What a wild five days for NASCAR.
Sunday night, the sanctioning body went from believing that someone with access to the garage area at Talladega Superspeedway could have intentionally hung a noose in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall as a threat to explaining on Thursday how the noose had been in Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega for nine months and that the stall Wallace’s car had been assigned before the race was the only stall at a NASCAR track that had a door rope tied like a noose.
Here’s a timeline of what happened from June 21-25 in NASCAR. And we’ll detail how what NASCAR thought was a potential hate crime turned out to be an incredible confluence of events and not a giant conspiracy.
How we got here
June 3: Wallace, the only Black driver racing full-time in NASCAR, said on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podcast that he’s been encouraging other drivers to speak out on social and racial inequality issues following the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.
June 7: Drivers release a video pledging to listen and speak up for social change. NASCAR holds a pre-race moment of silence amid protests following Floyd’s killing. NASCAR president Steve Phelps acknowledges NASCAR’s past issues with diversity and pledges that the sanctioning body will do better. Wallace wears a shirt on pit road with the words “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter. A Black NASCAR official who previously served in the United States Military takes a knee.
June 8: Wallace calls for NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag in an interview on CNN.
June 10: NASCAR bans fans from flying the Confederate flag on its track properties. Wallace runs a car supporting Black Lives Matter at Martinsville.
Sunday, June 21
The Cup Series is set to race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama for the first time since the Confederate flag ban. A plane flying a Confederate flag and a banner that says “Defund NASCAR” flies over the track. Fans who aren’t attending the race drive on the streets outside the track with Confederate flags.
Thanks to coronavirus protocols because of the continued pandemic, numerous drivers (including Wallace) and crew members fly in on Sunday morning before the race. Wallace said he spent most of his time between arriving at the track and the scheduled start time of the race sleeping.
The race is delayed by rain and ultimately postponed to Monday. Wallace’s team was assigned garage No. 4 earlier in the week via a standard NASCAR assignment system that utilizes the points standings.
Sunday afternoon, a crew member for Wallace’s team sees the rope attached to Wallace’s garage door tied like a noose. The team alerts NASCAR, which said it did a sweep of the garage and noticed that Wallace’s garage door is the only one with a rope tied like a noose.
NASCAR president Steve Phelps calls Wallace Sunday evening and tells him they need to talk. Wallace meets Phelps in person and Phelps tells Wallace that a noose was hung in his garage stall and the sanctioning body is investigating the potential hate crime.
“Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”
Wallace follows with a statement of his own.
“Today’s despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me incredibly saddened and serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism,” Wallace wrote on Twitter. “Over the last several weeks I have been overwhelmed by the support from people across the NASCAR industry including other drivers and team members in the garage. Together our sport has made a commitment to driving real change and championing a community that is accepting and welcoming of everyone. Nothing is more important and we will not be deterred by the reprehensible actions of those who seek to spread hate. As my mother told me today, ‘They are just trying to scare you.’ This will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in.”
Other athletes, including LeBron James, start to speak out against the potential hate crime that was committed.
Monday, June 22
The FBI is called in to investigate the origins of the noose as NASCAR prepares to hold the rain-delayed Cup Series race while fearing that someone working at the track over the weekend purposely hung the noose in Wallace’s garage stall.
Wallace’s car owner Richard Petty, 82, flies in to attend the race in a show of support for Wallace. Petty had not attended a race since NASCAR resumed racing on May 17 during the pandemic.
Before going to Talladega, Petty releases a statement saying he’s “enraged” by the noose. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said she was “shocked and appalled” by the discovery of the noose.
In a show of support ahead of the race, NASCAR drivers gather around Wallace’s car and push and walk with it down pit road to the front of the starting grid. Other team members from around NASCAR follow them. Wallace is in the car as it’s pushed down pit road.
Drivers and team members stand behind Wallace during the pre-race prayer and the national anthem. Ryan Blaney wins the race.
Tuesday, June 23
No updates are provided until Tuesday afternoon when the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama release a statement announcing that no hate crime was committed and no charges would be filed. The statement directly refers to the noose on three separate occasions. No picture of the noose is released by either federal investigators or NASCAR.
