Bubba Wallace returns, aiming to put a penalty behind him

Bubba Wallace meets reporters outside the 23XI Racing pickup truck

Zach Albert | NASCAR Studios

MARTINSVILLE, Virginia – Bubba Wallace said Saturday that he had a productive conversation with Kyle Larson after a brawl on the track two weeks ago, and that he has a better understanding of how to handle the hot moments after NASCAR officials suspended him from last weekend’s Cup series event.

Wallace returned to the track Saturday at Martinsville Speedway, returning to the NASCAR Cup Series garage after a one-week absence. He held court with reporters outside the 23XI Racing team prior to training and qualifying for the Xfinity 500 on Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM), the next race of the season.

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Wallace responded after an on-track accident with Larson two weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, first with an intentional shock that destroyed their cars and the 20th entry for Toyota teammate Christopher Bell. He later paid Larson several times after both drivers had left their cars.

Wallace apologized for the incident via his social media channels. Larson had said last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway that he didn’t feel an apology was necessary but considered it over.

“There’s a lot of good things going on this weekend. I won’t come back with a vengeance or anything like that,” said Wallace, who was replaced by John Hunter Nemeczyk in the #45 Toyota in the #45 Toyota last weekend. “I’m going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. And for the record, I spoke to Larson, and we had a great conversation this week. I think the best thing for us is to both understand where our frustrations have been and move on and how we can better handle these situations.”

Larson won last weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami, and took first place in Saturday’s qualifying session in Martinsville. After his cuddle, Larson said he felt he had reached some common ground with Wallace as they looked to turn the page.

“Yeah, it was great giving that talk,” Larson said. “I said the same. I went downstairs and told my wife that Bubba and I had a great conversation. I thought things went well, and I think we moved on from it pretty quickly. It was good to talk, and good to just talk about the frustrations and mistakes on both sides. And forget about it and go back to racing. I feel like we’ve raced well together in the past. I hope I don’t make any more mistakes and we can continue to race well.”

Wallace said that after the Vegas incident, talks also took place during team meetings with 23XI’s management, which reminded him of the repercussions of putting the organization and its supporters “in a bad light,” as he described it. Wallace is in his second year with the team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan, and was re-signed for a long-term contract extension in August.

“They understood the hottest stuff in the moment, but they were very adamant about how we need to deal with those five seconds later,” Wallace said. “You have to think, like I said earlier, you have to think before you think. That was the biggest thing. They still support me, and we are here. You just have to go out and keep building this team.”

Said Hamlin: “Listen, I trust Bubba’s words. We had long conversations with him internally, and I think he’d do things differently. These aren’t just words and PR gossip. This is Bubba. You know, no one asked him to tweet that he took a humble morsel of pie.” It’s something Bubba hasn’t had much to say, you know, those words in the past. I really think he’s learned his lesson, he’s going to do things differently. He’s young, and that’s part of his growth.”

Wallace said sitting down and disrupting his weekly routine of the season was among the hardest parts of being suspended. He added that he accepted the sentence and had discussions with NASCAR President Steve Phelps and Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell about the ruling.

“I definitely learned my lesson,” Wallace said, “but we have to be consistent with this regardless of whether he is here in Martinsville or if he is in Daytona or Talladega.” “We have to keep it consistent across the boards and across the chain. That was the talk. It was a good conversation.”

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