Bubba Wallace raced up the banking at Talladega Superspeedway — on foot — to meet with people, many Black, who had traveled to the track watch him race in the after the Geico 500 on Monday. They were part of a support group that included all of NASCAR on an intense, emotional day for the Richard Petty Motorsports driver.
"This is probably the most badass moment right here," Wallace, the lone Black driver in the Cup Series, told Fox Sports' Jamie Little. To him, it was another sign that "the sport is changing."
They were there to back Wallace after someone put a noose in his garage stall on Sunday. Wallace wasn't able to repay that support with a win, but he did lead briefly in the final stage and would have contended for his first Cup Series victory had he not run out of fuel in the final 10 laps. He counted the day a success just the same.
"Man, I know I should have won the damn race. We ran out of gas. Just the stars didn't align for us completely, but all in all, we won today," he told Little. Wallace finished 14th; his best friend, Ryan Blaney, won the race by inches over Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Wallace turned emotional as he recalled seeing every team show solidarity before the race by walking alongside Wallace's car down pit road and pushing the car to the front of the line. He was moved to tears at the time.
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"The prerace deal . . . the prerace deal was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to witness in my life," he told Little.
NASCAR and the FBI are investigating the noose incident, with the FBI trying to determine whether it was a hate crime. While those activities go on in the background, Wallace will remain a public face of change in stock car racing.
"The deal that happened yesterday, sorry I'm not wearing my mask, but I wanted to show whoever it was that you're not going to take away my smile and I'm going to keep on going," he told Little.