Opinion: Reaction to Wallace/Bowman exchange further proof of NASCAR community’s social media echo chamber

When it comes to post-race matter between drivers, the NASCAR community lives in a social media echo chamber. This is true especially in the post-race exchange between Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman where Wallace threw a drink in Bowman’s face while Bowman was receiving treatment from medical staff. Was it ridiculous? Sure. Was it not thought out? Didn’t look like it. Could it have been a way for Wallace to save face once he saw Bowman’s predicament? Likely.

But it was a drink to the face. Not a fist, not a helmet, not a bumper. Despite all of that, Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit users were out for Wallace’s blood because throwing a beverage, something cold in liquid (not solid) form was such an uncalled-for reaction.

That’s rich, to be honest. Drivers hunt each other down and play bumper tag, throw haymakers, and in a memorable incident in 1979 Bobby Allison caught a helmet with his face.

Those same people are often the ones who cry out that that was what the sport was built on. That’s quintessential NASCAR, they will tell you.

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But they have a completely different reaction to a driver resorting to tossing a drink in another driver’s face after realizing a hard fist to the jaw wasn’t going to look good. Some are crying out for suspension of fines or go as far as to say that Wallace should never get a ride again.

All of this four years after Matt Kenseth drilled Joey Logano into the wall at Martinsville. Two years after Denny Hamlin dumped Chase Elliott at the same place. A week after Austin Dillon dumped Bowman at Richmond per his grandfather’s orders.

But no, a drink to the face while the guy is sitting on pit road is unacceptable. Not to mention a medic and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon catching some of the drink as well. If some of these fans had their way Wallace would have gotten the boot because his actions were such a black eye for the sport.

Bowman dumped Wallace after Wallace shot Bowman the bird. Bowman deliberately turned Wallace because Wallace was shooting the No. 88 the finger. Bowman right-reared Wallace because of it. It’s a weird concept to try to understand. Was it slightly immature on Wallace’s behalf? Yes. Wallace does have a penchant for letting his El Birdo fly, as it did at Pocono when he and Daniel Suarez had a post-race disagreement over the gesture. He could stand to let his little aviary friend stay in it’s cage a little bit longer and focus more on the task at hand (i.e. driving).

Alex Bowman gets sideways in the Roval’s chicane. Photo by Brad Keppel.

But then again, it’s a gesture. It’s a finger. Sure, it signifies an obscene meaning. But unless Wallace is throwing some ridiculous Alabama voodoo out of the tip of that finger and sending cars spinning around like a left-turning Harry Potter, it isn’t hurting anybody. Nobody is forcing anybody to react. It’s a common gesture, albeit a crude one, and one that likely every driver on the track Sunday had launched against a fellow competitor at some point or another. What’s the point in letting it become such a distraction that it becomes a straw that breaks the camel’s proverbial back?

Bowman’s run on Sunday was the stuff championship campaigns are built on. He muscled his car through actual adversity and managed to edge both Aric Almirola and Ryan Newman to earn the final spot in the Round of 12 in the Playoffs, but it wasn’t a sure thing until the checkered flag dropped. He ran a great race and showcased his abilities in a stellar way. He let his driving prove whatever points he was out to prove.

So with that being said, it wasn’t necessary for him to dump Wallace. As sad as it is to admit, the No. 43 crew are currently non-factors despite their best efforts. So for Bowman to dump Wallace like he did was like Christopher Bell dumping Will Rodgers the day before: There was no good reason for it.

NASCAR made the right call in not penalizing Wallace. If anything, a talk about situational awareness seemed more fitting and likely on the sanctioning body’s behalf, although according to Wallace’s post-race comments he seemed pretty aware of the situation:

“Smooth move playing the sick card so I couldn’t bust him in the mouth.”

Wallace was likely about to do just that only to find Bowman in the precarious position he was in. He didn’t want to leave without getting his point across, so a drink to the face was the best he could come up with at the time. Nobody got hurt, the situation didn’t escalate, and Wallace got his satisfaction off of wiping Bowman’s grin off of his face. If anything, that sounds like ideal situational awareness although a talking to from NASCAR made sense.

Meanwhile, regardless of what the other drivers are doing, Bowman does need to exercise a level head when racing against other teams who aren’t in the Playoffs. Again, referencing the Kenseth/Logano dustup of 2015, but also looking at the Kyle Busch/David Reutimann dustup that occured at Kansas in 2010. Non-factors have a history of derailing championship contenders, and if Bowman decides to let a middle finger get the best of him, or freely dump a driver, it may come back to haunt him in a bad way.

Likewise, Wallace needs to keep himself in check. It’s understandable he was upset from the jump on Sunday, starting with the mess on the first lap then later on getting turned by the No. 88. Moreso when it’s taken into consideration that despite his talent and driving ability he’s still mired back at mid-pack or near the back. Yet he must keep a cool head and keep his single-digit salute down to a minimum. Not every mishap is going to warrant words.

As the great and revered poet Ice Cube once elocuted: “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

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