Wallace, NASCAR's agent of change, doing 'what feels right'

FILE - In this June 22, 2020, file photo, Bubba Wallace takes a selfie of himself and of other drivers who had pushed his car to the front in the pits at Talladega Superspeedway before the NASCAR Cup Series auto race in Talladega Ala., Monday June 22, 2020. The noose found hanging in Wallace's garage stall at Talladega had been there since at least last October, federal authorities said Tuesday, June 23, in announcing there will be no charges filed in an incident that rocked NASCAR and its only fulltime Black driver.

What a week it was.

The top series raced Saturday and Sunday at Pocono Raceway. In the weekend finale, first and second swapped places with Denny Hamlin edging Kevin Harvick. Saturday marked Harvick’s first victory there, but winning at Pocono is old hat for Hamlin, who tied Jeff Gordon for most victories all time at the track with six.

One of the more entertaining moments of Sunday’s race belonged to Bubba Wallace, who just barely squeezed between Ryan Preece’s sliding car and the barrier.

He sounded like he was having a grand old time after the close call. Deservedly so after what must have been the week from hell.

The FBI determined that the noose found in his stall at Talladega was, well — a noose that had been there awhile. Which is a bizarre thing to write, let me tell you.

First of all, thank goodness. The fact that it wasn’t a hate crime is the furthest thing from a letdown or bad thing. Most of the chatter seemed to surround some “gotcha” moment, exposing Wallace, NASCAR, sports media. Should some have used more hesitant language as the situation was evolving? Yes.

The sport likely couldn’t have kept it under wraps in this day and age, nor should it have tried to. The optics of them attempting such a thing or using soft language, right after finally trying to advance past a problematic history, would have been dark indeed. There was overzealousness, myself included. We live and learn. And this outcome was so very positive.

We got a stirring and needed show of support for the only black driver in NASCAR’s top series. The recently banned Confederate flag still lined the streets and flew overhead, towed by a plane. Even if the noose was only intended for a garage door, it shook him. The announcement that he wasn’t targeted specifically does nothing to cheapen what we saw and will hopefully continue to see.

And really, who is tying nooses and leaving them around? After a thorough sweep of all garages NASCAR races out of, president Steve Phelps said, per Sporting News: “Across those 29 tracks, and 1,684 garage stalls, we found only 11 total that had a pull-down rope tied into a knot. And only one noose — the one discovered Sunday in Bubba Wallace’s garage." So 1,683 people found a less historically loaded and chilling way to secure a door. Huh. Can’t imagine how the conclusion was reached.

The fact that a hate crime of this nature was absolutely plausible is a major issue, and those heroically trying to root out wrongdoing in official responses and coverage are missing the forest for the trees.

May we all support Wallace, attempting to make a bigger impact than asked of any other driver right now. He exited multiple harrowing situations unscathed this week.

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