Fresh off Botching the Gov. Greg Abbott Controversy, NASCAR Faces a New Political Hot Potato at Bristol

The screwy ending in which Ryan Blaney essentially won the same race twice on May 22 turned out to be the least of NASCAR’s problems with its All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway.

A little more than a week later, the organization’s social media team posted a vague apology to the LGBTQ+ community for having “not aligned with NASCAR’s mission to be a welcoming sport for all.”

NASCAR never said so, but the controversy had to do with a Republican governor playing a minor role in pre-race festivities. We’re about to find out how NASCAR handles the sequel.

The NASCAR All-Star Race apology tweet was about Gov. Greg Abbott

NASCAR’s rather clumsy apology on Twitter late this spring stemmed from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott waving the ceremonial green flag at Texas Motor Speedway for the annual All-Star Race.

Political figures have been throwing out first pitches at baseball games and doing ceremonial puck drops at hockey games for decades. No one should have thought it odd for Abbott to show interest in a special event being hosted by a track in his state. Though NASCAR also held the previous year’s race at TMS, it could have located the 2022 event at any of two dozen other tracks around the country.

However, Abbott is a polarizing figure if for no other reason than he governs a battleground state in which Democrats and Republicans have been battling fiercely in statewide and national elections. Additionally, Abbott issued an executive order earlier in the year directing the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who authorize gender-affirming medical treatment for their transgender children. 

NASCAR still hasn’t confirmed it, but that apparently was the impetus for LGBTQ+ to protest Abbott’s token involvement in the All-Star Race.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is the grand marshal for a big Xfinity race

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott waves the green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway on May 22, 2022, in Fort Worth, Texas. | Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott waves the green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway on May 22, 2022, in Fort Worth, Texas. | Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Xfinity Series regular season ends on Sept. 16 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The winner earns a spot in the playoffs beginning the following week at Texas Motor Speedway. The regular-season title could be up for grabs. There is also the possibility of battles involving defending champ Daniel Hemric, Landon Cassill, Sheldon Creed, and Ryan Sieg all fighting for two playoff berths.

On Monday, track officials announced first-year Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin will serve as the grand marshal for the Food City 300, delivering the command for drivers to start their engines.

In a state that had been leaning Democrat for several years, Youngkin won a hotly contested election for an open seat last November. It was seen as a potential bell weather for the upcoming midterm elections, with education policy being a hot-button topic at the time. His coming 10 miles over the border into Tennessee to appear at a sporting event could conceivably turn into a reason for any of a number of groups to protest another confluence of sports and politics.

NASCAR is still smarting over the Brandon Brown episode

Brandon Brown won last season’s Xfinity playoff race at Talladega, and the post-race interview on NBC was the beginning of the “Let’s Go, Brandon” taunts aimed at Joe Biden by detractors of the president.

Brown played absolutely no role in the episode other than winning the race. Had Joe Gibbs’ grandson been the winner that day, we would probably instead be talking about “Let’s Go, Ty” now.

In the offseason that followed, however, NASCAR refused to approve a large primary sponsorship deal negotiated between Brown and backers of a cryptocurrency looking to capitalize on the continued popularity of Donald Trump. NASCAR made a point of saying it wanted to distance the sport from politics.

That didn’t prevent Greg Abbott from appearing at the All-Star Race, and now Glenn Youngkin will be participating in festivities at Bristol. If there are protests over Youngkin’s appearance, it will be interesting to see whether NASCAR learned anything from how poorly it handled the reaction to Abbott’s appearance.

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