Wallace led 29 laps and obviously had a fast car in the opening race of the third round of the playoffs. Wallace did not 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 fell out of the pack — and Larson slid up the track against Wallace. When Wallace didn’t pull up to give Larson any room, Larson used his Chevrolet to ram Wallace’s Toyota into the wall.
Wallace then bounced back down the track, followed Larson’s car down to the apron and appeared to deliberately hook him in retaliation. That sent Larson spinning into the path of Bell, who won last Sunday at Charlotte to earn the automatic spot in eighth, and ended Bell’s race.
Wallace climbed out of his car and walked toward Larson. Wallace yelled before he even got to Larson and immediately began shoving the smaller driver. Larson tried to turn away from him and raised his arms several times to block Wallace’s thrusts, but Wallace received several shots before a NASCAR safety worker separated the two.
Wallace said he didn’t deliberately wreck Larson, but both Larson and Bell saw it as clear retaliation. NASCAR could punish Wallace if it also believes he intentionally retaliated.
“I’m smart enough to know how easily these cars break, so when you’re driven into the fence on purpose like he did trying to force me to lift, the steering was gone,” Wallace said. “Larson wanted to do a three-wide dive bomb, but he never cleared me and I didn’t lift.
“I know I’m kind of new to running forward, but I don’t lift. I haven’t even been to a place to lift and he’s never lifted either, and now we’re trash. Just [very bad] motion of his execution.”
Asked what message he was trying to send Larson when he started pushing him, Wallace said, “He knows.”
“He knows what he did was wrong. He wanted to question what I did, and he never cleared me,” Wallace said.
And how about Bell becoming collateral damage?
“Sports,” Wallace, who like Bell is a Toyota driver, said with a shrug.
Larson, who hit the wall last week at Charlotte to contribute to his playoff elimination, said he wasn’t surprised Wallace hooked him.
“I obviously made an aggressive move [turn] three, got low, got loose and kind of chased it up,” Larson said. “He got to my right front, and it stretched him and into the wall. I knew he was going to get revenge. He had reason to be mad, but his race wasn’t over until he fought back.
“It is what it is. Just aggression turned into frustration and he fought back.”
Larson said he thought Wallace’s crash of him was inappropriate considering how much scrutiny NASCAR was under regarding its new Next Gen car. Alex Bowmanwho is Larson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, is out for a third straight race with a concussion, and Kurt Busch was forced to retire after his July concussion.
“I think with everything that’s been going on here lately, with head injuries … I don’t think it’s probably the right thing to do,” Larson said. “I’m sure whatever happens, he’ll know he was wrong on the retaliation part and I’m sure he’ll think twice about it next time.”
He also said he expected Wallace to be ready to fight when Wallace approached his crashed car.
“I saw him walking, so I figured he was going to 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 ranked 34th on Sunday and dropped to continue in the eight-driver playoff standings, said “we got the short end of the stick” with Larson and Wallace getting involved.
“It’s disappointing because our performance is capable of running for the championship, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to make it,” he said.