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Trump sideswipes NASCAR, Wallace over flag and noose

WASHINGTON (AP) — NASCAR’s layered relationship with President Donald Trump took a sharp turn Monday when Trump took a sideswipe at the racing organization for banning the Confederate flag and wrongly accused the sport’s only full-time Black driver of perpetrating “a hoax” when a crew member found a noose in the team garage stall.

Trump suggested Bubba Wallace should apologize after the sport rallied around him after the noose was found in his assigned stall at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Federal authorities ruled last month the noose had been hanging since October and was not a hate crime. NASCAR and the FBI have exclusively referred to the rope — which was used to pull the garage door closed — as a noose.

It was the only garage pull out of 1,684 stalls at 29 inspected NASCAR tracks to be fashioned as a noose.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps has bristled at suggestions the noose was a hoax. Wallace was shown a photograph of the noose, never personally saw it, and was told by NASCAR officials he was the victim of a hate crime.

LeBron James and Chelsea Clinton were among those outside of NASCAR who backed Wallace on social media, with James stating he stands with Wallace.

NASCAR’s complex relationship with Trump dates to early in his campaign when former chairman Brian France brought a contingent of drivers to a rally in Georgia.

France later sent a memo to NASCAR employees stating his political beliefs were his own and he was not speaking on behalf of the organization. France was replaced as chairman following his arrest for driving while impaired in 2018.

Other members of the France family welcomed Trump to Daytona for the season-opening race in February. Many drivers and owners mingled with Trump and posted selfies with the president.

Wallace, who was born in Alabama, has taken an active role in the push for racial equality. He has worn a shirt saying “I Can’t Breathe,” and raced with a Black Lives Matter paint scheme in Virginia.

Ramsey Poston, a former NASCAR consultant and now head of crisis management firm Tuckahoe Stategies, said Trump’s tweet is harmful to NASCAR’s push for inclusion. Wallace is one of just a handful of non-white drivers. Daniel Suarez is Mexican and Aric Almirola is of Cuban descent. Kyle Larson, who is half-Asian, was fired in April for using a racial slur.

“The brewing cultural war within NASCAR for equality has just erupted and the sport’s efforts to separate from its past just got tougher,” Poston said. “The president’s comments are essentially a rallying call for people who support the Confederate flag to challenge the sport’s recent flag ban and create chaos.”

While Trump claimed NASCAR’s ratings are down, they are actually up. Michael Mulvihill, executive vice president at Fox Sports, tweeted that Fox viewership is up 8% since the sport returned from the pandemic hiatus on May 17. NBC took over the broadcast rights this past weekend and said its ratings for Sunday's race were up 46% from last year’s event at Indianapolis.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, pushed back against Trump’s NASCAR tweet on Fox News Radio, saying NASCAR is trying to grow the sport by removing divisive symbols.

“I don’t think Bubba Wallace has anything to apologize for,” Graham said.

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AP Auto Racing Writer Fryer reported from Charlotte, N.C.

 

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