Bubba Wallace tried to fight NASCAR champion Kyle Larson after a crash Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that also gathered title contender Christopher Bell.
Wallace had led 29 laps and was clearly a fast car in the opening race of the third round of the playoffs. Wallace failed to qualify for the playoffs and Larsson was dropped last week.
The incident began when Larsson attempted a three-and-a-half pass—Kevin Harvick knocked out the bunch in the middle—and Larsson slid down the track against Wallace. When Wallace didn’t lift to give Larson any room, Larson used his Chevrolet to push Wallace’s Toyota into the wall.
Wallace then bounced back down the track, driving Larson’s car to the apron and intentionally appearing to hook him in retaliation. This swung Larson in the way of Bell, who won last Sunday in the round of eight in Charlotte, to earn an automatic berth, and ended Bell’s race.
Wallace got out of his car and headed towards Larson. Wallace was screaming before Larson could even approach and he immediately began to push the younger driver. Larson tried to walk away from him and raised his arms several times to stop Wallace’s push, but Wallace took several shots before a NASCAR security worker separated the two.
Wallace claimed that he did not intentionally destroy Larson, but both Larson and Bell saw this as obvious retaliation. NASCAR can penalize Wallace if it also believes he intentionally retaliated.
“I’m smart enough to know how easily these cars break down, so when you deliberately slammed into a fence like he tried to force me to lift, the steering went off,” Wallace said. “Larson wanted to make three wide divebombs, but he never cleared me and I don’t pick up.
“I know I’m new to running forward, but I don’t lift. I wasn’t even in place to lift and he never lifted, and now we’re junk. Just the (too bad) trick of his execution.”
When asked what message he was trying to send when he started pushing Larson, Wallace said, “He knows.”
“He knows what he did was wrong. He wanted to question what I was doing, and he never cleared me up,” Wallace said.
And to become collateral damage to Vine?
“Sports,” Wallace, who likes Bell, a Toyota driver, said with a shrug.
Larsson, who hit the wall last week to contribute to his playoff elimination in Charlotte, said he was not surprised that Wallace bowed to him.
“I obviously took an offensive move in (turn) three, got low, let loose and chased a bit,” Larsson said. “He climbed onto my right front, and it shoved him tight and into the wall. I knew he was going to retaliate. He had a reason to be mad, but not until he retaliated. Till his race was not over.
“It’s the same. Just the aggression turned to frustration and he retaliated.”
He thought Wallace’s crash of Larson was unfair, given how much scrutiny NASCAR was doing with regards to its new Next Gen car. Alex Bowman, Larsen’s teammate at Hendricks Motorsports, is out for a third consecutive race and Kurt Busch has been forced to withdraw following his July injury.
“I think with all the head injuries that’s been happening here lately… I don’t think it’s probably the right thing to do,” Larsen said. “I’m sure everything going on, he’ll know he made a mistake in retaliation and I’m sure he’ll think twice about it next time.”
He also said that he hoped Wallace would be ready to fight when Wallace approached his crashed car.
“I saw him walk, so I thought he would do something,” Larson said. “He had every right to be upset. I would like him to (fight) instead of tearing up our cars dangerously.”
Bell, who will score 34th on Sunday and is likely to finish last in the eight-driver playoff standings, said “we got the short end of the stick” with Larsen and Wallace Tangling.
“It’s disappointing because our performance is being able to run for the championship, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to get that,” he said.