TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ryan Blaney held onto the lead after a restart with two laps to go Monday, earning his second straight win at Talladega Superspeedway on a day that began with NASCAR drivers throwing their support behind Bubba Wallace and him address fans afterward. The racing was overshadowed by an extraordinary act of solidarity …
TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ryan Blaney held onto the lead after a restart with two laps to go Monday, earning his second straight win at Talladega Superspeedway on a day that began with NASCAR drivers throwing their support behind Bubba Wallace and him address fans afterward.
The racing was overshadowed by an extraordinary act of solidarity with NASCAR’s only Black driver. Dozens of drivers pushed Wallace’s car to the front of the field before Monday’s race as FBI agents tried to find out who left a noose in his garage stall over the weekend.
He was emotional after finishing 14th and spending time in the top five, slapping hands with a group of mostly African-American fans, many wearing shirts with messages supporting Black Live Matters.
”I’m proud to stand where I’m at. … This sport is changing,” Wallace said. “The deal that happened [Saturday] I wanted to show whoever it was, you are not going to take away my smile.”
The stock car series was left reeling and angered by the racist act that came less than two weeks after it banned the Confederate flag on its properties at Wallace’s urging. It has vowed to permanently bar the person responsible, but the investigation was in its early stages.
The 26-year-old Wallace was surrounded by all 39 other drivers in the moments before the race and they were joined by their crews in a march down pit road as they pushed his No. 43 to the front of the line. Wallace climbed out of his car and wept.
It was a stirring move to support Wallace at a track in the heart of the South where Confederate flags have flown for decades and were seen outside the superspeedway all weekend long by fans opposed to NASCAR’s ban.
“Been tough, been hell,” Wallace said after the race. “I wouldn’t say hell, just been hectic — carrying this weight, carrying this burden. I wouldn’t say burden either. I’m proud to stand where I’m at and carry a new face.”
Standing alongside Wallace for the national anthem was Richard Petty, the 82-year-old Hall of Fame driver known as “The King.” Wallace drives for Petty, who issued a scathing rebuke after the noose was found that called for the “sick person” to be expelled from NASCAR forever — a move NASCAR President Steve Phelps insisted would happen should they be caught.
The race began with Martin Truex Jr. on the pole, and Tyler Reddick won the first stage, which ended in a weather caution that lasted 58-plus minutes.
The crowd had dwindled significantly from Sunday, when up to 5,000 fans were allowed into Talladega — only the second race with fans since NASCAR returned from the pandemic-forced shutdown. Workers painted “#IStandWithBubbaWallace” on the infield grass before the race and Confederate flags were nowhere to be seen inside the sprawling facility that can hold 80,000-plus and usually sees dozens of RVs lined up across the infield.
Blaney nipped Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the finish line for his fourth win and first since Talladega in October, albeit this time before a mostly empty venue. It was a race marked by support for Wallace instead of another Big One at Talladega, though there was mayhem behind Blaney on the final lap and he also pushed Erik Jones into the wall near the finish.
“Just trying to block, block the best we could,” said Blaney, one of Wallace’s best friends. “Block the top, block the bottom … just beating and banging to the line. ”
Wallace, who started 24th, was up to third when he ran out of gas and slid back in the pack before surging again after getting gas during a late caution.
“I know I should have won that damn race, but ran out of gas,” Wallace said. “Just the stars didn’t align for us completely, but all in all we won today. The pre-race deal was probably one of the hardest things I ever had to witness in my life. From all the supporters from drivers from crew members and everyone here, the bad-ass fan base — thank you guys for coming out here — it’s truly incredible and I’m proud to be part of this sport. Like I said before, got a long way to go, but we’ll keep on trucking.”