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NASCAR releases image of noose but cannot determine who did it

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NASCAR released an image Thursday of the noose found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace, but the sanctioning body’s investigation failed to determine who fashioned it and why last October.

“I know we like to have complete resolution here and have all the answers,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said Thursday in a teleconference with reporters. “Based on all the video and photographic evidence and all the interviews, we were not able to determine who crafted the noose. I know that’s unfulfilling. I wish there was more we could do but we can’t, so we’ve drawn this matter to a close.”

Phelps said that the noose was not in place when NASCAR’s October 2019 weekend began at Talladega “but was created at some point during that weekend. Given that timing and the garage access policies and procedures at the time, we were unfortunately, unable to determine with any certainty who tied this rope in this manner or why it was done.”

Phelps also said that “in hindsight” NASCAR’s original statement could have toned down before it was confirmed by the FBI no hate crime was committed.

“if we had said alleged, yes,” Phelps said. “I’ll go back to the emotion of the moment. I’ll take responsibility for that. Should we have toned that message down slightly? Maybe we should have and I’ll take responsibility for that. I stand by the actions that we took, and I think they were the right ones. As I said before, given the evidence that we had, we would do the same thing, we would investigate it the same way. If it comes to where we need to craft the statement differently and I need to take a little less emotion out of, that’s something that I’ll do. I’ll take responsibility for that.”

Photo of noose at Talladega Superspeedway. Photo: NASCAR Security

Phelps noted the heightened emotions recently in society and the sport, which included NASCAR banning the display of the Confederate flag, as leading Phelps to the reaction he made before the investigation was complete.

“It absolutely was a factor,” Phelps said. “I think being at the racetrack and someone’s ability to peaceful protest outside of our facility, we were all for. Have a guy flying over head in a crop duster with a Confederate flag saying defund NASCAR. Frankly … things that have led up to that, including the banning of the Confederate flag, something we were enforcing for the first time that weekend, fortunately we didn’t see any incidents of the Confederate flag on property. Our fans respected that. It was a great first step. But yeah, were there heightened emotions? What has gone on in the past two and a half weeks in our country and in our sport, I think absolutely. It was emotionally charged for a lot of people and I’ll include myself in that.”

Phelps said garage stalls at every track that host NASCAR Cup races were checked. He noted of the 1,684 garage stalls checked across the country, only 11 pull down ropes were tied into a note and only one was a noose.

“Bubba Wallace and the No. 43 team had nothing to do with this,” Phelps said. “Bubba Wallace has done nothing but represent this sport with courage, class and dignity. It is offensive seeing anyone suggest otherwise and frankly, it is further evidence of how far we still need to go as a society.”

Phelps said additional measures would be taken moving forward:

# Thorough sweeps of the garage area will be conducted.

# Additional cameras will be installed in all NASCAR garages.

# NASCAR will mandate all members of its industry complete sensitivity and unconscious bias training.

“Going forward our efforts are best spent on making sure every competitor feels safe and every guest feels welcome,” Phelps said.

NASCAR announced Sunday night that a noose was found in Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega. In its statement that night, NASCAR said: “We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”

Phelps said the noose was discovered a member of Richard Petty Motorsports. The team notified NASCAR at about 4:30 p.m. ET. NASCAR senior leadership met at 6 p.m. ET and began the initial steps of the investigation. Phelps notified Wallace of the noose at about 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday. NASCAR released a statement at about 10:40 p.m. ET Sunday. Early Monday morning, the FBI office in Birmingham, Alabama, reached out to NASCAR.

The FBI sent 15 investigators Monday morning to Talladega Superspeedway and determined that no hate crime had been committed, noting that the noose had been in that garage stall since at least October 2019 and “nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.”

The garages were constructed last year and debuted in October 2019.

The FBI’s announcement led to a backlash on social media and some to question the intentions of Wallace, who was not in the garage and was not aware of the noose until informed by Phelps.

Said Wallace on NBC’s “Today Show” on Wednesday of his reaction to the FBI’s finding: “I was relieved just like many others to know that it wasn’t targeted towards me, but it’s still frustrating to know that people are always going to test you and always just going to try to debunk you and that’s what I’m trying to wrap my head around now, from saying I’m a fake and all this stuff and that I reported it when it was news that was brought to me.”

 

Xfinity playoff grid after Indianapolis

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Chase Briscoe‘s continued dominance of the Xfinity Series over the weekend on the Indianapolis road course ensured no additional drivers locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Through 13 races, Briscoe and four other drivers have qualified for the playoffs via race wins. Briscoe, who has five race wins, leads the field with 28 playoff points.

