff races… they wouldn’t be sitting on the outside looking in.
  • NASCAR’s new rule changes for 2020 feel like minor tweaks at best. Cutting the at-track roster from 12 to 10? Sure, that’ll save a little cash. But limiting wind tunnel time to 150 hours? That’s really not going to swing the pendulum back toward lower-tier teams. The gap financially between someone like Spire Motorsports and Team Penske is just so wide. More drastic measures are needed when the Gen-7 car comes in 2021 to get new owners interested and secure the long-term financial future of this sport.
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About Tom Bowles

Tom Bowles
The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.

32 comments

  1. Avatar

    seems with every decision nascash seems to slip father and farther into irrelevancy. truck cars. whatever.
    too many rules. too much inconsistency, too many manufactured results, too much favoritism, way too many candy assed drivers and tv coverage that doesn’t represent that actual racing. i’ve been watching since wide world of sports. i might be done with this thing i once loved. it’s just not going to get better. tell me i’m wrong and show me some hope. i dare you.

    • Avatar

      I’ve also been watching since WWSports. You are exactly correct.
      The TV people are not even watching the racetrack, just their monitors. That’s what I’m doing on my couch. Who needs them to tell us stuff that really didn’t happen.

    • Avatar

      throughout most of the season i’ve watched races by flipping to the race to see what’s going on. i don’t think i’ve watched a complete cup race all season long. i get tired of the antics. and if you miss something, you’ll catch it on reply a few hundred times.

  2. Avatar

    “Bubba” is an embarrassment as far as I am concerned. Yes I said it. His last effort (imo) to soften the hate coming his way was to show that he is a “depressed” person. Blah, blah, blah. WHATEVER! Ah no…how bout he just doesn’t have the GODDARN talent to run week in and week out at the CUP level. Has he produced a stream of consistency??? No..I am tired of NASCAR and the “BUBBA” supporters trying to make a freaking milkshake out $%^^^$ defending him after all these years, and doubling down on it as well!!!! Fluck him. As I have said for years, maybe he should stop trying to be a wannabe celeb using the “race card”, practice the art of racing! You know what he is paid to do, but more often than not, does not bring home the goods at all! My observation regarding the PUSH to make DARRELL in the media and NASCAR something he is not, and will never be!!!! For what ever social media caca spews. Time has proved it. AGAIN IMO. Tired of “Bubba” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Isn’t there some other worthy driver to talk about? Just askin’.

    • Avatar

      he’s not the best, he’s not the worst – he doesn’t parade around his race, all of you do – including the media. You all make it about diversity vs talent. Danica had the same challenge (of not having talent, and being thrust into this persona of greatness).

      i think what he did was chickens**t and unnecessary. i think he needs to be a better racer, and this stuff detracts from his ability to do that. But – we all say “if they don’t stand up for themselves, they’ll get run over..” ahem – Joey Logano

      so, it’s a ramble – but i don’t think it’s him parading around his blackness….it’s all of us seeing and unfortunatley having our biases kick in on how we then group him.

      • Avatar

        Your entitled to your opinion, well have em’. However, I want you to know I COMPLETELY AND STRONGLY DISAGREE WITH YOUR POST. Morally and factually.

        Yawn…..but I just don’t give that much of a damn to get in a pissing contest with you especially over someone as unworthy as “Bubba”.

        • Avatar

          I don’t think you fully disagree. Else you’d think it wasn’t a chickensh*t move.

          All said, I’m actually surprised you responded. Most don’t, I’m perfectly capable of hearing your thoughts. That’s what’s wrong with the world today. It doesn’t have to be an all caps tirade. But I’m opening to hearing your side – who said anything about a pissing march. It’s called a discussion, i welcome heading who you disagree with my And why my facts and morals.

          I guess you also assume I’m a fan of his, which I am not. Either way. Respond or don’t. But have an amazing day. Enjoy Dover.

        • Avatar

          Bubba doesn’t have a war chest like the 88 team. As well as drivers 25th and back. You probably can’t back your car out of a garage.

          Congratulations Richard Petty for your choice.

  3. Avatar

    Saying “him” was meant to the whole NASCAR media…and how convenient “race” is when it need not be. You have the talent or you don’t. That simple.

  4. Avatar

    if i recall, didn’t home depot firmly suggest to gibbs that stewart needed his temper put under more control and he had to attend anger management classes? the of course there’s the othre gibbs driver that is a poster boy for snarky behavior towards others and mars threatened sponsorship if he wasn’t leashed.

    there’s always been issues with certain drivers and others. used to be that drivers’ contracts had clauses that addressed personal behavior. not sure if that clause still exists.

    whatever, bubba needs to get his head in the right place, whatever the problems, personal, work. sponsors look at everything through a microscope and them pulling their money is their choice. the 43 struggles for funding and a driver that’s making headlines for behavior and not wins or track performance besides wrecking folks is not good.

    used to be where on track issues happened on sunday, drivers settled the issue on monday and by WEDNESDAY everything was focused on the upcoming race.

    i guess no retaliation should be considered til martinsville. certainly not dega in two week.

    get over it, address it, get help, and move on. this horse has been beaten badly this week.

  5. Avatar

    Nascar has typical had some drivers that are a bit more ….volitile. It used to be just fine with the fans until recently. If they can put up with Kyle Busch and his suls…and on track retaliations (remember Ron Hornaday?), the a little water shouldn’t put people in hysterics. I seem to recall Rusty Wallace heaving an entire bottle (full) and Earnhardt senior before. get over it. If his owner or sponsors have an issue with it, they can take care of it. You can’t s ‘Boys have at it’ one minute, then stomp on someone for having at it. No reaction to bowman spinning Bubba into the wall, rather than just moving him out of the way? Neither on was a classy move in my book, and Bowman has had his share of confrontations too.

