Bubba Wallace fans at Talladega: ‘We were there for him’

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As engines fell silent and drivers climbed from their cars, another sound emerged Monday at Talladega Superspeedway.

It started with a couple of fans chanting.

“Bub-ba! Bub-ba! Bub-ba!”

Soon more joined.

“Bub-ba! Bub-ba! Bub-ba!”

Lydia Diaz, a 30-year-old mother of two and Walmart employee, yelled so much that her head began to hurt, but she kept chanting Bubba Wallace’s name.

Diaz was among a group of about 15 Black fans who came from Atlanta to support Wallace, a day after NASCAR stated that a noose was discovered in his team’s garage stall at Talladega.

The FBI later said that no federal hate crime was committed against Wallace because the noose had been there since Oct. 2019 and there was no way to know back then that his team would be in that particular stall this year. A NASCAR investigation could not determine why the pull down rope for the garage bay door was fashioned that way and who did it.

MORE: Recent events leave Bubba Wallace hopeful but also wore out and frustrated 

In the stands with Diaz on Monday was fiancé Mel Rose and friend Brionne Horne. Also there was Errin Bentley and Greg Drumwright, a senior minister at the Citadel of Praise Church and Campus Ministries. Bentley had called Drumwright, telling him about the noose found in Wallace’s garage stall and asked Drumwright to help organize a group to go to Talladega.

When the race ended, Wallace was so far away on pit road from the stands that Diaz said he looked “a little like an ant” to her. But the group continued to chant Wallace’s name.

“I heard the Bubba chants, and I looked over and I see a decent amount of African Americans sitting in the stands,” Wallace said. “I was like, dude, that’s badass, that’s awesome. I guarantee you that was their first race. I felt obligated to walk over there, I wanted to walk over there. I wanted to kind of share that moment with them.”

He did. Wallace slapped their hands through the fence and thanked them for being there. 

“That was an epic moment for me,” said the 36-year-old Bentley, a restaurant employee. “That was an out-of-body experience.”

It was a bigger moment for the sport, said Brad Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and the only Black owner of a full-time Cup team.

“When I saw those fans leaning against the fence, I thought, man, this is awesome, this is what we need,” Daugherty said. “We need the symbolism of people not being discouraged to come and participate in our sport.

“It made me feel great. I’m so excited. I’m telling you, the folks at NASCAR better watch out. I’ve got about a hundred people that I want to get garage and pit passes for. It’s going to be big. They want to come to the racetrack.

“It’s going to be great to see a sea of color as well as being embraced by our Caucasian brothers and sisters while we’re there. Maybe we can get back to this being about race, but the human race.”

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They call Drumwright Pastor Greg. His church is in Greensboro, North Carolina, but his ministry is where healing and justice are needed.

He went to Brunswick, Georgia after Ahmaud Arbery was killed by a white man while jogging.

Drumwright was in Minneapolis where George Floyd died after a since-fired white police officer had his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. Drumwright traveled to Houston for Floyd’s funeral.

Drumwright then went to Atlanta after a since-fired white police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks.

Never did Drumwright expect he would go next to Talladega, Alabama.

But Bentley felt something had to be done after seeing the reports about the noose.

“I felt like if I was to be just like the other millions of people that say I’ll let somebody else handle it, then I’ll become part of the problem,” Bentley said. “It’s really that simple to me. That is really a big major problem that we have, whether it’s Black Lives Matter, whether it’s human rights, civil rights or anything of that nature, someone is always trying to pass something over to somebody else.

“Nobody wants to take responsibility. Nobody wants to stand up and be the face. Too many people are afraid. That’s part of the problem. I want to be a part of the solution.”

For as much as NASCAR has progressed with diversity, its past and stereotype cast a long shadow over the sport. When Drumwright organized the group to go to Talladega on Monday, he and others got calls from friends and families urging them not to go.

“This far into 2020, it is still a commonly held belief that Black folks are not safe in an overwhelmingly white space in the Deep South,” Drumwright said.

It had been less than two weeks that NASCAR announced it was banning the display of the Confederate flag at all its events and facilities. Just the day before they were at the track, a plane flew over the speedway towing a Confederate flag and the message to Defund NASCAR.

When the group with Drumwright stopped at a Dollar General store in Alabama to purchase supplies for posters to take to the track, he said “we were literally told by local residents, you all need to be careful … but we were also told, we are glad you are here, We needed you all to come here. Thank you for being here.”

Fans who made the trip to Atlanta to Talladega Superspeedway to support Bubba Wallace. Among those pictured are Errin Bentley (far left) and Lydia Diaz (green shirt). (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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Drumwright wore a black shirt that read “We Still Can’t Breathe” on it. Horne was among a few in the group who wore a Black Lives Matter shirt. The message on Bentley’s shirt stated: “We march. Y’all mad. We sit down. Y’all mad. We speak up. Y’all mad. We kneel. Y’all mad. We die. Silence.”

The posters they carried included those that stated:

“We stand with Bubba”

“We Bang with Bubba”

“Let Freedom Ring”

“Take Your Knee Off Our Neck”

When they arrived at the track, they saw a tent set up not on track property selling Confederate flags.

“It’s still difficult to look at it,” Horne said of the Confederate flag.

Those in the group admit to getting stares, eye rolls and seeing some people look away after they arrived at the track.

But those that made the trip to Talladega also said they were warmly welcomed by fans.

Horne, a 20-year-old student at Georgia Southern, said a fan came to members of the group and asked to take a picture with them.

“After that, it was like family after family after person after person kept asking us to take pictures (with them), showing their support and their love for what we were out there doing for the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said. “That, I feel like, completely changed the fear, the anxiety we had walking into Talladega.”

Bentley, who had never been to a NASCAR race before Monday said he was more afraid going to Talladega than any time he has protested in the streets. Bentley said after attending Monday’s race, he would encourage Black fans to go to a race and support Wallace.

“I would tell them don’t be afraid,” he said. “If they were afraid, you don’t have to be afraid anymore.

“As long as we are afraid to do something, we don’t have any control. We don’t have any fight. You’ve got to have courage, you’ve got to have heart, that will to want. (Wallace) needs our support. We need his support.”

NASCAR Cup races this weekend at Pocono Raceway, July 5 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and July 12 at Kentucky Speedway will be held without fans. The next race scheduled to have fans will be the July 15 All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which will admit up to 30,000 fans.

Drumwright, who wants a meeting with NASCAR leadership, said he is looking to organize a larger group for the Bristol race.

Diaz, a mother of boys ages 2 and 3, said it was “mission accomplished” for the Talladega trip but acknowledges more can be done in society.

“I’ve been out here for the last month, fighting for everybody to be equal so my kids, when they are older, they can go wherever they want and they do whatever they want and they don’t have to worry about nobody judging them because of who their father is or who their mother is or the color of their skin,” she said. “That’s what I’m out here for, honestly, every day.

“I wanted Bubba to know that we supported him for that noose that was found in his garage. I wanted him to know that we were there for him.”

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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.