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Bubba Wallace and the 23XI Racing Team have encountered their share of struggles during the early part of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. Admittedly, some of them have been self-inflicted.

On Sunday, NASCAR did the No. 23 team no favors during the race at Darlington, essentially penalizing Wallace and Co. for something that wasn’t his fault. Up in the Fox broadcast booth, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer admitted they were shocked by the decision and insisted NASCAR got it wrong.   

Bubba Wallace makes contact and ends Kurt Busch’s day

In Stage 2 of the NASCAR Cup Series race in Darlington and with just over 100 laps complete, Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace both stood one lap down and battled for the free pass. In a pack of cars, Busch ran on the inside of Matt DiBenedetto, and Wallace was directly behind them. 

Coming out of the turn, Busch’s car got loose and started to slide up the track. DiBenedetto tried to give him room. Wallace pushed Busch for the position and tapped his right rear just enough for him to spin out and crash into the inside wall. 

“I’m not going to put that on Bubba, though,” Clint Bowyer said up in the Fox broadcast booth. “That’s good hard racing for that position. He got sideways, and Bubba just barely clipped the right rear corner.” 

Kurt Busch offers thoughts on what happened with Wallace

Just a few minutes later, Fox broadcast what DiBenedetto said on his radio about the incident with Busch: “Woo. That was tight. He just kept coming up the track. I gave him all the room I could.”

Busch essentially saw the same thing from his car.

“There’s no give and take. Ran out of race track,” Busch admitted to Jamie Little. “And he’s (Wallace) fighting for the lucky dog, but we got turned. Our car isn’t doing what it needs to do in traffic, and I can’t be aggressive. As soon as you check up just a little bit, there’s no give and take right now. Everybody is just going for it. We ended up on the bad end of it again.”

NASCAR rules against Wallace, and Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer disagree with decision

Following the caution flag for Busch’s accident, Wallace should have been the recipient of the free pass. NASCAR officials decided otherwise. Fox’s Mike Joy explained NASCAR had ruled that Wallace was involved in the incident and was not eligible for the free pass. 

Jeff Gordon disagreed with the ruling.

“I want to get some clarification on that,” Gordon said. “We’ve talked to NASCAR a little bit about this in the past about being involved. I don’t necessarily agree with that call. I think Bubba Wallace, and you just heard from Kurt Busch, he ran out of real estate they’re both fighting for. But it’s not like Bubba did anything intentional. If anything, he might have been trying to avoid him and made unintentional contact. I don’t know if he shouldn’t get a lap back because of that.”


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Bowyer wholeheartedly agreed:

“I was shocked. We both were. We were shocked to hear them take that from him because I agree. Kurt was loose underneath him. You heard Matt DiBenedetto say that he was loose underneath him. And unfortunately, he did get into him, but it wasn’t like he got into him and knocked him out.”

Wallace’s crew chief, Mike Wheeler, relayed the ruling to his driver over the radio. 

“They took away our free pass for being involved in the caution,” Wheeler told Wallace, who simply replied with, “Wow!” 

During a season in which a lot of things haven’t gone right for Bubba Wallace and the No. 23 team, NASCAR added another unexpected challenge Sunday with a controversial ruling that many of those watching suggested was the wrong decision.

Will Wallace right the ship and turn things around? Time will tell.

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