Monday’s race at Talladega was an emotional one, as it came less than 24 hours after NASCAR launched an investigation into a noose found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace, the lone Black driver on the circuit.
Wallace has been outspoken in recent weeks about the Black Lives Matter movement and pushing NASCAR to become more inclusive and welcoming, leading a successful charge for the sport to ban the confederate flag at races. There was pushback from fans, but with only 5,000 fans allowed inside the race this weekend and none of those being in the infield, whoever placed the noose in his garage as a threat was someone from within the sport.
Prior to the race, NASCAR’s drivers and teams all helped push Wallace’s car to the front of the grid on pit road, offering a show of solidarity in the face of the racist threat he received. The incident showed how much work NASCAR still has to do with regards to racism in the sport, but the public support of Wallace by NASCAR leadership and the drivers is a step in the right direction.
The race itself was a wild one, with Wallace taking the outright lead briefly in the final stage of the race and spending much of it in the top 5.
Unfortunately for Wallace he, like many other drivers, was short on fuel to reach the end of the race under green and a caution didn’t arrive until he’d already begun to lose position when Jimmie Johnson spun. That led to a green-white-checker overtime finish, which is always wild, especially at Talladega, and the finish lived up to the billing.
After getting through the first lap of the overtime clean — a minor miracle — the back half of the pack wrecked, but NASCAR kept things green for the leaders to fight it out. That resulted in a crazy finish, with a few cars wrecking as Ryan Blaney edged out a win by a nose and Aric Almirola finished third going backwards.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) June 22, 2020
Wallace would finish 14th, a strong performance that wasn’t quite indicative of how competitive he and his 43 Chevrolet were on the day. Afterwards, the spotlight was on Wallace still, as he went to greet some of the fans that had come on a Monday afternoon to support him, many of whom were wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts and were first time visitors to a track. Wallace noted that in his post-race interview in front of those fans, saying the sport is changing no matter what folks try, and sent a message to the person that put the noose in his garage that they can’t take away his smile.
"The sport is changing … Whoever it was, you're not gonna take away my smile."- @BubbaWallace
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) June 23, 2020
That moment was arguably more important than the show of solidarity earlier because it shows how quickly Wallace has been able to bring more people into the sport. The pressure on Wallace to perform well on Monday was tremendous, and that he was as close as he was to a top-10 despite the fuel issues and that he led some laps and was in the mix was a spectacular showing.