The 2019 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup season has seen plenty of good on-track action, but it has lacked a certain sizzle that we’ve seen from years gone by. We’ve been lacking that watershed moment that defines the year, usually regarded by a driver’s tousled hair and/or bloody face after a nasty throw-down inside the pits. Thanks to the wild antics between a pair of young drivers at the Charlotte Roval Playoff race, fans of sports drama finally have something to get worked up over. The only trouble: the reactions to this incident have got it all wrong. Before we talk about this problem, let’s first talk about what happened…
The Summary: current playoff driver Alex Bowman and 2nd year Cup driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace were locked in battles for most of Sunday’s race. Besides the usual door slamming and rubbing that can take place in a typical NASCAR road course race, Bowman’s contention is derived from a claim that Wallace was “flipping him off” for several laps during the middle of the event. While no such bird flipping was captured on video, what was seen on national television was Bowman’s reaction: hooking Wallace’s bumper and intentionally spinning out the famous #43 car. While not unheard of, Bowman’s action could be considered “testy” by even the most traditional “Git-R-Done”-ish mentality of race fans. The rest of the Roval 400 appeared to finish without incident, and Bowman soldiered on to an impressive 2nd place finish, advancing the #88 to the next round of the playoffs with Wallace disappointingly finishing in 29th. Immediately after the race was over, and with Bowman sitting on the ground against his car, receiving attention from medical staff (an uncommon occurrence), a displeased Bubba Wallace is shown approaching Bowman, saying a few words, and spraying his water bottle in Bowman’s face before quickly scampering away. It’s crude, mean, ill-timed, and a bit of a pansy reaction…but it’s exactly what we’ve been waiting for!
The social media reaction to all this: well if you’re familiar with any NASCAR community reaction to controversy, you could have probably seen it coming. Intense vitriol, shame hammers, and disappointment bombs flew all over Facebook for the hours and days that have followed Sunday’s race. Sympathy for Bowman being in a vulnerable position, for medical personnel being in the line of fire (god help us) and for the choice of a water bottle spray instead of “acting like a man.” This was too true. Had Wallace simply punched Bowman in the chin and walked away he’d be applauded for his passion to keep the “Boys Have at it” spirit of NASCAR alive. Self-appointed air-quotable LONGTIME fans of Bubba Wallace stake their claim to no longer support a driver they (more often than not) have never given a damn about in the first place. The dog whistle calls for “class” and “integrity” in the thinly veiled attempt to take the high road to finally get to shit on a driver that far too many people feel shouldn’t be in the series in the first place. It’s only a pity that Richard Petty’s #43 isn’t a Toyota, as we could’ve grooved on the toxic fan BINGO for the rest of the season.
What’s most baffling to me is how quickly Bubba Wallace has gone from dragon-slayer to petulant nimrod. A mere handful of weeks ago, Wallace was praised by mostly the exact same fans for an incident with full-time NASCAR villain Kyle Busch.
The one-thousand foot view of this whole situation yields the response that it’s far better to ram a driver with their car than it is to spray them with water. It’s been a long held belief of mine that NASCAR works better with some villains in the mix. So why are we not embracing Wallace for his actions? Or at least embracing the idea that he’s a true villain in the making? Call Bubba Wallace an asshole, it seems like he is one, but don’t make claims that the fabric of the sport is coming undone because a pair of youngsters are fighting like children. NASCAR fans on the whole seem most upset about the lack of personality in the current crop of drivers, and are only now pushing away the chance to throw their disdain towards something constructive. We have to fix this before it’s too late. Drivers like Hailie Deegan among others seem poised to enter top level NASCAR in the next handful of years. Our reaction to the inevitable rough riding angsty drivers that have a different gender, skin color or even sexual orientation than what we’ve had for the last 70 years is going to say a lot about the future of the sport. If we keep up the façade that there’s some sort of honor being tarnished when we’re challenged by something new; just stick a fork in us, we’re done.
Follow Matt on Twitter for more unpopular NASCAR opinions and anger about upcoming Mountain Dew flavors.