LAS VEGAS — Bubba Wallace tried to fight defending NASCAR champion Kyle Larson after a crash Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that also brought together title contender Christopher Bell.
Wallace had led 29 laps and clearly had a fast car in the opening race of round three of the playoffs. Wallace didn’t qualify for the playoffs and Larson was eliminated last week.
The incident began when Larson attempted a three-wide pass – Kevin Harvick in the middle dropped the pack – and Larson slid down the track against Wallace. When Wallace didn’t get up to give Larson room, Larson used his Chevrolet to push Wallace’s Toyota into the wall.
Wallace then bounced around the track, followed Larson’s car to the apron, and appeared to deliberately hitch him in retaliation. That sent Larson spiraling into the path of Bell, who won last Sunday in Charlotte to earn an automatic spot in the knockout stages, and ended Bell’s run.
Wallace got out of his car and walked over to Larson. Wallace was screaming before he even got to Larson and immediately began pushing the smaller driver. Larson attempted to turn away from him and raised his arms several times to block Wallace’s thrusts, but Wallace fired several times before a NASCAR security guard separated the two.
Wallace said he did not deliberately destroy Larson, but Larson and Bell saw it as clear retaliation. NASCAR could penalize Wallace if it also thinks he deliberately hit back.
“I’m smart enough to know how easily these cars break, so when you’re deliberately pushed against the fence like he did trying to force me to lift, the steering is gone,” Wallace said. “Larson wanted to do a three-wide divebomb, but he never cleared me and I’m not lifting.
“I know I’m kinda new to running front, but I don’t lift. I wasn’t even in a place to lift and he never lifted either, and now we’re junk. Just [very bad] motion of its execution.”
When asked what message he was trying to send Larson when he started pushing him, Wallace replied, “He knows.”
“He knows what he did was wrong. He wanted to question what I was doing and he never cleared me,” Wallace said.
And as for Bell becoming collateral damage?
“Sports,” said Wallace, who like Bell is a Toyota driver, said with a shrug.
Larson, who hit the wall last week in Charlotte to help with their playoff elimination, said he wasn’t surprised Wallace hung him.
“I obviously took an aggressive step towards [turn] three, went down low, broke loose, and chased it a little bit,” Larson said. “It got to my right forehead, and it hugged it and into the wall. I knew he was going to retaliate. He had a reason to be angry, but his race wasn’t over until he fought back.
“It is what it is. The aggression turned into frustration and he fought back.”
Larson said he thought Wallace’s crash against him was inappropriate given NASCAR’s scrutiny of his new Next Gen car. Alex Bowman, who is Larson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, is out for a third straight race with a concussion, and Kurt Busch was forced to sideline following his concussion in July.
“I think with everything that’s been going on here lately, with head injuries…I don’t think that’s probably the right thing to do,” Larson said. “I’m sure with everything going on he’ll know he made a mistake in the retaliation part and I’m sure he’ll think twice next time.”
He also said he expected Wallace to be ready to fight when Wallace approached his wrecked car.
“I saw him walking, so I thought he would do something,” Larson said. “He had every right to be upset. I’d rather he did that [fight] than tearing up our cars in a dangerous way.”
Bell, who will be scored 34th on Sunday and dropped for the final spot in the eight-driver playoff standings, said “we had the short end of the stick” with Larson and Wallace tangled.
“It’s disappointing because our performance is capable of racing for the championship, and it doesn’t look like we’ll get there,” he said.
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