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The Bubba Wallace Hate MUST End
Part of the NASCAR fanbase is living down to ugly stereotypes.
For the most part, NASCAR’s All-Star weekend at the reborn North Wilkesboro Speedway was a success — even what could fairly be described as a boring main-event race had an element of historic dominance. But unfortunately, some of the festivities were marred by the ugly back-and-forth between the fans and driver Bubba Wallace.
It started when Wallace was booed roundly during the Trucks race (in which he finished fifth) and was asked afterward how it affected him. His answer was about as good as it could be under the circumstances — “I got a good payday; I’m good” — but he also pointed out that he gets a version of that treatment every week. Then, after the Cup Series race, he clearly flipped the bird (supposedly to a friend, not the crowd) on live TV. But the biggest and worst incident happened around the same time, when one or multiple fans hacked into Wallace’s team radio and said:
"Go back to where you came from you a--hole […] You’re not wanted in NASCAR."
Wallace is the only black driver in the Cup Series, and one of just five to compete in the sport at any level at the moment. So let’s be clear: It is impossible to read those comments as anything but racist, particularly given Wallace’s history of bringing activism to a sport that, for instance, didn’t outright ban the flying of the Confederate flag until 2020. To claim otherwise is to be willfully ignorant, at best.
And again, it’s an example of the bullshit treatment that Wallace has to deal with each and every week — treatment that no one should have to endure in a sport that is supposedly about talent and skill, inclusive of everyone as long as they have the chops behind the wheel. (Which Wallace does, and we’ll get to that in a moment.)
As Eric Estepp, one of my favorite NASCAR YouTubers, said about the incident:
“The few ruin it for the many. You don’t have to like Bubba Wallace […] but as someone who wants everyone in the world to feel welcome at a NASCAR event, or feel welcome to tune in and watch it on TV, root for their favorite drivers, it bothers me to see a couple of jackasses like this taint the headlines and hurt the NASCAR community’s reputation.
While greatly exaggerated, and in some cases completely untrue, NASCAR and its Southern fans do face heavy negative stereotypes. This kind of […] incident is why.”
Of course, some in the “anti-woke” sports-media space have tried to spin it as not having anything to do with Wallace being black, and instead being about his ability as a driver. As though the meaning was that he doesn’t have the talent to be in the sport. I think this is obviously a bad-faith reading of the comments, but let’s engage with them at face value anyway.
As I’ve written before, Wallace is an above-average driver in the Cup Series, statistically speaking! While he produced adjusted points at a below-average rate per race during his first handful of seasons, mostly spent with a Richard Petty Motorsports team that was uncompetitive with all of its drivers, he was 6% better than the average driver on adjusted points last season — including being one of the best in the series (43% better than average) during the second half — and he has overcome a slow start in 2023 to be 9% better than average this season as well.
Another way we can judge a driver’s skill is by comparing them with their teammates. In 35 races for 23XI Racing last season, Wallace had a 19-16 “record” (or a 54.3% winning percentage) head-to-head against teammates Kurt Busch, Ty Gibbs and Daniel Hemric. Since that group of drivers had a 48.8% winning percentage against everyone else in the field — which we can call Wallace’s “strength of schedule” (SOS) — we can adjust Wallace’s winning percentage using the formula:
Adj. W% = (SOS * WPct) / ((2 * WPct * SOS) - SOS - WPct + 1)
That gives us an adjusted W% for Wallace of 53.1%, which is what he would be expected to have head-to-head against a perfectly average (50.0% WPct) driver. Now, in 2023, Wallace has a 6-8 record head-to-head (42.9% WPct) against teammates Tyler Reddick and Travis Pastrana. But they themselves have a 62.9% WPct against everyone else — Reddick is really good, with a 150 Adjusted Pts+ index. Since Wallace is doing better against that group than the rest of the Cup Series field is, his adjusted winning percentage this season is 56.0%, again above average and actually even better than last season.
Those are just a few of the ways we can measure Wallace’s performance; he also has an average driver rating of 75.4 this season, which is 9% better than the Cup Series average as well. Point is, there is literally no objective way to say Wallace is a bad NASCAR driver, and that he doesn’t belong in the sport on merit. Anybody who tries to make that argument is either ignorant of the data, or (more likely) telling on themselves.
As Estepp said, it’s OK to not like Wallace. I haven’t loved some of the things he’s done on the track — particularly the 180-mph intentional wreck (and subsequent shoving match) he inflicted on Kyle Larson at Las Vegas last season. Wallace earned his one-race suspension for that, and I thought at the time he should have been suspended for longer (possibly the rest of the season!) based on how unsafe and reckless his decision-making was in that moment.
But what Wallace hasn’t earned is the amount of disproportionate hate and abuse he gets, above and beyond every other driver in the series. Not all of it might be coming from a place of bigotry, but a fair amount of it is — and that type of vile behavior shouldn’t have a place in this sport or any other.
Filed under: NASCAR
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