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Last week in the exhibition Clash at the Coliseum, Bubba Wallace was in contention to win late until he wasn’t. Austin Dillon had other ideas and wrecked the No. 23 car with seven laps remaining in the main event. The 23XI Racing driver responded a lap later by retaliating when the Richard Childress Racing car made its way back around the track.

Wallace received a penalty for his aggressive retaliatory move, but you wouldn’t have known it watching the television broadcast. That came out later in NASCAR’s in-race penalty report when he was charged with reckless driving. Interestingly, the punishment produced a question — can fans expect to see harsher penalties from the sanctioning body in 2023?  

Bubba Wallace retaliates and gets penalized for ‘reckless driving’

Bubba Wallace and Austin Dillon
Bubba Wallace spins after an on-track incident with Austin Dillon during the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 05, 2023. | Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In the prelims before the Clash at the Coliseum, Bubba Wallace finished second in his heat and advanced to the main event. Early in the 150-lap race, the 29-year-old driver showed his car was fast, leading the field multiple laps, including into the halftime intermission. 

He stayed in the top five during the second half of the race and was in a position to battle for the win late when Austin Dillon ran out of patience and sent the No. 23 car for a spin with seven laps to go. Wallace eventually got his car turned around after all the cars passed, and then he waited. 

When the 2018 Daytona 500 winner approached, the 23XI Racing driver drove his car down in front of the Richard Childress Racing car. With nowhere to go on the tight quarter-mile track, Dillon avoided hitting the inside wall but ran into the Toyota’s door. The pair made contact a couple of times but it lasted less than five seconds before the upset driver pulled ahead and drove away.

Fox showed an understandably frustrated Wallace sitting in his car moments after the race but never mentioned that he had been sent to the tail end of the field and penalized for “reckless driving.” That was revealed in the postrace penalty report NASCAR issued after the race.

NASCAR ruled dramatically different in similar situations last year

While Wallace had already been relegated to the back of the field due to the spin, NASCAR’s penalty didn’t seem to fit the crime, at least based on similar incidents in the not-so-distant past. 

Last year, there were multiple times during the season when the sanctioning body didn’t level any sanctions on drivers in similar situations. 

One situation involved Dillon and Brad Keselowski in New Hampshire when the RCR car swerved in front of the No. 6 car during a caution, and the 2012 champion immediately responded by making a hard left into the door of the No. 3, riding it down the track, before finally backing out and hitting the right rear, sending it fishtailing into the infield grass.

Keselowski was not penalized. 

If the governing body’s decision with Wallace in LA was applied last year, Keselowski should have been sent to the tail end of the field at a minimum.

Fans want consistency

While Keselowski didn’t receive any punishment, NASCAR levied a harsh penalty on William Byron after Texas when he dumped Denny Hamlin under caution, including docking 25 driver and owners points and fining Byron $50,000. However, that penalty was different because it was under the spotlight after NASCAR inexplicably missed the incident during the race and ruled on it days later, only for it to be reduced later by the National Motorsports Appeals Panel.

Fans and drivers, like any sport, want consistency when it comes to officiating. Bubba Wallace’s actions at the Clash, while retaliatory, didn’t feel like they warranted such a penalty, especially considering the driver who blatantly initiated the whole situation went unpunished.

It’s that type of inconsistency that is frustrating. If all drivers who make even the slightest contact with another car under caution in a retaliatory fashion in 2023 are penalized and sent to the tail end of the field, everyone can live with that. Anything less than that will raise questions and just add to the level of frustration. 


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