AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kyle Larson said his team examined data from Bubba Wallace’s car and had no doubt Wallace spun intentionally to cause a caution after suffering a flat tire last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
Wallace’s flat and spin came in the middle of a green-flag pit cycle and impacted Larson’s race. Larson was running in the top five before he pitted shortly. Wallace spun a couple of laps later and trapped Larson a lap down. Larson finished 12th and enters Sunday’s event at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 23 points out of the final transfer spot for next weekend’s championship race.
Teams have the ability to examine each other’s throttle traces and steering and other aspects with shared data.
“We looked at Bubba’s data the next day,” Larson said Friday at ISM Raceway. “You could definitely see, because we have SMT where you have the digital car, you could see him like swerving, he turns right and at the same time he turns left and stabs the throttle and spins out. It’s whatever at this point.”
Asked about his spin, Wallace told NBC Sports: “I learned from Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano).”
Asked if he was worried about any repercussions, Wallace told NBC Sports: “Until they do anything, no. I’m not the only one to do it. I’m racing for myself. Not for Larson. Not for Chevrolet at that moment. For myself and going multiple laps down.”
Larson was upset after the Texas race and called for NASCAR to take action. Asked if he still believes NASCAR should take action, Larson said Friday:
“I’m just a driver, so I don’t really know exactly what the proper thing is, whether it is a penalty or a fine or what. (NASCAR is) good at coming up with that stuff.
“(Intentionally causing a caution) affects the race. It saves them, but it could hurt guys. Sometimes you end up on the right side of it and whatnot, but last week we didn’t, so that’s obviously why I was upset. We’ve all done it. I’ve done it. I got penalized a lap and still was able to recover and win (2016 Eldora Truck race). We’ve all done it. It can affect the race.”
Questions have been raised the past two weeks about drivers intentionally causing a caution by either staying out while having a flat tire or spinning in either the Cup or Xfinity playoff races. More scrutiny has been paid to what some drivers have said is a common occurrence because of the impact in the playoff race.
In the driver/crew chief meeting before Friday night’s Gander Outdoors Truck race, series director Brad Moran told competitors: ”Let’s keep in mind, playoff, cutoff race. Make good decisions. Let’s put on a great show for our fans.”
The concern among competitors is if NASCAR begins to make judgment calls on what is a legitimate spin or caution and what isn’t.
“I would say the more NASCAR is in a position to make tough calls like that, the worse it is,” Chase Elliott said Friday. “That’s such a tough thing and it’s such a tough call. I don’t know how you would ever get that right.”
Said Kyle Busch on Friday: “When people have flat tires and are spinning out and drawing cautions, you can’t penalize one and then not everybody else. So they better be careful.”
If NASCAR won’t make the call, then what?
“I don’t know who else is going to take care of it,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “It’s been getting pretty popular to have a flat tire and spin out on purpose. I don’t know, it’s definitely not good. It could affect the championship race. If last week were Homestead, a lot of people would be pretty upset. I’m not sure how to handle it. I don’t run the sport, NASCAR is pretty good at doing that. It’s definitely frustrating when you’re out there leading or doing something good and it could potentially ruin your day by the caution coming out at the wrong time.”
Denny Hamlin says NASCAR can rule on such matters.
“I think they can use judgment on that for sure,” he said Friday. “A lot of us have gotten penalties by intentionally causing cautions in the past, so I’d say it should be no different now.”
Hamlin was penalized two laps for stopping on course with a flat tire to cause a caution in the 2008 spring Richmond race. Once the caution waved, Hamlin took off.
As for Wallace, Larson said he had not talked with the Richard Petty Motorsports driver this week but didn’t indicate a need to do so.
“It’s really not an issue with him personally,” Larson said Friday of Wallace. “It is what it is. Afterwards you can be mad, but I’m still 23 points down. It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to go out here and have a good weekend and try to score a lot of points and try to get a win also.”
Earlier this week, Hamlin said: “Bubba’s (spin) this weekend was pretty obvious and obviously it hurt some people and helped others. He’s just following in everyone else’s footsteps. It’s been going on for a long time.”
Some also have questioned Joey Logano’s spin at Martinsville after he had a flat tire. Logano has denied he intentionally spun.
“At Martinsville, I had a flat tire,” Logano said Friday, repeating what he said last weekend at Texas. “Trying not to crash. Trying not to hit anything. Trying not to have your quarters torn up. Trying to live to race another day basically.”
Larson defended Logano.
“I know people have said that Joey spun out on purpose at Martinsville,” Larson said. “I don’t think he did. The tires are different there. You don’t have an inner liner like you do at Texas. It’s much easier to run on a flat at Texas than Martinsville. I don’t know if he spun out on purpose there.”