By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
AVONDALE, Arizona — Hours removed from NASCAR penalizing Bubba Wallace 50 driver points and fined $50,000 for admitting that he deliberately spun out in last Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, several Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers were asked about their take of his penalty.
Among those vocal from the very beginning was Kyle Larson, who felt it was clear as day that it was on purpose.
After qualifying fifth for tomorrow’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway, Larson hopes the message will be sent to every driver and hopes he doesn’t end up being the culprit.
“I don’t want to get docked 50 points or have to spend $50K either,” Larson said. “Hopefully, I’m not in that spot where you have to make that choice. It sucks that NASCAR got to make that call because it is in a way a judgment call. It’s good that they send us the message because it’s happened the last two weekends. Yeah, now we’ll move on to Phoenix and go race.”
The news broke of Wallace admitting his actions were deliberate occurred Friday when NBC Sports writer Dustin Long put him on the spotlight.
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) November 9, 2019
Wallace’s massive penalty meant he’ll end up with -37 points from Texas and dropped to 28th in the championship standings.
When speaking with the media, Wallace’s mindset was simply moving on from his actions and have a good race at Phoenix.
“The only one that can make that call is me driving,” Wallace said. “When you have a flat tire, it’s pretty tough to hang on to.”
Two drivers were negatively impacted from Wallace’s spin. The most impacted was playoff contender Denny Hamlin, who enters Phoenix 20 points outside the cutoff line after being involved in an earlier incident.
Hamlin was open about his day being further ruined because it helped Kevin Harvick score the Texas victory and punch his ticket into the Championship 4, but doesn’t want to fault Wallace because he wouldn’t know how everybody’s race are going.
“Harvick winning was really bad for us,” Hamlin said. The last update I got was we were six points behind, and I was running 30 something. Harvick was stuck in tenth and the caution came out. It definitely helped Harvick.
“Don’t fault Bubba, he doesn’t know where anyone’s running. He’s out there doing the best for himself, but it changed the outcome. It put Harvick up front and he wins the race, so we’re 20 back.”
Another driver that felt their Texas race got reprimanded was William Byron, who felt that he had a third-place car instead of a 17th place machine. Also after Wallace admitted guilt, he mentioned it definitely wasn’t the best move.
“Everybody’s out there trying to do the best they can for the team, so I get that,” Byron said. “It definitely killed our race last week so I’m a little bitter about the caution in general. I think it is what it is now, it’s last week so I don’t think about it.
“We were running third. I thought we didn’t quite have the speed of the top-two guys, but we could’ve at least finished third, so I think we would’ve finished third in that race. It is what it is now.”
Harvick was blunt on his take on the situation because there wasn’t any reason for him to get involved in somebody else’s mess that could distract him from focusing on winning a second championship next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“If you need a story or something stirred up, that’s fine but for us,” Harvick said. “We need to be as quiet as possible and just concentrate on our job. I don’t want anything to do with any of it.”
David Ragan, who only has two more starts before calling his full-time career a day, mentioned that if he ran Richard Petty Motorsports (Wallace’s team), he should make Wallace write the check.
“If you’re going to do it, you got to have a plan and follow through with it,” Ragan said. “You got to keep your lips tight, so he’ll learn from it. That money goes to a good cause. It goes to the NASCAR Foundation, so he’s helping a lot of kids with that. He should double it and write a $100K check.”
Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson understands that in the world we live in where being vocal is commended, but in the era he grew up, how you said thing were much different.
“I think I watched a generation that was very creative and how they worded things,” Johnson said. “You go back to Dale (Earnhardt), Terry (Labonte), Bobby (Labonte) and Darrell (Waltrip), it’s very creative wording and I guess Bubba didn’t study on those moments or it wasn’t top of mind for him.”
Johnson added that Wallace put NASCAR into a position to take actions that resulted him in a behavioral level penalty.
“You put NASCAR into a position after an admission like that. There was a time where you never did that, and I guess the guard has come down to a certain degree,” Johnson said. “The world we live in, everybody’s open and honest. I guess your commended for doing that a lot of times. I’m sure the beginning of yesterdays release of that information, Bubba was probably commended, and NASCAR was left with an easy decision after that.”
The question that summoned during qualifying was whether or not driver’s can tell if someone spun intentionally after a tire is going down based on data. Among those who spoke in great detail was Ryan Newman, who said people cannot definitively tell.
“When a guy has a tire cut down, you cannot tell that. There’s too much motion, steering and throttle. No, you cannot definitively tell that if you’re a good driver,” Newman said. “I would have an idea that somebody did something.
“Like if you got a tire going down and you spin out like (Joey) Logano did it at Martinsville. Yeah, he legitimately had a tire going down. If he tried too hard, he spun out. It’s no different than if you spin out on purpose at that point.”
As far as NASCAR policing cautions due to a car dealing with tire issues, Newman added that all he and the other drivers hopes is consistency. Especially, if another instance were to happen again.
“You can go really slow and cause yourself a whole bunch of laps or NASCAR can throw the caution for you, knowing you have a flat tire,” Newman said. “It’s happened in the past. It’s happened where a car got a flat tire rolling around the top of the racetrack and they throw the caution, but the next time they don’t throw a caution.
“Just consistency is all what anybody ever asks for when it comes to those types of things and then the drivers can plan accordingly. If you don’t have that consistency, you cannot plan accordingly.”
Garrett Smithley on the other hand, praised Wallace for being honest but also felt he shouldn’t have admitted of doing something wrong.
“That was crazy but I’m not surprised. Honestly, kudos to Bubba for being kind of open with it,” Smithley said. “That’s good for the sport and good personality but I’m sure his wallet is not very happy.
“If you do it, it puts yourself in a situation where it can open for interpretation and I think you don’t want to put yourself in that situation but if something happens like that, definitely don’t admit it.”
Wallace will start 23rd in Sunday’s 312-lap race at Phoenix with live coverage beginning at 2:30 pm EST on NBC. Kyle Busch is the defending race winner and will lead the 39-car field to the green flag.