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Feds, NASCAR say no hate crime against Wallace, rope was door-pull

Bubba Wallace

Fellow drivers and crew members support NASCAR's Bubba Wallace, who is in the No. 43 car.

A rope used to pull a garage door, apparently mistaken for a noose, had been hanging at Talladega Superspeedway since October before it was found Sunday by a crew member for Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR’s Cup Series, the racing circuit and federal officials announced Tuesday.

A joint statement by United States Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. said their investigation had concluded the rope had been there, in a stall assigned to Wallace’s team last week, since October. A separate statement from NASCAR identified the rope as a garage-door pull, and said the investigation had “determined that Bubba Wallace was not the target of a hate crime.”

NASCAR officials had said the noose was found late Sunday afternoon by a member of Wallace's race team, who reported it to NASCAR security. Wallace, who drives the No. 43 car, is the lone Black full-time driver on the Cup Series, which is NASCAR's highest level. NASCAR president Steve Phelps said he called the Birmingham office of the FBI on Monday morning at 7:30 a.m.

The joint statement by Town and Sharp on Tuesday said 15 FBI special agents conducted "numerous" interviews about the situation.

“After a thorough review of the facts and evidence surrounding this event, we have concluded that no federal crime was committed," the joint statement read. "The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week.

"The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019.  Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.

"The decision not to pursue federal charges is proper after reviewing all available facts and all applicable federal laws."

Phelps told reporters Monday he informed Wallace about the noose Sunday evening and that the driver didn't see it.

"He has handled it with the grace that he has handled everything in the last few weeks," Phelps said.

The incident, even though it has been proven not to be aimed at Wallace, sparked an outpouring of support for the driver Monday at the GEICO 500, which was delayed by rain from its original date Sunday.

At the track Monday morning, speedway workers painted a new graphic on the turf by pit row in all white: #IStandWithBubba, which is a hashtag in support of Wallace. About 45 minutes before the start of the race, fellow drivers and crew members pushed Wallace and his No. 43 car to the front of the line on pit row.

The gesture brought out the emotion in Wallace, who needed a few moments to gather himself afterward.

"I know he really appreciated it," said fellow driver Ryan Blaney, his best friend on the Cup Series. "It was the least we can do to show we're behind him 100 percent."

Wallace had been in the spotlight since earlier this month when, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and resulting nationwide protests against racism and police violence, he called on NASCAR to prohibit displays of the Confederate flag at its events. NASCAR did just that, though it sparked some backlash, including a rebel-flag banner towed by a plane above the track on Sunday and a parade of cars near the speedway flying the Confederate flags.

NASCAR’s full statement Tuesday afternoon repeated much from the report by federal investigators.

"The FBI has completed its investigation at Talladega Superspeedway and determined that Bubba Wallace was not the target of a hate crime," the statement read. "The FBI report concludes, and photographic evidence confirms, that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall. This was obviously well before the 43 team's arrival and garage assignment. We appreciate the FBI's quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba. We remain steadfast in our commitment in providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who love racing."

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.

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