Martinsville Speedway

Bubba Wallace: ‘People are wanting to stand up for what’s right in this world’

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Bubba Wallace knew when he spoke about Black Lives Matter that he would face responses that “all lives matter.”

Wallace, whose car Wednesday night at Martinsville Speedway had #BlackLivesMatter on it, explained in a media session Friday about the importance of Black Lives Matter, his form of protest, what’s next and more.

“There is a poster of a little girl that says, yes we said Black Lives Matter, no we did not say only Black Lives Matter,” Wallace said. “We know that all lives matter, but we are trying to make you all understand that Black Lives Matter, too. Too. T-o-o. It’s three letters that is left off that people don’t understand. Black Lives Matter, too.

“Families are worried about their kids going out and driving for the first time and getting pulled over and being killed. The African American community is so worried about that right now. We shouldn’t live like that. The African American community should not live like that. We’re trying to get other people to understand just how tough it is to live in this world right now.”

Bubba Wallace during the national anthem last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Wallace also has spread his message by wearing an American Flag face covering and a T-shirt that states “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” during pre-race ceremonies the past two races. “I can’t breathe” is what George Floyd said before he died May 25 after a since-fired Minneapolis police officer put his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. 

While other athletes have kneeled during the national anthem to protest social injustice perviously — NASCAR official Kirk Price, who served in the U.S. Army, kneeled while saluting the flag last weekend at Atlanta — Wallace has remained standing during the anthem the last two races.

Asked if he will kneel during the anthem, Wallace said he is studying the matter. NASCAR recently removed requirements on what team members must do during the national anthem, allowing for peaceful protest.

“I’m still looking up and reading on stuff and learning,” Wallace said. “Exactly what the message we are trying to push across, learn, and understand. I think the messages that I have been putting out there on the racetrack during the anthem is speaking for itself, so I haven’t put much more thought into that.

“I loved that the official Kirk Price took that initiative and stood for what he believed in, kneeled for what he believed it, a man that served our nation in the military kneeled, so I thought that was pretty powerful.”

Some athletes have commented about Wallace on social media, including LeBron James, NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.

Wallace said he has had conversations with Joshua Dobbs of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The two met when Dobbs played quarterback at the University of Tennessee, which is Wallace’s favorite college football team. Dobbs was among the Jacksonville Jaguar players and team officials who protested racial inequality and police brutality during a June 5 march from their stadium to the steps of the sheriff’s department.

“He reached out last night with some powerful quotes that he lives by and made a ton of sense and just kind of fit the narrative that we are living in the world today,” Wallace said. “There’s been a lot of outreach just from social media fan points, privately, that was probably one of the ones; but there is a lot of support in my corner from all aspects; from sports, from just normal people, people that are wanting to stand up for what’s right in this world.”

As for what is next, Wallace said he isn’t sure. He has ideas and is looking forward to a meeting Tuesday between “key leaders” in NASCAR and select drivers. They’ll discuss what more the sport can do after announcing this week it is prohibiting the display of the Confederate flag at all NASCAR events and facilities.

Sunday’s Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway marks the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic that fans will be in the stands for a race since the NASCAR season resumed last month. Up to 1,000 military guests and family members will be allowed at the race. Up to 5,000 fans will be allowed for the June 21 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. As of Friday afternoon, tickets remained for that race.

Wallace looks forward to the return of fans and seeing more at races at some point.

“I would love to see us get back to normal and fans to come back in full capacity just to see how much more diverse or different demographics we bring in,” Wallace said. “I would love to see studies on that as we start allowing fans to come back.”

Wallace also knows that being more vocal can make him a target to some.

“I like to go out and sometimes spend time in the infield with the fans and have a good time,” Wallace said. “I haven’t been ridiculed against. I know that is going to change now. I’ve got to be careful what I do and that’s kind of the sad world we live in. My dad had texted me that he was proud of what I was doing on and off the racetrack, but he was worried about safety, going out in public and whatnot. Just crazy that you have to think about that sides of things.”

“Definitely have got to watch your back now and can’t be like that outspoken guy, just happy-go-lucky guy that would go take a trip on the golf cart or my longboard down into the infield, or whatever, and have a good time.”

Alex Bowman ready for end of most grueling week of his career

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By the time Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway ends, Alex Bowman will be ready to run another race: from his car to his bed.

