NASCAR rallies around Wallace as FBI investigates noose

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Owner of the race car of Bubba Wallace, former driver Richard Petty, left, rides a golf cart to the garage prior to the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega Ala., Monday June 22, 2020 (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Bubba Wallace steered the No. 43 to the front of pit road, NASCAR champion Kyle Busch pushing the famous car on one side and close friend Ryan Blaney pushing on the other.

The entire 40-driver field and their crew members followed. After the car came to a stop, Wallace climbed out, sat on the window ledge and sobbed. Richard Petty, his Hall of Fame team owner, gently placed a hand on Wallace's shoulder.

As federal authorities descended on Talladega Superspeedway on Monday to investigate the discovery of a noose in Wallace's garage stall, the entire industry rallied around the Cup Series' only Black driver.

“The news has disturbed us all and of course we want justice and know who and why,” said seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. “And we want to stand with our friend.”

The 82-year-old Petty, at his first race since the coronavirus pandemic began and at Talladega on race day for the first time in more than 10 years, stood side by side with Wallace during the national anthem before Monday's rain-postponed event. Everyone stood behind the car while Brad Keselowski held the American flag at the front of the display of solidarity.

The idea to stand with Wallace started with Johnson, while former series champion Kevin Harvick suggested they all push the car to the front of the grid, Wallace said.

One by one, after the anthem, they hugged Wallace. He then had a long embrace with Petty.

And then he went racing.