BROOKLYN, Mich. — It’s often a punt that changes things. Usually, it’s for the worse.
Sunday, a wayward punt led to a half-mile game of catch with a football between Bubba Wallace, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Hemric and fans during Sunday’s rain delay at Michigan International Speedway.
“That was a good time,” Wallace told NBC Sports. “We had to give the fans a show. They pay a lot of money to be here and we couldn’t race today … but we had fun.”
The football was Wallace’s. He had his motorcoach driver retrieve it during the second rain delay Sunday. Engines were fired about 50 minutes after the planned start time of 2 p.m. ET and cars were on track but never got the green before rain sent them back to pit road. The race was postponed to 5 p.m. ET Monday.
Once out of the car, Wallace sent for his football, only fitting on a day that Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia was the grand marshal. Wallace threw the football on pit road with Ryan Blaney. Later, LaJoie joined. Then came that LaJoie punt.
“Corey had a bad punt and it went (over pit wall) on to the (frontstretch) grass,” Wallace said.
That sent Wallace closer to the fans on the frontstretch.
He said he had pondered throwing the football with those fans but thought “I don’t know if my arm can get it over that fence.”
He did and the fans roared. Wallace continued throwing the football over the catchfence to fans in stands. They threw the ball back to him. LaJoie also joined Wallace.
They slowly worked their way down the straigthaway, staying out of the way of Air Titans and other track-drying vehicles as they played with fans.
“I learned a lot of things,” Wallace said. “Michigan is a big track. I’m out of shape. My arm is going to be sore.”
LaJoie enjoyed the game with fans: “It kept the fans engaged. That was fun. I got to get a little sweat in, get a little workout. Have some fun with my buddies.”
Hemric later joined them, delivering them Coca-Colas and then throwing the football with fans.
“We get to sign and speak to a lot of these fans but never get just to … have fun like that,” Hemric said.
They continued throwing the football with fans until the race was postponed, going from near the pit exit to well before the pit entrance.
While they would have rather been racing — and the fans would have rather been watching it — the drivers still managed to have some fun on a rainy day.