When the checkered flag drops at Miami, Bowman and the rest of his Cup counterparts will have competed in three full-length races in just eight days.

The streak started last Sunday with a 500-mile race at Atlanta, followed by a 500-lap race Wednesday at Martinsville, and will conclude with the 400-mile race at Miami.

“I think this week has been probably been the most grueling of my career,” Bowman said Friday in a media teleconference. “The recovery process has definitely changed, the workout process during the week has changed quite a bit.

“But this week, with 500 miles at Atlanta, two days to turn around and go to Martinsville for 500 laps where it’s super-hot – we have right side windows in short track cars now, so there’s no air flow – it was the hottest I’ve ever been in my entire life in a race car on Wednesday night.

“That was really tough, lost a ton of weight on Wednesday night. Trying to put that back on for Sunday is difficult, trying to get rehydrated for Sunday is difficult. The previous couple of weeks, I would have told you no, everything is good and it’s no problem. But this week has been a tough one.”

A tired Alex Bowman rests outside of his car following Wednesday night’s race at Martinsville. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet won at Fontana shortly before the COVID-19 hiatus. When NASCAR returned to racing, he finished second in the first race back (Darlington).

He struggled in the next four races: 18th in the second Darlington race, 19th and 31st at Charlotte and 37th at Bristol.

But Bowman seems back on track with a 12th-place finish at Atlanta and sixth at Martinsville.

“As far as how things are going for our team and how things have gone this year, I don’t necessarily think things are coming easier,” Bowman said. “We’re working harder than ever, I’m working harder than ever on and off the race track and doing everything I can to be prepared each and every week.

“But I think our on-track product has been better for our race team. We’ve led more laps this year than in previous years. We’ve thrown some races away, for sure. I think the second Charlotte was a race that I threw away single-handedly and I’ve been pretty frustrated with that ever since then.”

Bowman believes his finish at Martinsville could be a significant turning point.

“When we have fast race cars each and every week, there’s always next week and I feel like that’s been a thing that’s really giving us a lot of confidence,” Bowman said. “We went to a race track that we were absolutely horrendous at last year (finished 14th and 30th in 2019) on Wednesday night – going to Martinsville – and we ran sixth.

“We had a really great race car, so I think we’re improving in every area. I just need to do a little better job putting complete races together. But I think things are definitely coming together.”

Sunday’s race marks the first time since 2002 that NASCAR has not raced at Miami on the season-ending and championship-deciding weekend.

“I think the on-track stuff will be really similar, it’s just kind of that off-track, last day of school-type feel that it probably won’t have and will be a little different,” Bowman said.

Following Sunday’s race, Bowman and the rest of the Cup Series has a nearly seven-day reprieve to rest and recover from this week before action resumes June 21 at the largest and one of the most difficult tracks in the sport, Talladega Superspeedway next Sunday.

Although there was one Cup practice session scheduled for next Saturday afternoon, NASCAR decided Saturday to eliminate the June 20 session at Talladega after consulting teams.

“I’m a big fan of this no-practice thing, I’m really enjoying it,” Bowman said a day before NASCAR’s decision was announced. “I feel like we run about the same and gives me less time to dial us out for the race.

“I’m all for no practice. Obviously, the rule changes, I think we’ll all be able to adapt to that really quickly and the teams will do a really good job of having the cars prepared how they need to be for that event and I’m all good for it.”

But first, Bowman has to stay alert and awake in Miami: “I’m ready to go, should be a good one for us.”

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NASCAR penalty report from Martinsville

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NASCAR on Friday issued three penalties to Cup Series teams for violations incurred Wednesday at Martinsville Speedway:

  • Lee Leslie, crew chief of the No. 51 Petty Ware Racing Ford, has been issued an L1 penalty, fined $25,000 and the team has been assessed with the loss of 10 owner points for an at-track penalty (race equipment does not meet applicable specifications during pre-race inspection). The No. 51 car failed pre-race inspection five times.
  • Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, has been fined $10,000 for a loose lug nut violation.
  • Adam Stevens, crew chief of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has been fined $10,000 for a loose lug nut violation.

NASCAR also announced:

  • Team member Zach Yager has successfully completed NASCAR’s Road to Recovery Program and his suspension has been lifted.
  • Team member Josh Young has been reinstated.

There were no other announcements.

