NASCAR completes investigation without determining who tied noose in Talladega garage

NASCAR completes investigation without determining who tied noose in Talladega garage
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NASCAR officials on Thursday completed their internal investigation of the noose found in the garage stall of the racing circuit's only African American driver without determining how it was placed there. 

The announcement came two days after the FBI determined that Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. was not the target of a hate crime and that the noose that hung from the garage he had been assigned at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama had been there since at least October. 

But NASCAR President Steve Phelps stressed in a statement that “the noose was real," pointing to the photo the racing circuit released along with its findings. The photo showed a pull rope fashioned like a noose in the garage that Wallace was using. 

“Upon learning of and seeing the noose, our initial reaction was to protect our driver," Phelps said. "We’re living in a highly charged and emotional time. What we saw was a symbol of hate and was only present in one area of the garage and that was of the 43 car of Bubba Wallace."

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As part of its investigation, NASCAR officials asked each track on the circuit to walk their respective garages. Out of 1,684 garage stalls reviewed at 29 tracks, just 11 had a pull-down rope tied in a knot. Only one had a rope fashioned like a noose: Wallace's designated garage at Talladega. 

Phelps said that in hindsight, he would have used the word "alleged" in the racing commission's initial statement about the noose on Sunday. But he again defended the urgency NASCAR took to address the matter. 

“Bubba Wallace and the 43 team had nothing to do with this,” Phelps said. “Bubba Wallace has done nothing but represent this sport with courage, class and dignity."

Wallace, 26, in 2018 became the first full-time Black driver in the top-flight NASCAR racing series since 1971.

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As protests swept the nation following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, Wallace pushed NASCAR to ban displays of the Confederate flag on its grounds. He also emblazoned "Black Lives Matter" across his No. 43 Chevrolet for a race earlier this month. 

NASCAR on June 10 announced that the Confederate battle flag would be barred from all of its events and properties, saying that its presence "runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment."

After reports of the noose first surfaced, Wallace called it a "painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism." Drivers and crew members pushed Wallace's car to the starting line on Monday in a show of solidarity with the driver.

In an interview with CNN after the FBI announced that it would not pursue criminal charges, Wallace emphasized that what was in his garage was a noose and not an ordinary garage pull. 

“I’ve been racing all of my life,” Wallace said. “We've raced out of hundreds of garages that never had garage pulls like that. So people that want to call it a garage pull and put out all the videos and photos of knots being as their evidence, go ahead, but from the evidence that we have — and I have — it’s a straight-up noose.”

He also noted in a tweet on Wednesday that he was "relieved" by the findings of the FBI investigation, noting that he'd "gladly take a little embarrassment over what the alternatives could have been."

"Make no mistake, though some will try, this should not detract from the show of unity we had on Monday, and the progress we've made as a sport to be a more welcoming environment for all," he said.