FBI says no federal crime committed at Talladega

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The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office stated Tuesday that no federal hate crime was committed with the noose found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace‘s team on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp stated:

“On Monday, fifteen FBI special agents conducted numerous interviews regarding the situation at Talladega Superspeedway. After a thorough review of the facts and evidence surrounding this event, we have concluded that no federal crime was committed.

“The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week. The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019. Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.

“The decision not to pursue federal charges is proper after reviewing all available facts and all applicable federal laws. We offer our thanks to NASCAR, Mr. Wallace, and everyone who cooperated with this investigation.”

The announcement led to a backlash among some on social media and led some to question Wallace, who was not in the garage and was not aware of the matter until informed by NASCAR President Steve Phelps.

Asked Tuesday night on “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon” how he was doing, Wallace said: “I’m pissed. I’m mad because people are trying to test my character and the person that I am and my integrity. They’re not stealing that away from me, but they’re trying to test me. … To sit there and read (social medial) … I’m investing too much time into it.”

Wallace defended Phelps, noting how Phelps went to Wallace’s motorhome on Sunday to address the matter of a noose in his garage stall. Wallace said Phelps had tears as he talked to Wallace.

“It showed the testament to him and the character that he has and how he is representing the sport, how he wants to stand up for what’s right and he’s not going to tolerate any racist acts or anything,” Wallace said. “I stand behind NASCAR.”

Wallace said he will remain the same person he is and how “I’ll shoot it to you straight each and every time because that’s how I was brought up and that’s what I stand by.

“In my statement on Sunday night, this will not break me, none of the allegations of it being a hoax will break me or tear me down,” Wallace said. “Will it piss me off? Absolutely. That only fuels the competitive drive in me to shut everybody up, to get back out on the racetrack (this) weekend at Pocono and showcase what I can do behind the wheel under tremendous amounts of BS, whatever it is you want to say. It won’t break me. It won’t tear me down. Again, I will still stand proud of where I am at.”

NASCAR stated that every garage stall was checked and only one had a noose as part of the rope to pull down the garage door. NASCAR plans to check every garage stall before teams arrive at each event.

Phelps said in a brief teleconference with reporters Tuesday night that he was thankful that there was no crime but NASCAR would continue to investigate why the rope was fashioned into a noose.

“For us at NASCAR, this is the best result we could hope for,” he said. “This was disturbing to hear that it was thought that one of our own had committed this heinous act. It is fantastic to hear from the FBI definitively that there was not a hate crime. I do want to make sure that everyone understands that if given the evidence we had, was delivered to us (Sunday) night or late Sunday afternoon, we would have done the same investigation. It was important to do. There is no place in our sport for this type of racism or hatred. It’s not a part of who we are as a sport.

“I want to make sure everyone understands that our portion of this with the FBI, we were very cooperative as you would expect. We provided them with roster information, photographic and video evidence that aided them in their conclusions. Additionally, the industry was very supportive. Not just the members of (Wallace’s) team.

“I want to be clear about (Wallace’s) team. The 43 team had nothing to do with this. The evidence is very clear that the noose that was in that garage had been in the garage previously. The last race we had there in October (2019), that noose was present. The fact that it was not found until a member of the 43 team came there is something that is a fact. We had not been back to the garage. It was a quick one-day show. The crew member went back there. He saw the noose, brought it to the attention of his crew chief, who then went to the NASCAR (Cup) Series Director Jay Fabian and we launched this investigation.

“To be clear, we would do this again. Of the evidence we had, it was clear that we needed to look into this.”

Phelps went on to discuss Monday’s show of unity from drivers and crew members for Wallace before the race.

“I also want to talk about (Monday),” he said. “(Monday) to me as a sport was one of the most important days we’ve had. It’s one of the most kind of indelible print on my mind until the day I die, seeing the support that Bubba had from not just the drivers but all the crews, all the officials who were down in pit road, anyone who was part of that footprint. Everyone wanted to show their support for a family member of NASCAR. We are one big family. We are one large community. And everyone’s belief is that someone was attacking a member of our family.

“It turned out that that was not the case, but at the time that’s what our industry thought, so drivers, crews, our officials, everyone supported Bubba Wallace and the 43 team, and that was a very powerful image in not just the history of our sport but I think in all sports.”

Phelps took no questions from reporters.

Immediately after the statement from the FBI and U.S. Attorney, NASCAR issued a statement:

“The FBI has completed its investigation at Talladega Superspeedway and determined that Bubba Wallace was not the target of a hate crime. The FBI report concludes, and photographic evidence confirms, that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall. This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment. We appreciate the FBI’s quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba. We remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who love racing.

The Wood Brothers issued a statement with regard to having that garage stall in 2019.

 

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

Clash qualifying results

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.

Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger in first on-track conflict of the season.

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LOS ANGELES — The first on-track conflict of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season?

Did you have Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger?

They made contact during Saturday night’s practice session at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.

Busch Clash practice results

Briscoe explained what happened from his point of view.

“(Allmendinger) was slowing down so much on the straightaway to get a gap (away from other cars),” Briscoe told Motor Racing Network. “I felt like I was beside him pretty far down the straightaway. I got in there a little hot for sure, but, honestly, I thought he was going to give it to me since we were in practice. Went into (Turn) 3 and he just drove me straight into the fence. Definitely frustrating. … Just unfortunate. We don’t have a single back-up car out there between the four of us at SHR. 

“Definitely will set us behind quite a bit. Just chalk it up in the memory blank.”

Asked what happened with Briscoe, Allmendinger told MRN: “He ran inside of me, so I made sure I paid him back and sent him into the fence.

“It’s practice. I get it, I’m struggling and in the way, but come barreling in there. I just showed my displeasure for it. That’s not the issue. We’re just not very good right now.”

Earlier in practice, Ty Gibbs had to climb out of his car after it caught on fire. Gibbs exiting the car safely. The Joe Gibbs Racing team worked on making repairs to his No. 54 car. NASCAR stated that the car would not be allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments, modifications not directly related to the damage.

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024

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LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.