  6. Avatar

    Bubba has always been a hothead. He has no real racing talent and NASCAR could take some lessons from the NHRA for having diversity without a contrived diversity program.

  7. Avatar

    Wallace is a mediocre mid pack driver at best. His mouth is bigger than his talent. With Chastain sitting out there available RPM would do well to dump the loudmouth snowflake and put Chastain in the seat.

  8. Avatar

    Bad driver, bad temper and a lousy driver…time for Bubba to go back to the Go Carts where he can learn to drive. Bubba will never win a race with the big guys just like the darlin of the media Danica……

  9. Avatar

    So what…what do want Stepford drivers

  10. Avatar

    I know this will probably get me accused of being racist but….. Please tell me all the things Bubba Wallace has done with his NASCAR Sprint Cup pay checks to aid other minority racers. That’s the problem with many affirmative action recipients, and make no mistake, Bubba isn’t here on talent. I have to believe if he were coming to the aid of other minority competitors NASCAR would be publicizing the crap out of it.

    • Avatar

      I don’t think that makes you racist, but essentially – you’re asking him to be the poster boy for black racers, which if he did – someone here would shout “reverse racism” – he can’t win on that. It’s unfair for you to expect that. What are the mainstream racers doing to aid anyone other than those that look like them, i don’t see any of them doing that, it’s coming from corporate, which SUCKS – and shouldn’t be this way, but this is the world we live in.

      Immediatly people look at race or gender and say “he isn’t / she isn’t here because of talent” – uh lets go down the list – Paul Menard – The Dillon Kids – Reed Sorenson – Corey Lajoie? I mean….come on, there’s got to be better than that as well – and lets not get into the equipment discussion

      i dunno, i don’t intend to stir the pot – but that’s really kind of how i feel about this. you can all hate me, i’m ok with that

    • Avatar

      What have you done with your paychecks?

  11. Avatar

    Bubba aka Danika Wallace who both have a season pass for 24th place only gets the attention because of his minority status. He deserves no different treatment than any other driver. That said he has an attitude almost worse than Kyle Busch. Nascar should fine/penalize him.

  12. Avatar

    I don’t know the answer to this. I like Bubba. he’s probably a third tier driver (and there are probably a dozen or so of them in Cup, behind the top five or six and another dozen in between) in fourth tier equipment, which can get frustrating. For the top drivers, it’s okay to say “I’ll race you the way you race me” but when Bubba does that to a Gibbs, Hendrick, Stewart-Haas, or Ganassi driver, he’s the bad guy. When Kyle Busch is frustrated by a lapped car (who’s still making the minimum speed), he can express that frustration but the other driver can only respond on Twitter. Wallace’s probably got to accept that this is the pecking order in Cup, at least until he shows better performance.

    • Avatar

      I think with some other drivers that are better than Bubba, Petty Enterprises should go after Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. He will get go sponsors and maybe will be able to get competitive again.
      Bubba is a time bomb ready to explode

  13. Avatar

    Seems to me that Bubba put Bubba in a tough situation. And Petty.

  14. Avatar

    So according to the author of this article we should put the bottom line over principles, ethics, morals, etc. That is exactly what the hell is wrong with the United States of the Offended now. The snowflakes and PC Patrol are taking over. What difference does it make what color he is? Or how depressed he is? People love competition and sports. Because you earn it! You work for it! All generally play by the same rules and conditions. If Wallace fails he will join a thousand other guys who are not black that were much more deserving and had much more skill than he and still never made it in Cup. Hell he may even get in the NASCAR Hall of Sham before it’s all said and done. And the snowflakes can rejoice! Meanwhile the average, decent, rational, principled people continue to tune out of everything that is tainted by the PC Patrol.

  15. Avatar

    Wonder what “The King” thinks about his driver flipping competitors the bird during races? Maybe it is about time for a talk, on how to represent Petty and his organization better.

  16. Avatar

    Worst thing about that was Wallace got the safety lady as well and that’s totally unacceptable. These support people are absolutely required and without them there’d be no racing. Lots of them are volunteers and it is getting harder and harder to find people to do these jobs. With idiots like Bubba pulling stunts like that it won’t get any better. Grow up Wallace, get your emotions under control and if you can’t do that then quit.

  17. Avatar

    I bet Thor Motorsports wishes they were running Roush Yates motors

  18. Avatar

    Shaking my head. Really…………..the author wants to make a big deal out of these incidents?! The crowd went positively wild at The Glen when Bubba spun Rowdy. No issue there, and the two drivers discussed it later anyway. Same for the Suarez-Bubba incident. That stuff is old news and not worth mentioning anymore. Dredging them up is just trying to draw attention to yourself as the author. NOT NEWS. And frankly, aside from the splashing of the medical attendant (who was already pouring liquid on Bowman) and Jeff Gordon, Bowman got what he deserved for turning the 43 into the wall. Intentionally clipping a car on the right rear is a fighting move. So, try writing something that is really news and skip the click bait crap!

    • Avatar

      I remember when Kyle Bush was running everyone over. Do you? “Wreckers or checkers” Alex hit everyone in his way the other day. Did the author of that article really watch the race? Doubt it.

      Thanks for setting him straight.