Donald Trump

President Donald Trump speaks during a “Salute to America” event on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday. On Monday, Trump took aim at NASCAR and driver Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only Black driver, and criticized its decision to ban the Confederate flag at its races and venues. Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

President Donald Trump on Monday said NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace should apologize to those who stood beside him after his racing team discovered a noose in his garage at Talladega Superspeedway on June 21, describing the incident as a “hoax.” Trump added an assertion that the Wallace incident combined with NASCAR’s ban on the Confederate flag at its races have led to historically low television ratings for the stock-car circuit.

He tweeted:

“Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!”

The tweet was the latest in a string of racially tinged overtures Trump has made to his political base as he stands for reelection amid a national reckoning prompted by the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis police custody and the nationwide protests that followed. In recent weeks, Trump has threatened to veto a defense-spending bill if it includes a provision to rename bases honoring Confederate generals, promised lengthy prison sentences for those who topple Confederate statues and stoked a cultural war in a pair of Independence Day speeches. Appearing before Mount Rushmore on Friday night, he pledged to “safeguard our values, traditions, customs and beliefs.”

Bubba Wallace

Bubba Wallace stands next to his car during a prayer before Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Darron Cummings/Associated Press

After investigating, the FBI announced last week that no hate crime had been committed because the rope, which had been tied into a noose and used as a garage door pull, had been in that particular garage since October, when NASCAR previously had raced at Talladega.

Wallace, NASCAR’s only Black driver who had called for the circuit to ban the Confederate flag, received an outpouring of support from his fellow drivers after the noose was discovered.

After the FBI announced the results of its investigation, Wallace told CNN he was angered that some people were questioning his integrity and comparing him to Jussie Smollett, the actor who has been indicted on a charge of falsely claiming that he was attacked in Chicago by two strangers who beat him, doused him in bleach and tied a rope around his neck. Wallace neither saw the noose in the garage nor was the person who reported it to NASCAR officials.

“I’m mad because people are trying to test my character and the person that I am and my integrity,” Wallace said. He added: “It was a noose. Whether tied in 2019 or whatever, it was a noose. So it wasn’t directed at me, but somebody tied a noose. That’s what I’m saying.”

On Saturday, a race in NASCAR’s second-tier Xfinity Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway averaged a 1.1 rating and 1.68 million viewers, the series’ largest audience for a race at that track since 2017. As noted by Sports Media Watch, it was the most-watched Xfinity Series event since the season-opening race at Daytona in February drew 1.81 viewers. For NASCAR’s top-level Cup Series, however, TV ratings have declined since the circuit returned amid the coronavirus pandemic. A June 27 race at Pocono drew only 2.57 million viewers, narrowly avoiding NASCAR’s all-time low audience for a Cup Series race on broadcast television.

Trump has long sought to tie himself to NASCAR and its fan base, which is primarily white and Southern. In February, he appeared at the season-opening Daytona 500 and took a lap around the track in the presidential limo. But the stock-car circuit has struggled with how to deal with Trump’s attention. Ahead of the 2016 election, Trump received an endorsement from Brian France, at the time NASCAR’s chief executive and chairman. A year earlier, however, NASCAR moved a series of banquets away from Trump’s Miami resort facility in the wake of his racist comments about Mexican immigrants.

In 2017, amid the controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness of social justice issues, Trump praised NASCAR and its fans for standing during the song.

Many in NASCAR’s ownership ranks issued comments that echoed Trump’s thoughts about protests during the anthem, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. – one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers – tweeted a quote from President John F. Kennedy about what censoring peaceful protests could do to a democracy.

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