Bubba Wallace and Christopher Bell shared a flight home from Las Vegas, and Wallace apologized during the trip to his fellow Toyota teammate for the incident that crippled Bell’s championship chances.
Bell said Wallace also apologized to the entire Toyota group in the Monday competition meeting. Wallace has been suspended one race by NASCAR for a dangerous act of retaliation that inadvertently collected Bell.
“We actually flew home together on Sunday night and he did apologize Sunday, and then he addressed our entire group on Monday and the competition meeting,” Bell said Wednesday. “He just apologized for what went down and the fact that we got taken out is unfortunate circumstances.”
Wallace has been suspended for Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway for deliberately retaliating against reigning NASCAR champion Kyle Larson at Las Vegas. Wallace hooked Larson in the rear corner of his car to spin him directly into traffic, where Larson drilled Bell and ended Bell’s race.
Bell drives for Joe Gibbs Racing and Wallace drives for 23XI Racing, which is co-owned by JGR driver Denny Hamlin. The two teams have an alliance, and Toyota demands its teams work together.
Bell and Hamlin are the only two Toyota drivers still eligible to qualify for next month’s winner-take-all championship finale, and Bell is now ranked last in the eight-driver field.
There are four slots in the championship finale and Joey Logano claimed the first spot for Team Penske and Ford with his win Sunday at Las Vegas. But the entire opening race of the third round of NASCAR‘s playoffs has been overshadowed by Wallace, who lost his cool when he and Larson were racing for position and neither would give an inch of room.
Larson ended up running Wallace into the wall, and Wallace immediately retaliated by chasing Larson down the track and hooking him back into traffic. By hitting the passing car of Bell, Larson’s trajectory was stopped before he slammed directly into the wall.
Wallace then had a shoving match with Larson after the crash and also pushed away a NASCAR official. The suspension handed down Tuesday falls under NASCAR’s behavioral policy and technically covers most of Wallace’s actions at Las Vegas.
But Steve O’Donnell, the executive in charge of competition and racing operations, said the penalties were for Wallace’s dangerous and deliberate retaliation against Larson, not the fracas a few moments later. O’Donnell said Wallace’s hooking of Larson was “really a dangerous act that we thought was intentional and put other competitors at risk.”
Kevin Harvick, one of the most outspoken drivers on safety issues of late, condemned Wallace’s retaliation.
“Intentionally hooking people in the (right rear) should never be acceptable,” Harvick posted on social media. “Protect us from ourselves. I hope this is the beginning of the end of it happening.”
Wallace is the first driver suspended for on-track actions since Matt Kenseth was suspended two races in 2015 for returning his wrecked car to the track to deliberately crash Logano at Martinsville.
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