By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Bubba Wallace began Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a Stage 1 win. However, things went straight to hell on the 94th lap that eliminated himself and two other drivers.
In an intense battle for fifth, Kyle Larson went low and made it three wide on Wallace and Kevin Harvick. Larson moved up the middle in Turn 3 when the heat of the contest began to escalate.
As the trio entered Turn 4, Larson got sideways and tangled with Wallace. As a result, it sent Wallace into the outside wall and while Harvick was able to avoid the mayhem, Wallace was beyond peeved at Larson.
It led to Wallace going low, hooking Larson which sent both hard into the Turn 4 wall.
“If that wasn’t retaliation, I don’t know what was,” said Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels after the whole fiasco.
“Cliff is smart enough to know how easily these cars break,” Wallace’s response to Daniels’ comment.
Both competitors got out of their cars under their own power, but Wallace’s livid mindset continued and began shoving Larson multiple times.
From Wallace’s point of view, he felt the contact was deliberate after being shoved into the fence and never cleared him in the three-wide battle.
“(Larson) forced me to lift and the steering was gone. Just so happen to be there,” Wallace on Larson. “I hate it for the team. Super-fast car, but I had no short run speed. Larson wanted to make a three-wide dive bomb and never cleared me.
“I don’t lift. I’m kind of new running up front, but I don’t lift,” Wallace continued. “I wasn’t even in a spot to lift, and he never lifted either. Now we’re junk and that’s a piss poor move on his execution.”
No longer in the fight for back-to-back championships, Larson’s seventh exit of the year still had negative ramifications. That being the less publicized Owners’ Championship as the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team are in the Round of 8 for that title battle.
Not surprised by the confrontation from Wallace, Larson explained his aggressive move and noted that Wallace’s afternoon could’ve continued had it not been for the retaliation.
“I got in low and got loose,” said Larson. “Chased it up a bit and he got into my right front. It got him tight and into the wall. I knew he was going to retaliate and had every reason to be mad, but his race wasn’t over until he retaliated. Just aggression turned into frustration.”
The alarming rise of injuries that’s led to Kurt Busch’s exit from full-time competition and spring Las Vegas winner Alex Bowman out for three more races, Larson commented about the dangers with the current car. More so when asked about whether Wallace’s retaliation was unacceptable.
“With everything that’s been going on lately with head injuries and fractured ligaments, I don’t think it was the right thing to do,” Larson on being hooked by Wallace after the initial contact.
“Hey, we’ve all done it. Maybe not all of us, but I have let the emotions get the best of me before too. He’s still probably upset, but I’m sure with everything going on, he’ll know that he made a mistake in the retaliation part and think twice about it next time.”
The man who saw all of it unfold was Christopher Bell, who is fresh off a win at the Charlotte ROVAL that advanced him into the Round of 8.
Trying to get away from the carnage, Bell was clipped by an already spinning Larson and sent him into the wall.
Consequently, Bell sustained heavy left rear damage which the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing crew tried hard to get it fixed under the 10-minute damage vehicle policy clock.
The crew couldn’t get it fixed in time and was out of the race in an incident none of his own doing. Bell became the first Round of 8 driver to DNF during Sunday’s race.
“Bubba got run into the wall (by Larson) and obviously retaliation from this side. We got the short end of the stick,” Bell on what he saw from the fifth-place battle.
Although feeling a low point, Bell remains confident that his race team can make their way into the Championship 4 with Homestead and Martinsville left. Beating the odds have been the No. 20 team’s MO throughout the year as proven with their playoff run.
“The good thing is that I feel about winning one of those two races than I did at the ROVAL,” said Bell. “I’ve had really strong Camrys all year long and see if we can pull another rabbit out of the hat.”
Short and to the point, Wallace had one word to describe Bell’s consequential exit.
“Sports,” Wallace commented.
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