“On Monday, fifteen FBI special agents conducted numerous interviews regarding the situation at Talladega Superspeedway. After a thorough review of the facts and evidence surrounding the event, we have concluded that no federal crime was committed.
The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week. The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019. Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.
The decision not to pursue federal charges is proper after reviewing all available facts and all applicable federal laws. We offer our thanks to NASCAR, Mr. Wallace and everyone who cooperated with this investigation.”
Wood Brothers Racing said it was the team that had garage stall No. 4 during the fall race weekend at Talladega. The October 2019 race weekend was the opening weekend for Talladega’s new garage and infield experience for fans. The team said one of its crew members remembered seeing the garage rope tied like a noose in the fall and he met with investigators after he relayed that memory.
NASCAR releases a statement and Phelps holds a call with reporters. He speaks for approximately five minutes and doesn’t offer many details outside of what was provided in the FBI’s statement. He says he won’t take questions until NASCAR’s investigation is over and stands by the way NASCAR handled the discovery of the noose.
No picture of the noose is released.
Unfair attacks on Wallace from certain corners begin as he’s accused of somehow being directly involved or that the noose that federal investigators was a noose was not actually a noose. Wallace never saw the noose in-person on Sunday and only knew it existed because NASCAR told him about it.
Wallace makes an appearance on CNN where he confirms that what was found in his garage stall is a noose and that he understands that it was not targeted at him. He said he’s “pissed” about the attacks on his character in the hours after the FBI’s announcement.
Wednesday, June 24
Wallace does more interviews telling his side of the story on networks like CBS, NBC and ESPN while NASCAR remains silent and doesn’t issue a statement or have a representative do any interviews on television.
The attacks on Wallace’s character escalate on social media and even get to Fox News, where one of the network’s primetime hosts says that Wallace “may have been deeply disappointed to learn that he can no longer pose as a victim.” Fox’s broadcast network and it’s Fox Sports 1 cable channel broadcast approximately half of the 92 races each season among NASCAR’s Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series.
No picture of the noose is released.
Shortly before holding a teleconference with reporters, NASCAR releases a photo of a noose.
Phelps explains what NASCAR had done after discovering the noose on Sunday. In addition to receiving FBI assistance at Talladega, NASCAR had its 29 tracks check each of the 1,684 garage stalls at those tracks. Per NASCAR, just 11 of those nearly 1,700 garage stalls had ropes that were tied into some sort of a knot. Only one, NASCAR said, was tied like a noose. That was garage No. 4 at Talladega, the stall that Wallace’s car occupied.
NASCAR said that it was able to confirm that the noose was formed sometime during the October race weekend at the track. But because fans and other non-essential personnel were able to access the garage that weekend — only essential workers are allowed into the garage currently — it isn’t able to narrow down who formed the noose.
“We know it brings up another question: How could it have gone unnoticed by so many people in October 2019 and for the morning on June 21, 2020?” Phelps said Thursday. “Our ultimate conclusion for this investigation is to ensure that this never happens again, that no one walks by a noose without recognizing the potential damage it can do.”
“Moving forward we'll be conducting thorough sweeps of the garage area to ensure nothing like this happens again, and we are installing additional cameras in all of our garages. We'll make any changes necessary to our sanctions and our code of conduct and we will mandate that all members of our industry complete sensitivity and unconscious bias training with specifics and timing forthcoming.”
Phelps also continues to stand by NASCAR’s processes in the hours after the noose was discovered. Both Wallace and NASCAR had received pushback in the days after the flag ban and the sanctioning body was on alert heading to a track in a state where hundreds of Black people have been lynched.
“I think that being at the racetrack and someone's ability to protest peacefully outside of our facility, we were all for, right?” Phelps said. “A guy flying overhead in a crop duster with a Confederate flag, saying ‘defund NASCAR,’ ... including the banning of the Confederate flag, something that we were enforcing for the first time that weekend and fortunately we didn't see any incidents of the Confederate flag on the property and our fans respected that. And it was a great first step on that front. But were there heightened emotions and what has gone on over the past two and a half weeks in our country and then in our sport? I think it absolutely was emotionally charged for a lot of people, and I'll include myself in that.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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