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

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Bubba Wallace said Friday that the last few weeks have been a whirlwind that have left him “wore the hell out … a little frustrated” and “finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

With countless media appearances during that time, as well as discussions with fellow drivers and NASCAR officials about how to make the sport more inclusive, a visibly weary Wallace admitted that he’s struggled at times to keep up with the pace he’s maintained – and that also includes driving a race car in a Cup doubleheader Saturday and Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

“You just have to be mentally strong,” Wallace said on a media teleconference. “Where I’ve gotten my strength from, I couldn’t tell you. … My emotions these days are one, being wore the hell out, two is being a little frustrated, and three is just finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m probably a fool for thinking that because it’s 2020 and something else will probably happen tomorrow and we’ll be right back where we are.”

As the only Black full-time driver in NASCAR’s premier series, Wallace has been front and center of the sport’s efforts to rid itself of the Confederate flag, while also offering a welcoming environment for new minorities.

But he’s also been a target for critics.

“Athletes are put on a pedestal, there’s not a manual or guidebook to tell you how to handle yourself off the court, racetrack or field,” Wallace said. “It’s all something you learn and you go through the trials and tribulations to grow from those incidents and I think that’s what makes you tougher throughout.

“The people that are sitting on the couch, have never done anything with their lives to be able to amount to something and they’re jealous of your lifestyle and they just are trying to spew hate. That’s unfortunate, but you just have to worry about your life and not worry about other people’s lives. You shouldn’t let them dictate how you live your life to the fullest.”

While Wallace singled out Jimmie Johnson as having been one of his biggest supporters, continually reaching out to him, he also applauded two drivers in particular – Aric Almirola and Alex Bowman – for their support, even though they and Wallace have had their conflicts on the track.

“Aric Almirola sent me a nice text right before (the race) Monday that we’re not friends and we don’t act like we are, but we’re going to stand next to each other, that he’d be proud to stand next to me as a brother and being human beings,” Wallace said. “I thought that was pretty special because we don’t click at all very well, we both will tell you that.

“And Alex Bowman coming up saying we don’t see eye to eye on everything but that he stands behind me 100 percent, something along those lines. I thought that was pretty cool. I’ve always had respect for Alex. We’ve butted heads and lost respect at times for each other but it shows we can all get together.”

Following Monday’s race, Almirola spoke about his relationship with Wallace, particularly the “I Stand With Bubba” outpouring on pit road after a noose had been found in Wallace’s garage stall Sunday night.

“It was a lot of emotion, I think we were all just proud to be together,” Almirola said. “I think as competitors we all want to beat each other, but as human beings we all want to show love and support for each other.

“I think that’s one thing about our NASCAR community that has always stood out, is that regardless of what happens on the racetrack, off the racetrack we’re a family. We all support each other. You see it when we put fundraisers on or foundation events. We all show up.  We all support each other because we’re a family.

“We live next door to each other 38 weeks a year in the motorhome lot. When you see a brother that’s being singled out, that’s being hurt, you want to show love and you want to show support.”

As for Bowman, he appeared in another teleconference Friday morning and had this to say about his relationship with and support of Wallace:

“There’s no secret we’re not best friends, right? We’ve had our fair share of run-ins and you know that on-track stuff is just going to happen, right? Tempers are going to flare, and if you run into the same guy a couple weeks in a row here and there, it’s not going to go great for your relationship.

“But that’s as a race car driver and that’s on the racetrack. As a human being, I have a big appreciation for him, trying to push us all to be better and speaking up and helping us do the same.

“So I think it really comes down to on the racetrack, we’re probably not going to be friends. But as a person, I appreciate what he’s doing and just wanted to show my support for him in that sense.”

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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.