Bubba Wallace on ‘Today’ show: ‘We want to change. It starts with us’

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Appearing on Thursday’s “Today” Show on NBC, Bubba Wallace said he believes the sport will attract new and more diverse fans following Wednesday’s announcement that NASCAR will ban the display of Confederate flags at its racetracks.

The only full-time Black driver in NASCAR, Wallace was encouraged by the number of new fans who tuned into Wednesday’s Cup race from Martinsville Speedway.

“We had a lot of first-time watchers last night, which was super incredible, a lot from the African-American community that would never give NASCAR a chance,” Wallace said. “There were so many comments I read that were all shocked at how NASCAR’s approach to everything has really opened their eyes.

“I think my favorite one was Alvin Kamara, former Tennessee Vols who plays for the (NFL’s New Orleans) Saints, he was asking when’s the next race. He was giving lap-by-lap updates. It was incredible.

 

“Everybody was tuned in last night, so it was a big watching party. Hopefully, that’s for the future as well. We encourage all backgrounds and all races to enjoy our crazy sport, it’s action-packed from the drop of the green flag to the drop of the checkered flag.”

Wallace and NASCAR both received expressions of support on social media from numerous sports figures and celebrities, including Kamara and NBA great LeBron James.

Wallace drove the iconic Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet emblazoned with #BlackLivesMatter on it to an 11th-place finish in Wednesday night’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.

Bubba Wallace drives the #BlackLivesMatter car in Wednesday’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

He said he is confident NASCAR will vigorously enforce the flag ban and prevent its display at all NASCAR tracks.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll take really strict measures to not allow this to happen,” Wallace said. “If it doesn’t, then there’ll be another conversation I will have. Not sure exactly how NASCAR is planning on this.

“I know fans are starting to be allowed to come back (to racetracks after the COVID-19 hiatus) here in a couple of weeks. It’ll be interesting to see. There are a lot of things unfolding for our sport and for our nation and really the world, and we’re just piecing it together day by day. We’ll just continue to push on and fight for what’s right.

“… We want change, it starts with us. We have to start basically from the roots and go from ground up and really implement what we’re trying to say in our message.”

Wallace also was asked about comments made by part-time NASCAR Truck Series driver Ray Ciccarelli, who said Wednesday that he disagreed with the ban of the Confederate flag and will quit the sport at the end of the current season.

“I seen that comment and I was kind of baffled by it, honestly,” Wallace said. “I think he just solidified his career and no longer being part of NASCAR.

“I would encourage NASCAR to really step up and look at that if he tries to reinstate. I seen a comment where to most, (the Confederate flag is) a sign of heritage. But to a large group of people, it’s a sign of hate and oppression and just a lot of negative and bad things that come to mind.

“We’re not saying you can’t fly it at your house. You can do whatever you want. But when it comes to a sporting event where we want all races, everybody to be included – inclusion is what we’re trying to accomplish here.

“Unity, bring everybody together and enjoy a sporting event and cheer on your favorite driver, not be shy and introverted because they see a Confederate flag flying. They should be able to live life to the fullest with nothing holding them back.

“And if the flag is holding them back, then let’s just take it down for the sporting event. We’re not saying get rid of it out of your life completely.”

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Winners and losers from Martinsville

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WINNERS

Martin Truex Jr.Remember when he couldn’t win on a short track? Yes, it is hard to recall those days after he scored his fourth win in the last six short track races on Wednesday at Martinsville Speedway. This could be a good sign for him since Martinsville is scheduled to be the final playoff race before the championship finale in Phoenix in November.

Team Penske — Didn’t get the win but got the next best thing with Ryan Blaney second, Brad Keselowski third and Joey Logano fourth.

Chase Elliott His fifth-place finish was his fourth top-10 result in the last five races.

Jimmie Johnson He led a season-high 70 laps before finishing 10th for his third consecutive top 10.

LOSERS

Austin DillonRough night. A cut tire at the start of the race damaged a crush panel and he was overcome from the exhaust with less than 100 laps to go. He had to be helped out of the car. Dillon finished 37th.

Aric Almirola Started second, fell a lap down early and had a battery problem before finishing 33rd.

Denny Hamlin and Kyle BuschBoth had issues early, fell a lap down and never were a factor. Hamlin finished 24th. Busch was 19th.