The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Riley Herbst (+19 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+6 points).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-6), Alex Labbe (-32), Jeremy Clements (-49) and Josh Williams (-57).

Cup Series playoff grid after Brickyard 400

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With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.

But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.

After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.

Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.

After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.

With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Oval or road course? Cup drivers address future of Brickyard 400

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For 27 years, the Cup Series has competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its annual Brickyard 400. All 27 of those races have been run exclusively on the track’s traditional 2.5-mile oval.

But following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the track’s 2.4-mile, 14-turn road course, an obvious question has been raised:

Should the Brickyard 400 remain on the oval, where passing is made difficult due to a combination of the rules package and the design of the track, or should moving it to the road course be considered?

“I would never vote for that,” Kevin Harvick declared last week before he won his third Brickyard 400 on Sunday. “I love everything about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For me it is all about the oval … racing on the traditional track because for me I am kind of old school and I think that the Cup cars belong and really started the Brickyard 400.

“That was kind of what it was always meant to be, that iconic one-off, just the Cup cars event. I think with the Xfinity cars and the trucks and (ARCA Menards) cars and all the things that used to race at IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park), it was a great event. Hopefully the road course can kind of take that role that IRP used to have and be able to bring the Indy cars and NASCAR together to add to that event at the Speedway. For me personally, I would never vote for the Cup cars to not run on the oval.”

Harvick is joined in that camp by his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Aric Almirola, who finished third in Sunday’s race for his first top five and top-10 finish at Indy.

“I hope that we never stop running the oval,” Almirola said. “I just think it’s one of these places that regardless if it puts on the greatest race or not, it’s historic. It’s just a special place. It’s hard to explain when you don’t grow up a racer and you don’t aspire to come to race at Indy.

“But for me, I grew up watching stock car racing and dirt sprint car racing. I grew up watching Thursday Night Thunder, seeing so many guys go from USAC racing and sprint car racing to racing at Indy. It’s something I’ve always kept up with, always dreamed about getting the opportunity to race here. I get that opportunity now.”

Matt Kenseth, who finished second Sunday in his 20th Brickyard 400, said the Cup Series “should be” on the oval. But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is open to the idea of Cup using the road course in some manner.

 “I think it’s one of those racetracks that we need to race at as long as we can,” Kenseth said of the oval. “It’s arguably the most famous speedway in the world, or one of them.

“To be able to race on the ovals with the Cup cars, which is the highest form of stock car racing here, we should be on the big track as well. I don’t think it would be bad to maybe test the road course and look into it, maybe do a second race on a road course, kind of like the IndyCars did this week.

“I really do think the Brickyard 400 has a lot of prestige. It’s not a southern race, but similar to the Southern 500, races like that. I think there’s a few of those races you sure would hate to see disappear.”

Crew chief describes ‘frightening’ scene on pit road at Indy

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Crew chief Todd Gordon said it was “frightening” to see rear tire changer Zach Price hit on pit road and then try to scoot away from cars during Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Price, who changes tires for Ryan Blaney’s team, was injured when he was struck by Brennan Poole’s car during a melee near the entrance of pit road early in the race.

Gordon, speaking Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said indications are that Price’s injury was a “fracture someplace in the knee area.”

Price was treated and released from an Indianapolis hospital on Sunday night and traveled home with the team. Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Price was scheduled to see a doctor Monday.

“Just hope to get him back and get him back going again and healthy,” Gordon said.

Gordon described what he saw as cars made contact.

“A really frightening moment for me,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I was really terrorized when I saw (Price) drag himself back across the pit box arms only for a while there. As the situation kind of progressed and the medical staff was working with him, I could see in his face he was better off than I thought he was to start with.

“Fortunate that the guys got up and got at least in the air. The jackman (Graham Stoddard) got on top of the car. Just one of those terrible situations. I felt like those accidents happened mid-pit road. That’s why I picked way back there to be behind it.”

Said Justin Allgaier, who was involved in the accident on pit road that led to six cars eventually being eliminated:  “The No. 15 (Poole) actually got in the back of me. I didn’t know if I got the gentleman on (Blaney’s pit crew) or not. Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled-up there, one car after another were getting run into.”

Indianapolis’ pit road is the most narrow of all the tracks the Cup Series races. The two travel lanes are 24 feet wide. The pit stall for each team is 15 feet wide.